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The National Centre for Atmospheric Science (NCAS) will support a major field campaign in Indonesia in 2019/2020 as part of the research project TerraMaris: The Maritime Continent - Driver of the Global Climate System. The project is led by Prof. Adrian Matthews at the University of East Anglia, alongside Prof. Steve Woolnough at the University of Reading and National Centre for Atmospheric Science and Dr Cathryn Birch at the University of Leeds and the Institute for Climate and Atmospheric Science

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Through a £3.7 million investment, TerraMaris will help the UK take a leading role in the Years of Maritime Continent international initiative to better understand the climate around tropical islands. UK researchers will make a set of observations over the Maritime Continent using the Facility for Airborne Atmospheric Measurements research aircraft alongside atmospheric radars, weather balloons and land-based instruments. Dr Ryan Neely and the Leeds Radar Group will be deploying the NCAS mobile X-band weather radar (NXPol), which will be the centre piece of a supersite of instruments from the NCAS Atmospheric Measurement Facility and the Met Office.

Researchers will make highly detailed observations of the ocean and atmosphere, and use this information to evaluate and understand errors in computer simulations of the region’s climate. The unprecedented measurement campaign will enable groundbreaking improvements in atmospheric modelling, and improved forecasting and climate prediction over the Maritime Continent.

The Maritime Continent is the archipelago of tropical islands that lies between the Indian and Pacific Oceans, with a population of over 400 million. It comprises large (Sumatra, Java, Borneo, and New Guinea) and many smaller islands, with high mountains. The region is a hot-spot for tropical convection, a process whereby warm moist air rises up from the earth’s surface through the atmosphere and cools as it rises, causing water vapour to condense. Condensation releases heat, which further drives the upward motion of moist air, and can lead to intense rainfall from deep convective clouds. The average rainfall rate over the islands is in excess of 10 mm per day, approximately three times the rainfall rate over the UK.

As well as supplying local agriculture with fresh water, rain that falls over the Maritime Continent has a far-reaching, global effect on weather and climate. Tropical convection drives large overturning circulations in the atmosphere which affect the strength and location of jet streams and lead to changes in weather and climate far downstream, even over the UK. For example, the origins of the infamous cold winter of 1962/63 and the recent very cold March of 2013 have been traced to atmospheric convection over the Maritime Continent. For these reasons, the Maritime Continent has been described as the engine room of the global climate system.

TerraMaris is being delivered through a collaboration between NCAS, the UK Met Office, University of Leeds, University of East Anglia, Reading University, as well as with support from the Indonesian Met Service (BMKG) and the Indonesian Space Agency (LAPAN). The campaign falls within the Years of Maritime Continent Programme and funding has been provided by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). NCAS scientists Dr Ryan Neely, Dr John Marsham, and Dr Nicholas Klingaman are named as co-investigators.