Sunday, February 11, 2001
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Posted on: Sunday, February 11, 2001

Climate study covers Pacific, links nations' weather research elements

By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Science Writer

Hawaii sits in the middle of an ocean whose weather processes are only marginally understood, but an international team of researchers hopes to change that.

The Climate Variability and Predictability Project brought scientists from around the Pacific and elsewhere in the world to Honolulu Feb. 5-8. Their goal was to link their existing national and regional climate research efforts, and to develop new Pacific-wide research projects.

"The strength of the CLIVAR program is to bring all these elements together," said oceanographer John Gould, director of the international project, which is based in Southampton, the United Kingdom.

The scientists’ findings, in a time of rising sea levels and changing regional and global weather patterns, are important to everyone.

"We live in a world that has limited resources and an increasing population. This is not simply a project in which scientists are indulging their interests.

It affects everybody on Earth," Gould said.

The Honolulu meeting at the University of Hawaii’s International Pacific Research Center built an agreement among scientists from China, Japan, Chile, the United States and other Pacific and even European nations to join forces.

"For the first time we have a commitment to fully observe the entire Pacific," said Bob Weller, an oceanographer from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, who chaired the meeting. "It’s early days yet, but we are building on a core" of El Niņo-related and national research efforts.

For example, China recently expanded its ability to predict both the timing and strength of the Asian monsoon, the rainy cycle that annually affects the weather in about half of China and much of the rest of Asia, as the result of an extensive ocean and atmosphere research effort.

"We found the earliest onset of the Asian monsoon occurred in the South China Sea," said meteorologist Ding Yihui of the China National Climate Center.

In Japan, oceanographer Yoshifumi Kuroda works with the Japan Marine Science and Technology Center on a program to establish 20 Triton climate buoys in the waters near Papua New Guinea, in the Indian Ocean and in the Kuroshio Extension Current, which flows northward along Japan’s Pacific coast.

The Triton buoys track ocean temperature, salinity, solar radiation, biological content of the ocean water and other data.

Meteorologist Jose Rutllant of the University of Chile is working with scientists in neighboring South American countries to find ways to improve climate models, so they can better predict what’s happening in the ocean and atmosphere on their side of the Pacific.

"We have a joint program of observation along the coasts," he said.

Weller runs a program that has permanently anchored a circular buoy in water 2.6 miles deep, 800 miles off the coast of Chile. The goal, in part, is to understand the role of a virtually permanent deck of stratocumulus clouds found in that region.

The clouds limit the amount of solar radiation that can reach the ocean’s surface, but they also limit the loss of heat from the surface into the upper atmosphere. Weller hopes to find out how that affects climate and what causes the clouds to be there.

Scientists have gotten better at understanding and predicting El Niņo events, which affect rainfall and storms around Hawaii and have impacts on fisheries, crop success and other things in other parts of the Pacific.

Now, through CLIVAR, they hope to go the next step and understand the larger system of which El Niņo is just a part, Weller said.

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