On any given day, numerous individual thunderstorms pop up across the tropical oceans, their appearance at any specific place and time apparently random. But a half a dozen or so times each year, thunderstorms that form in the tropical Indian Ocean organize like a team of synchronized swimmers and begin a slow eastward stroke, reaching the western edge of South America between 30 and 90 days later.
These pulses of synchronized storminess are called the Madden-Julian Oscillation, or "MJO," for short, and their transoceanic voyages leave a wake of unsettled weather across the tropics that reverberates into the mid-latitudes. Among the mysteries of the MJO is what triggers the atmosphere to become so organized over such large distances and why the storms at the heart of the MJO travel the opposite direction of prevailing surface winds in the tropics.
This month, scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration join an international team of researchers who are gathering in the Indian Ocean for a large-scale science experiment aimed at investigating these and other mysteries of the MJO.
The research effort - known as DYNAMO, for Dynamics of the Madden-Julian Oscillation - will last six months, during which scientists will deploy an enhanced array of scientific equipment for studying the ocean and atmosphere over a huge piece of the Indian Ocean. Scientists will collect observations from instruments on ships, aircraft, moorings, and islands.
Given the far-reaching influence of the MJO climate pattern on weather around the world, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has a big stake in efforts to learn more about it. In addition to deploying scientific devices on the R/V Roger Revelle and the NOAA WP-3D aircraft, NOAA is providing grants to researchers through its Climate Program Office.
Continue reading this month's Spotlight story on the NOAA Research website.