Each summer the southwest monsoon arrives over the Indian subcontinent, steady winds bringing heavy rains. Can we roughly predict precipitation totals a couple months, or even a couple weeks into the future, during this crucial wet season? The answer is no. Yet it would be of great value if, for example, authorities managing water resources knew heavier-than-average downpours will arrive in a couple weeks, or farmers knew the upcoming planting season will be drier than usual. This quest of sub-seasonal to seasonal rainfall forecasts is propelling scientists to investigate the dynamics of the South Asian monsoon climate, and especially its intimate connections with the Indian Ocean.
My PhD ('19) research was motivated by that goal: to better understand how energy and water is exchanged across the vast expanses of ocean & atmosphere, affecting currents, winds, and rains. Working with my advisor Amala Mahadevan (Lab: Ocean and Environmental Processes) as part of an international collaboration funded by the U.S. Office of Naval Research, the project brought me to the Bay of Bengal. Comparable in size to the Mediterranean Sea, the “Bay” of Bengal is no average bay. It is (together with the adjacent Andaman Sea) the freshest region found in the tropical oceans, fed by gargantuan flows of freshwater pouring out of the Ganges, Brahmaputra, and Irrawaddy rivers.
Embarking on 3 to 5 week-long expeditions aboard research vessels, we deployed weather ballons, drifting instruments, moored weather stations, and autonomous underwater drones, and collected a wealth of data from the ship in the middle of monsoon storms. Back home, my research involved analyzing hydrographic, atmospheric, and satellite climate data, and creating computer simulations of the fluid dynamics at play in the coupled ocean-atmosphere system.
Oceanus, 2019: Can we improve monsoon forecasts?
MIT Doctoral Thesis, 2019: Stratified and stirred: monsoon freshwater in the Bay of Bengal
Journal of Physical Oceanography, 2020: How spice is stirred in the Bay of Bengal
Deep Sea Research II, 2020: Formation of interleaving layers in the Bay of Bengal
Deep Sea Research II, 2020: (co-author) Upper layer thermohaline structure of the Bay of Bengal during the 2013 northeast monsoon
Science Advances, 2018: Submesoscale-selective compensation of fronts in a salinity-stratified ocean
Current Biology, 2018: (co-author) Newly discovered deep-branching marine plastid lineages are numerically rare but globally distributed
Oceanography, 2016: (co-author) Freshwater in the Bay of Bengal: Its fate and role in air-sea heat exchange
The Astrophysical Journal Letters, 2013: (co-author) Excess Optical Enhancement Observed with ARCONS for Early Crab Giant Pulses