Pune: The hill station of Mahabaleshwar in the Western Ghats range near here now has a unique landmark for weather scientists in the form of a High Altitude Cloud Physics
Laboratory, the first of its kind in the country, which will gather data from the monsoon season on "growth and decay" of clouds under different environmental conditions.
Perched atop the 4710 ft (1438 meter) above sea level hill station, the Rs 35 crore laboratory of the Ministry of Earth Sciences (MOES) will house state-of-the-art instruments for the observations including a "sky imager" with an additional installation of an X-band radar at nearby Mandhar Devi hill for a continuous monitoring of clouds.
"The cloud bases in the monsoon season are between 1000--1500 m above sea level. Mahabaleshwar, where clouds are at the surface, provides a unique opportunity for observations with an additional advantage that the monsoon clouds formed over the Arabian Sea arrive first over this hill station," said Dr G Pandithurai, project-in-charge scientist of the city-based Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM) which will manage the lab.
Explaining salient features of the lab formally opened last week, he said, "Mahabaleshwar also provides an opportunity to study how winds interacting with mountains produce such heterogeneity in rainfall and long term monitoring of weather parameters at the hill station holds importance in the climate change and environmental studies."
The laboratory, one of the very few in the world, is being described by IITM scientists as a "milestone in the history of atmospheric sciences in India" and a point of prestige also for Maharashtra.
The cloud micro physics observations taken at the high altitude laboratory at Mahabaleshwar would supplement the data collected in the national experiment "CAIPEEX" (relating to cloud observations made by aircraft) and help understand the complex interaction between aerosols, clouds and circulation.
"Instrumented aircraft are useful to get vertical profiles of cloud micro physical properties. However, number of observations sampled by an aircraft generally remains limited.
Therefore, a strategy is required to increase the sample size of observations and to supplement the aircraft observations", the IITM scientist said, adding that continuous measurement of cloud properties at a location for a "reasonably" long period can provide information on growth and decay of clouds under a large number of different conditions.
The Maharashtra government has alloted the required land for the project sanctioned by the Ministry of Earth Sciences in February 2010.
At present the laboratory is functioning in the existing India Meteorology Department (IMD) building in Mahabaleshwar and would soon shift to new premises after completion of the structure on the alloted land.
About ten scientists from IITM along with a large number of research students will work in the lab continuously during the monsoon season.