While the Indian Ocean is the smallest of the four major oceanic basins, close to one-third of humankind lives in the 22 countries that border its rim. Many of these countries have developing or emerging economies, or are island states, and are vulnerable to extreme weather events, to changes in monsoon cycles, and to climate variations and climate change.
Many Indian Ocean rim countries depend on rain-fed agriculture. In India, for example, 60% of jobs are in agriculture, which accounts for 20% of GDP, and there is a tight link between grain production and monsoon rainfall (Gadgil and Gadgil 2006). Indian Ocean sea surface temperatures (SST) influence monsoon rainfall over India (Ashok et al. 2001; Annamalai et al. 2005a), floods and droughts over Indonesia, Africa, and Australia (Saji et al. 1999; Webster et al. 1999; Reason 2001; Ashok et al. 2003; Yamagata et al. 2004; Ummenhofer et al. 2009; Taschetto et al. 2011; Tozuka et al. 2014), and wildfires in Indonesia and Australia (Abram et al. 2003). The tropical Indian Ocean is the warmest among global oceans and is part of the Indo-Pacific warm pool (SST > 28°C), which plays a key role in sustaining deep-atmospheric convection (Graham and Barnett 1987; Emanuel 2007) and maintaining the tropical atmospheric circulation (Bjerknes 1969). Observations indicate that the Indian Ocean has been warming faster than any other basin in response to anthropogenic climate change (Annamalai et al. 2013; Dong et al. 2014; Roxy et al. 2014). This warming contributes to increasing droughts over South Asia (Roxy et al. 2015), and eastern Africa where it is predicted to increase the number of undernourished people by 50% by 2030 (Funk et al. 2008).
The Indian Ocean hosts many countries dependent on fisheries and whose fisheries have poor adaptive capacity, including India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Pakistan, Thailand, Madagascar, Mozambique, and Tanzania (Allison et al. 2009). Climate change is predicted to reduce fish catches for most of these nations (Barange et al. 2014). For instance, the intense marine productivity of the northern Indian Ocean is under threat (Bopp et al. 2013; Roxy et al. 2016; Gregg and Rousseaux 2019). In the Arabian Sea, oxygen-depleted waters reach the surface more frequently, causing more fish mortality events (Naqvi et al. 2009). Marine heatwaves also affect fisheries and ecosystems, with the first recorded bleaching of the pristine Ningaloo reef off Western Australia in 2011 (Feng et al. 2013).
The Bay of Bengal region already witnesses more than 80% of global fatalities due to tropical cyclones, because of coastal flooding (Needham et al. 2015). The frequency of extremely severe cyclones in the Arabian Sea is also projected to increase (Murakami et al. 2017), with 2019 already a highly unusual year (Joseph et al. 2019). Sea level rise in the northern Indian Ocean averaged 3.28 mm yr‒1 from 1992 to 2013 (Unnikrishnan et al. 2015) and is projected to rise at a faster pace in the future (Collins et al. 2019). Coastal population density around the Indian Ocean is projected to become the largest in the world by 2030, with 340 million people exposed to coastal hazards (Neumann et al. 2015). This rapid population growth is conflating with climate change–induced sea level rise and tropical cyclone intensification to increase vulnerability (Elsner et al. 2008; Rajeevan et al. 2013).
Beyond these direct impacts on rim countries, the Indian Ocean influences climate globally. The tropical Indian Ocean warm pool is the breeding ground for the Madden–Julian oscillation (MJO) and for monsoon intraseasonal oscillations (MISO), ocean–atmosphere coupled phenomena that modulate rainfall and tropical cyclone activity on subseasonal time scales (Zhang 2005). Year-to-year variability of Indian Ocean SST can influence the evolution of El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) in the neighboring Pacific Ocean (Clarke and Van Gorder 2003; Annamalai et al. 2005a; Luo et al. 2010; Izumo et al. 2010), and may force tropical–extratropical atmospheric variability with impacts extending over the northeast Pacific (Annamalai et al. 2007). The Indian Ocean is also an important component of the so-called global ocean conveyer belt that drives climate variability at multidecadal and longer time scales (Broecker 1991). A redistribution of heat from the Pacific to the Indian Ocean over the last decade is thought to have played a key role in regulating global mean surface temperatures (Tokinaga et al. 2012; Liu et al. 2016), with the Indian Ocean representing about one-quarter of the global ocean heat gain since 1990 (Lee et al. 2015; Nieves et al. 2015; Cheng et al. 2017). This Indian Ocean warming has had far-reaching impacts, causing droughts in the West Sahel, Mediterranean and South America (Giannini et al. 2003; Hoerling et al. 2012; Rodrigues et al. 2019), modulating the Pacific atmospheric circulation (Luo et al. 2012; Han et al. 2014a; Hamlington et al. 2014; Dong and McPhaden 2017), the Atlantic oceanic circulation and North Atlantic climate (Hu and Fedorov 2019; Hoerling et al. 2004). Finally, the basin accounts for about one-fifth of the global oceanic uptake of anthropogenic CO2 (Takahashi et al. 2002), helping to buffer the effects of global warming.
The role of the Indian Ocean in regional and global climate and the vulnerability of its rim populations articulate the need to better understand and predict its variability and change. The Indian Ocean Observing System (IndOOS; Fig. 1), established in 2006, is a multinational network of sustained oceanic measurements that underpin understanding and forecasting of weather and climate for the Indian Ocean region and beyond (International CLIVAR Project Office 2006). With the accelerating pace of climatic and oceanic change there is an urgent need to develop a more resilient and capable observing system that can better meet scientific and societal requirements for climate information and prediction over the next decade and beyond: IndOOS-2.
Here we provide an overview of the road map for IndOOS-2 (Beal et al. 2019), the result of a 3-yr internationally coordinated review of the IndOOS by more than 60 scientists (see “The IndOOS review” sidebar for details on the review process and sponsors, and a link to the full report). First, we briefly present the circulation and biogeochemistry of the Indian Ocean and their interaction with climate variability and change. We then describe the IndOOS and its components, summarizing past successes and limitations of the observing system in terms of the “state of the science,” thereby articulating the needed changes in its design. Finally, we present the core findings of the review, highlight some of the most important recommendations of the IndOOS-2 road map, and discuss some of the implementation challenges.
We thank the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP) and its core project on Climate and Ocean: Variability, Predictability and Change (CLIVAR), the Indian Ocean Global Ocean Observing System (IOGOOS), the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO (IOC-UNESCO), the Integrated Marine Biosphere Research (IMBeR) project, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics (IUGG) for providing the financial support to bring international scientists together to conduct this review. We thank the members of the independent review board that provided detailed feedbacks on the review report that is summarized in this article: P. E. Dexter, M. Krug, J. McCreary, R. Matear, C. Moloney, and S. Wijffels. PMEL Contribution 5041. C. Ummenhofer acknowledges support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Award for Innovative Research. Most importantly, we thank and acknowledge all the coauthors of individual chapters for their help on the IndOOS review: T. Aarup, K. Ando, M. A. Balmaseda, D. Barbary, L. Centurioni, R. Cowley, T. Doi, P. J. Durack, M. Gravelle, N. J. Hardman-Mountford, B. Ajay Kumar, A. Kumar, C. Lee, A. Matthews, E. McDonagh, M. Nagura, S. Neetu, A. G. Nidheesh, H. Phillips, H. A. Ramsay, L. Resplandy, K. Richards, E. L. Shroyer, J. Sprintall, D. Susanto, L. Testut, T. V. S. Bhaskar, F. Vitart, K. Walsh, R. Wanninkhof, P. L. Woodworth, C. Zhang, and T. Zhou.
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