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Polar cyclones may hold key to drought

Friday, 5 January 2007

Source: Monash University

Weather experts from Monash University will fly high-tech remote-control aircraft through the centre of storms in the Southern Ocean in a bid to understand Australia's worsening drought.

A three-year study headed by Professor Amanda Lynch, from the School of Geography and Environmental Science, has been funded by the Australian Research Council.

The team also hopes to secure Australian Federal Government and U.S. Government funding to pay for two six-week field trips to the Antarctic, from where the aircraft, known as Aerosonde, will be launched.

Australia is suffering one of the driest periods on record with a near total absence of late winter and spring rains across the southern half of the country.

"This will help us to understand why we get droughts in southern Australia and why they are getting worse," Professor Lynch says.

"It seems that the rain is moving south and falling in the Southern Ocean during these extreme storms or cyclones. We hope to go down to Terra Nova Bay in Antarctica and fly remote-control aircraft into the storms to study them."

The high-tech Aerosonde, an Australian invention first manufactured in Melbourne and owned by AAI Corporation, carry instruments that measure elements such as temperature, humidity and air pressure. They can be launched from trucks and can even be controlled by their operators over the internet.

The researchers will analyse the data, along with that gathered from models and satellite imagery.

"One of the big problems we have in planning for drought has to do with understanding whether the drought that we are in right now is a climate-change signal or part of a natural cycle. If we want to understand that we need to understand where the rain is coming from."

Professor Lynch is a world leader in Polar research and the only Australian expert on the Arctic. She is collaborating in this study with researchers from Germany and the U.S.

Photographs of the aircraft are available.

For more information please call Renee Barnes, Media and Communications on 9905 2020 or 0413 753 366 or Professor Amanda Lynch on 0412 092 980.