Bangladesh flood and drought forecasting could bring farmers, cholera victims relief

A cooperative new research project studying oscillations in the Indian Ocean and rainfall in the major river basins pouring into Bangladesh should help researchers better forecast floods and the associated spread of cholera in the low-lying nation.

University of Colorado at Boulder Professor Peter Webster, of the Program in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, said a joint effort between CU-Boulder, the Asian Disaster Preparedness Center and the Bangladesh government could improve the quality of life for millions of people. In addition to forecasting monsoon variability and associated sea rise leading to flooding and cholera outbreaks, the team should be able to forecast local and regional droughts, further aiding Bangladesh farmers.

The project had its beginnings in 1999, when a study of Indian Ocean monsoons involving a number of universities and federal agencies showed the ocean has its own El Nio-like phenomenon. Led by Webster, the research team crisscrossed 10,000 miles of the Bay of Bengal aboard the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ship, the Ron Brown, measuring water temperature and salinity gradients to depths exceeding 1,500 feet.

The team also used radar, weather balloons and satellites to determine the Indian Ocean monsoon season has three active periods and three calm periods. The El Nio-like conditions are characterized by an east to west movement of warm water that causes "edge waves" to slosh up the east coast of the Bay of Bengal, flooding the Bangladesh delta on a time scale of about two years, said Webster.

"The ocean rises up into the delta, retarding the outflow of water," said Webster. Most of the retarded outflow is floodwater from rainfall in major rivers that drain into Bangladesh, including the Ganges, Brahmaputra and the Meghna rivers.

The weather and climate system forecasts are produced with computer modeling from probability statistics, each beginning with slightly different init

Contact: Peter Webster
University of Colorado at Boulder

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