Scientists from Univ. of Miami probe Indian Ocean for Clues to Worldwide Weather Patterns


MIAMI — September 22, 2011 — Faculty, graduate students, and research scientists from the Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science at the University of Miami will join an international team of researchers in the Indian Ocean for six months to study how tropical weather brews over the region and moves eastward along the equator, with reverberating effects around the entire globe.

The field campaign, known as DYNAMO (Dynamics of the Madden-Julian Oscillation), will take place from October 2011 to March 2012. It will help improve long-range weather forecasts and seasonal outlooks and enable scientists to further refine computer models of global climate.

“The Madden-Julian Oscillation has a huge impact all over the globe,” says Chidong Zhang, University of Miami Professor of Meteorology and Physical Oceanography, and DYNAMO chief scientist. “It connects weather and climate, and it is important to forecasting both of them.”

The overriding goal is to better understand a disturbance of the tropics, known as the Madden-Julian Oscillation, or MJO. This disturbance, which originates in the equatorial Indian Ocean roughly every 30 to 90 days, is directly linked to Asian and Australian monsoons, can trigger torrential rainfall at the west coast of North America, and affect the onset of El Niño. It can even enhance hurricane activity as far away as the northeast Pacific and the Gulf of Mexico. Scientists believe that the MJO is the world’s greatest source of atmospheric variability in the one- to three-month time frame.

“The MJO drives weather in both hemispheres even though it sits along the equator,” says Jim Moore of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), who is director of the DYNAMO project office. “Its origins have never been measured in a systematic fashion before.”

There are a total of 16 countries providing research personnel, facilities, and/or observations to the international effort.

DYNAMO, the Littoral Air-Sea Processes (LASP) Experiment, and the ARM MJO Investigation Experiment (AMIE) are the three U.S. projects contributing to CINDY 2011. DYNAMO, LASP, and AMIE are jointly supported by several United States agencies including the National Science Foundation (NSF), Department of Energy (DOE), Office of Naval Research (ONR), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

U.S. scientists, students, engineers and staff from 16 universities and 11 national laboratories and centers participate in the DYNAMO field campaign. NCAR provides major observing facilities to the science team and helps to oversee operations and data management for the project.

Besides Zhang, UM faculty members Drs. Paquita Zuidema and Shuyi Chen, and several graduate students from the Rosenstiel School will be participating in the DYNAMO field campaign in the Maldives, Diego Garcia and on research ships.

“MJO plays a key role in driving tropical weather and climate variations over the course of each season,” said UM Professor Paquita Zuidema. “For example, we know clouds and humidity co-occur, but we don't know if that's because clouds moisten their environment, or because moist environments encourage clouds. These smaller-scale processes may impact the timing of large-scale rainfall.”

Scientists need to better understand the MJO, both to improve long-range weather forecasts and seasonal outlooks worldwide, and perhaps make the leap to longer-term forecasts of climate that may extend years into the future. Hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean Sea and Atlantic for example, tend to form in groups in a given season. This is due primarily to influences of the MJO.

“Predicting MJO has been a challenge for computer models in part because of the complex interactions among clouds and atmospheric circulation, as well as the atmosphere and the ocean,” said UM Professor Shuyi Chen whose research group will take coupled observations of the atmosphere and ocean from the NOAA P-3 aircraft during DYNAMO. She explains “although it is known that MJO can affect the Atlantic hurricanes, we cannot pinpoint the exact timing of enhanced activities associated with MJO until we can improve our capability of predicting MJO more accurately. Observations from DYNAMO will help developing new generation of high-resolution cloud-resolving, coupled atmosphere-ocean global models for weather and climate prediction.”

As global climate changes, it is becoming more important to understand how the atmosphere and oceans interact to regulate Earth’s temperature and respond to long-term variation. At present, the computer models scientists use to study global weather and climate fail to capture the oscillation very well. The information from DYNAMO can lead to significant improvements to the models. Field projects such as DYNAMO, with an emphasis on basic research, add to scientists’ growing body of knowledge about the many interconnected components of Earth’s complex climate system.

DYNAMO will bring a considerable array of instruments to bear on the MJO, including two research aircraft provided by NOAA and the French Airborne Environment Research Service, three ships hailing from the United States, India, and Japan, a half-dozen meteorological radars, balloon sounding units, moored buoys, and a suite of other instruments.

About the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School
The University of Miami’s mission is to educate and nurture students, to create knowledge, and to provide service to our community and beyond. Committed to excellence and proud of the diversity of our University family, we strive to develop future leaders of our nation and the world. Founded in the 1940’s, the Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science has grown into one of the world’s premier marine and atmospheric research institutions. Offering dynamic interdisciplinary academics, the Rosenstiel School is dedicated to helping communities to better understand the planet, participating in the establishment of environmental policies, and aiding in the improvement of society and quality of life. For more information, please visit

indian ocean •  el nino •  jim moore •  dr. paquita zuidema •  weather •  climate •  noaa •  nasa •  research •  dr. chidong zhang •  dr. shuyi chen •