How India’s Met Department Helps the Country to Combat Climate Change and Food security

Just after World War II, a pioneering and courageous young Indian woman boarded a ship to England. Her purpose? To study meteorology (weather sciences) at Imperial College London. Anna Mani’s (23rd August 1918 – 16th August 2001) determination to forge her own destiny, coupled with the foresight to study a scientific subject that’s so vital in the modern world, ultimately helped pave the way for meteorological development and progress in India.

In the 21st century, the whole world is talking and researching climate change and global warming. India is no exception. Moreover, the country is also looking into the impact of these phenomena on a social problem that’s plagued us for decades – food security. While we have not yet managed to achieve full food security, we are better informed today than we were half a century ago. So we can optimistically hope for a food-secure India sometime in future. And for this, we must thank Ms. Anna Mani.

Setting the Stage for India’s Meteorological Progress

Following her return to India, Ms. Mani eventually became an inspirational figure in meteorology, particularly in meteorological measurement and forecasting. She helped spearhead India’s efforts to manufacture its own meteorological instrumentation, including weather measurement and observation equipment, and was pivotal in improving equipment reliability and precision in meteorological observations. Her work set the stage for the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) to evolve into a powerhouse in climatology, agrometeorology and hydrology, She also helped the IMD to develop measurement standards that were on par with international standards.

During her lifetime, Ms. Mani also made towering contributions in the fields of solar radiation, ozone, and wind energy instrumentation. Of particular interest was her work on radiation, which sought to analyse weather based on thermodynamic patterns, rather than merely using past weather data and statistics. According to Mr. R.R. Kelkar, former Head of the IMD and Ms. Mani’s colleague for a brief period, “We talk about solar radiation and global warming now. She was studying it back in the 1960s and 70s.” Genius? Yes. Pioneer? Yes. Inspirational? Yes!

The Indian Meteorological Department and the Legacy of Anna Mani

Ms. Mani’s pioneering work helped India and even Asia – deepen and broaden the existing scientific knowledge base of climate change and agro-meteorology. Her achievements are especially remarkable considering the backdrop of the many societal and educational challenges that she – and Indian women in general – faced all throughout the 20th century.

Ms. Mani served the IMD for nearly three decades before retiring as a Deputy Director of its Instruments Division in 1976. Under her leadership, the IMD earned a well-deserved reputation for high-quality instrumentation manufacturing, reliable data gathering and analysis, and the use of up-to-date and world-class methodologies. Her legacy continues to endure.

Thanks to her, the IMD has grown into a recognised, well-respected and flourishing body for meteorological research and development – despite some criticism and technical teething problems. With the induction of super-computers, IMD is now well placed to study weather/climate systems and phenomena, such as cyclones, typhoons, tsunamis, and even monsoons, and provide early warnings of severe weather events.

Of course, there’s always the scope for improvement and a need to enhance met forecasting techniques, not only to gain reliable and accurate predictions, but also to gain the public’s trust. The IMD is constantly working on these improvements, which is great news for India. Moreover, the IMD is also helping India and other countries to prepare effective responses to weather challenges (e.g., Cyclone Tauktae in May 2021), and safeguard both human life and property.

Meteorology and Food Security in India

The challenges of climate change are profound, and its impact on India are becoming more apparent. The country emits c.7% of global emissions[1]. Some of the recorded effects include temperature rises on the Tibetan Plateau, which are causing Himalayan glaciers to retreat and threatening the flow rate of the Ganges, Brahmaputra, Yamuna and other major rivers. Heatwaves are also becoming more frequent, and severe landslides and floods are predicted to become increasingly common in the coming years.

The Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research has reported that if the predictions relating to global warming made by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) come true, then climate-related factors could cause India\’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to decline by up to 9%[2]. Contributing to this, there would be shifts in growing seasons for major crops such as rice, whose production could fall by 40% and further undermine India’s food security goals. Clearly, the need for improved and greater meteorological measurement, and dynamic modelling facilities are higher than ever.

[1] UN Environment Programme (2019), ‘Emissions Gap Report 2019’.

[2] Climate change in India – Wikipedia.

Meteorology and the Need for Computer Modelling

The instability caused by global and regional climate change has made the work of the meteorologist more complex, and at times frustrating. Historical statistics cannot now solely be relied on, as they’re proving to be an unreliable method for predicting weather patterns, thus necessitating the need for dynamic computer modelling facilities and expertise.

Moreover, with the constantly growing threat of climate change and the need for improved food security, the requirement for accurate meteorological measurements and predictive forecast modelling are both crucial to help scientists understand the impact of weather systems on agriculture.

Weather predictions by modelling involve the creation of 3D mathematical computer simulations of the atmosphere. The models are especially useful for predicting rainfall over smaller spatial and temporal scales, which is not possible in traditional statistical forecasting systems. Not only do such systems help communicate climate change characteristics, but they also aid India in meeting its food security goals.

[1] UN Environment Programme (2019), ‘Emissions Gap Report 2019’.

[2] Climate change in India – Wikipedia.

The Future of Climate Change

The impact of climate change and food security will once again be the focus of attention at the 26th United Nations (UN) Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26). This conference will be held in Glasgow, Scotland between 31st October and 12th November 2021. Its goal: To unite the world to tackle climate change.

The COP26 summit will bring together various countries, governments, and relevant stakeholders – including the private sector – to brainstorm ideas to tackle global climate change and accelerate action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Representatives, scientists and politicians from India will undoubtedly attend the summit, both to share what India has learned from its climate challenges, and also to learn how it can better address these challenges, particularly as they relate to food security.

These developments coupled with a more robust national policy framework to mitigate climate change and achieve food security would no doubt please Anna Mani, if she were alive today. In fact, any progress that India makes towards resolving climate challenges and mitigating food insecurity would be a fitting memorial to the great scientist as well as her colleagues at the IMD.

As India achieves advancements in meteorological systems; the country and its people cannot forget Ms. Anna Mani. Her efforts did much more than revamp the colonial-era IMD (established in 1875). She also played a critical role in helping India and even Asia develop the scientific temper needed to achieve its many economic and social goals. As a society, we shall forever be grateful to such a remarkable person.

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