Airborne measurements are extremely important for aerosol sampling, measurement of cloud properties, cloud physics, atmospheric chemistry and other scientific needs. Aircraft probing and surveillance enables the observation of upper air phenomena, especially cloud aerosol interaction. The wealth of atmospheric, aerosol and cloud microphysics data generated by aircraft probing can be used in assessing air pollution and its associated impacts, hydrological and water resources, and help enhance research infrastructure.
Currently, the Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES) is in the process of procuring a research aircraft under the NFAR programme under the 12th five year plan (2012-17). A medium size twin engine turbo prop pressurised aircraft, with service ceiling limit of 30000 ft that will fly at the minimum lowest operating altitude 500 to 1000 ft over sea is being procured. The aircraft will carry a scientific payload of 900 to 1200 kg and four scientists with a range of 2500 km, with a five hour endurance limit, the aircraft will be used for all airborne atmospheric research in the country and is planned to be positioned at Aurangabad. Depending on the research objectives, the aircraft probing operations will be conducted from different bases in India. Managed by Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM), Pune, the aircraft shall be equipped with state-of-the-art sophisticated scientific instruments. All facilities for maintenance and repair of aircraft probing , development, installation, calibration and modifications of scientific instruments on board will be made available at the hangar in Aurangabad airport, in all probability.
Aircraft probing for cyclone
The absence of aircraft probing facilities prevented realistic initial-state three-dimensional description of cyclones in the North Indian Ocean (NIO) region till now. Lack of such critical observations through aircraft probing from the cyclone core environment is one of the factors for track and intensity forecast errors.
The establishment of the aircraft probing for cyclone (APC) facilities to understand the cyclone core environment is meant to address this critical data gap.
Other applications of APC facility for multi hazard disaster management include:
- Airborne doppler weather radar for identification of heavy rainfall and strong wind zones (cyclone impact assessment).
- Aircraft probing including airborne laser terrain mapping (ALTM) of coastal zones and islands (delineating depth and extent of coastal inundation, hazard mapping and vulnerability assessment).
- Post-cyclone damage assessment and aerial survey (for impact assessment and planning post-disaster relief operations).
- Planning observational campaign for the advancement of research and development efforts in cyclone forewarning (up to 150 days per year, including such cyclonic disturbances formed during the monsoon season, pre-monsoon thunderstorm events in eastern India, kalbaisakhi, and the study of other high impact weather phenomena over land).
- Aerial mapping/observational facility for multi-hazard impact assessment (floods, earthquakes, landslides, forest fires, chemical accidents, etc.).
- APC facility can also be used for the study of monsoon systems in South Asian countries, research on the effects of climate change and defence applications as well.
Way back in 1984, the Cyclone Review Committee (CRC), endorsed the need for establishing APC facilities to enable observations from the inner core of cyclones. Similar recommendations were made at different workshops organised by National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) at Hyderabad, Ahmedabad and Delhi, and at the First India Disaster Management Congress held in November, 2006.
The need for establishing APC facilities was also endorsed by top-ranking officials of National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO), Ministry of Defence (MoD) and Department of Space (DoS) at a meeting specially convened by NDMA in December 2006.
For this, India Meteorological Department (IMD)/ National Remote Sensing Agency (NRSA) will provide the technical control, with operational control being provided by the Indian Air Force (IAF). Day-to-day operational schedules and flight paths will be decided in consultation with user departments such as IMD and Central Water Commission (CWC). MoES needs to initiate all necessary action for establishing the APC facilities in the future.
Unmanned aerial vehicle
A high altitude unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) can provide detailed observations of the near surface, and high wind environment. UAVs are especially used since the region of study is often dangerous for manned aircraft. The first UAV, launched by NOAA, NASA and Aerosonde partners, touched down after a 10-hour mission into the tropical storm ‘Ophelia’, in the East Coast of the United States, on September 16, 2005. This aircraft, known as Aerosonde, has the potential to emerge as a cost-effective observational platform for the reconnaissance and surveillance of tropical cyclones.
India is now poised to develop and utilise UAV capabilities for surveillance and prediction of tropical cyclones. The airborne platform is planned to be a national facility that will cater to the needs of scientific community, and several national research and educational institutions in the country. Several aircraft probing and research activities will also be addressed at the local, regional, national levels.
India is all set to enter a new phase in scientific research, especially for cyclone related investigations, monsoon and hydrological research. Aircraft probing, it is envisaged, will prevent, track and intensity errors of cyclones.