World Met Day: In Conversation With Dr Madhavan Rajeevan on Monsoon, Meteorology, IMD and More | The Weather Channel – Articles from The Weather Channel | #socialmedia

Every year, around June 1, Thiruvananthapuram or Trivandrum welcomes the world’s most prominent monsoon systems to India. Chasing the Indian monsoon in 1987, Alexander Frater chose Trivandrum as his first stop and writes that welcoming the monsoon in the city’s Kovalam beach gave him the sensation “of being cocooned inside a roaring cataract of falling foaming water”. Now, at this very place, an eminent meteorologist of India has initiated a book explaining the intricacies of the monsoon.

After an illustrious career as a scientist, a meteorologist, and the Secretary to the Ministry of Earth Sciences, Government of India, Madhavan Nair Rajeevan is back in his home town Trivandrum, while continuing to guide India Meteorological Department (IMD) as a distinguished scientist. He started his career as a scientist studying stars at one of the most prominent research institutes of the country, the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research. He then moved to the IMD for more than two decades of dedicated research as a meteorologist, where he climbed the ranks to become the Director of the National Climate Centre at IMD before moving to the Department of Space.

Dr Rajeevan’s love for weather systems brought him back to head the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM), Pune, for a brief period. From 2015 to 2021, he served as the Secretary to the Ministry of Earth Science, guiding IMD, IITM and other earth sciences research institutes to excellence. Being a distinguished researcher, he has published more than 100 peer-reviewed scientific papers that have been cited more than 10,000 times.

Earlier this week, on World Meteorological Day (March 23), we spoke to Dr Rajeevan to learn more about his experience as a renowned meteorologist and scientist in India. Here’s what he had to say:

Monsoon is known for its unpredictability and variability. As a monsoon chaser, how difficult was it for you to decipher its science and use it to forecast it better?

Monsoon is still a mystery and a very complex phenomenon. We don’t know everything about monsoon even though our understanding and capability to predict have improved substantially. There are grey areas; we have many unknowns on the role of oceans, land surface and clouds. I started chasing monsoon in the early 1990s. At that time, we did not have adequate data and good models. We banked more on empirical methods using whatever data we had.

But during the last 20-25 years, a substantial amount of research work has been done by Indian and international researchers. More and more data, especially satellite data, started coming in and better prediction models evolved, thanks to fast computers. Being in India was an advantage for me since we Indians have been studying monsoon years together. Monsoon is bread and butter for us. We have a passion for studying monsoon, even though it is a tough nut to crack.

We, with all humility, kept studying monsoon more vigorously and improved our forecasts. The Indian government also offered timely help by investing millions through the ambitious monsoon mission with the ultimate aim to predict better. I am sure our quest for better prediction will yield some more positive results. At the same time, we should remember we cannot predict everything about monsoon, and we cannot be successful every time. But we will keep improving.

You started your career with TIFR back in the 1980s. What were the challenges back then and what kept you going in this field?

Well, in the 1980s there were not many avenues for jobs. When I got the job at TIFR, I remember that my college celebrated. I come from a small village and studied in a local private college. A student from that humble background joining the best research institution in the country was remarkable. I just kept doing good work with all sincerity and humility. I never kept an ambition in my mind, but just kept moving. Now there are plenty of opportunities for students to choose from. What you need is merit and motivation to excel.

Please shed some light on the history of weather science in India and how it evolved over the years.

Before independence, IMD was well known for its high-quality scientific work. Great scientists like Sir Gilbert Walker—known for walker circulation and other studies on Southern Oscillation—were once IMD’s chief. Even people like Sir CV Raman had a lot of respect for IMD and used to send his students to IMD after their graduation. But after the independence, IMD was not given full attention, and it slowly deteriorated in quality. The funding from the government reduced sharply as it was under the ministry of civil aviation for many years.

Even after it was brought under the Department of Science and Technology, it lacked proper grooming and required investments. Apart from regular operational budgets, IMD was allotted a mere (roughly) Rs 25 crores for annual expenditure, while a radar would cost us around Rs 80 crore. While Europe and the US advanced rapidly in weather science and Meteorology, we paid little attention to the weather, resulting in a big gap in technology, knowledge, and quality of meteorological services. Even within the IMD, we continued to believe in hierarchy and no reforms were attempted.

Under the Ministry of Earth Sciences, IMD and other research institutes have made tremendous contributions to our understanding of Indian weather and our ability to forecast in recent years. Please elaborate on this transformation.

India’s weather science has improved significantly during the last 10-12 years. The formation of an independent ministry of the Ministry of Earth sciences (formed in 2006) and bringing IMD and affiliated institutes like IITM and NCMRWF under it led to substantial improvements. The government started investing more in better technology and Human Resource development. New faster computers came in and the ministry could convert all good science into services with high quality. As the secretary, I ensured all three institutes (IMD, NCMRWF and IITM) worked together. For the MoES institutes, including IMD, we have recently recruited very talented young scientists who have been working in the US and Europe.

Today, MoES has a pool of brilliant young scientists. We have one of the best technologies, faster computers, topmost scientists, and plenty of collaborations with the international fraternity. Everything put together, we have now one of the best meteorological forecasting systems in the world. The IMD is doing a great job, but still, we need to improve. Bring in more and more observations, develop improved models, make more tailor-made products and better deliver weather services.

You had an illustrious career as a meteorologist and a scientist. What has been your greatest learning experience?

You can achieve success only through Hard work and optimism. There is no substitute for hard work, which has been my biggest learning! I always believed in my abilities and worked hard to achieve success. I never had any Godfather but had many well-wishers. Not having a Godfather was advantageous to me; it helped me become a self-made man.

You have continued to engage directly with people through social media for many years. What motivated you to share knowledge on such platforms regularly? How has the experience been?

It has been a wonderful experience. There was a serious issue of communication with the ministry and IMD. We were talking in difficult language to the user community and that too was not communicated on time. But last few years we have changed. We brought in better and new terminology which has more clarity, and improved our communication channels. That is why I got involved in social media. I also ensured all MoES institutes join in social media. IMD now has lakhs of people following them on Twitter and Facebook. In spite of my busy schedule, occasionally, I also tweet important achievements, forecasts, and new initiatives. This was the need of the hour and should be further sustained.

World Met Day 2022 highlights the importance of ‘Early Warning and Early Action’. What is your message on this occasion?

This is a very important theme. We know high-impact weather events are increasing and there are growing challenges in providing early warnings which can save lives, reduce damages and cost of mitigation etc. Our early warning systems have improved, but there is scope for further improvement. We should invest more in augmenting observations, improving high-resolution weather prediction models, and developing multi-hazard early warning systems. This is a priority item for the Ministry of Earth Sciences in the coming years. India also should assume more leadership in this arena too and provide help to other countries in the region.

This article is a part of an expert interview series. The interviewee’s opinions do not necessarily represent the official views of The Weather Channel. Few answers have been edited for length and clarity.


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