What is the Geophysics Flow Lab at IITM?

Geophysical flows deal with natural fluid flow phenomena that occur in the Earth’s atmosphere and water bodies. Study of such occurrences helps develop insight into global circulation patterns, energy transfer as well as extreme weather events, pollutant life cycle analysis and evolution of environmental health. Pertaining to the Indian subcontinent, the monsoon cycle is of particular importance as it directly impacts entire ecosystems, hydrology and water economy of the region. The Indian Ocean region occupies a unique position in the dynamics of the Monsoon winds due to the extraordinary input of fresh water and river sediments that ultimately contribute to formation of monsoon depressions and tropical cyclones.

In order to gain deeper insight into the prediction of spatio-temporal organization and variability of monsoons, the research initiative at the Geophysics Flow Lab at IITM studies air-sea interactions over the north Indian Ocean. Air-sea interactions have been hypothesized to directly involve physical processes that affect the upper ocean and lower atmosphere, but lack of data and inaccurately parameterized climate models limit our understanding of the same. The initiative has the following objectives:

  • Establishment of a unified centre that facilitates the integration of field measurements, climate modeling and laboratory analysis towards geophysical flow.
  • Targeted surveys of largely unexplored coastal regions (within 300 kms from land) of the Indian Ocean, along with spatial measurements of the upper ocean and lower atmosphere with use of emerging technologies such as unmanned aerial systems in tandem with advanced image processing techniques. Collaboration with National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT) and Indian National Centre for Ocean Information and Services (INCOIS) for field campaigns.
  • Development of realistic and effective parameterization of small scale processes and understanding of their physical significance via lab experiments and simulations.
  • Investigation of climate models, internal wave driven mixing to study shear and vortex instabilities and turbulent climatic systems for better predictability of climate and weather phenomena. The centre will work with the National Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasting (NCMRWF) for the same.
  • Design and production of autonomous unmanned aerial systems for atmospheric and sea surface imaging. This would be realized through two configurations: Quad rotors for vertical profiling and extended runtime, as well as fixed wing aircraft for measurement over large horizontal domains. Key challenges posed would be the adaptability of sensors in harsh maritime environments. This proposal is projected to open up avenues for large scale oceanographic and meteorological observational campaigns worldwide.

Within the next five years, the centre will work to gain advanced understanding of the role of coastal processes, and 1-100 km spatial scale air-sea interactions over the north Indian Ocean.

The center aims to promote sustainable management of coastal zones through large scale surveys of coastal areas using novel unmanned aerial surveillance systems and will directly contribute to the Integral Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) international initiative.

In the medium term, the initiative would collate experimental data with field analysis and improve climate modeling and monsoon prediction in the Indian Subcontinent. A thorough study of scalar transport of nutrients like oxygen and contaminants like microplastics in the upper ocean would provide insight on biological activities in the upper ocean. Finally, an estimation of surface waves would help predict monsoons more accurately as well as better chart maritime travel routes by identifying regions that may offer turbulence to boats and ships.

In the long term the centre envisions a fleet of unmanned aerial systems that would directly aid civic bodies for mapping of water bodies and construction sites, as well as aid rescue operands in search and rescue.