BOULDER--Four African meteorologists have spent the past nine months inBoulder building a multimedia CD-ROM that demonstrates how to best usesatellite data for improving weather forecasts in the tropics. Betterforecasts, including daily and seasonal rainfall predictions, arecritical to Africa, where millions of lives depend on the current year'scrops from farms of all sizes.
The module will be distributed to the national weather forecastingcenters across Africa. Once back at their respective meteorologicaltraining centers in Niger and Kenya, the four technology pioneers willteach educators from across the continent the process of building suchmodules for meteorology and other applications.
The Cooperative Program for Operational Meteorology Education andTraining (or COMET, part of the Boulder-based University Corporation forAtmospheric Research), trained the four scientists--Koffigan Attitso, ofTogo; Emmanuel Kploguede, of Benin; and Joseph Kagenyi and JamesKongoti, both of Kenya--in how to develop the module. The GermanOrganization for Technical Cooperation (GTZ) and the EuropeanOrganization for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites(EUMETSAT) funded the program, known as the African SatelliteMeteorology Education and Training (ASMET) project.
Because sub-Saharan economies depend on rain-fed agriculture, betterforecasts could raise the general standard of living. "The mostimportant forecasting issue for both policymakers and farmers ispredicting the start and end of the seasonal rains," says Kongoti. Inmost of Africa there is little irrigation; crops depend entirely onseasonal rainfall. When the farmers produce enough food, says Kagenyi,"we all eat better, and we live better."
All four participants are instructors in satellite meteorology and areadept at computer applications. Kongoti and Kagenyi are instructors atthe Institute for Meteorological Training and Research (IMTR) inNairobi, in English-speaking East Africa. Attitso and Kploguede areinstructors at the African School of Meteorology and Civil Aviation inNiamey, Niger, in French-speaking West Africa. Both institutes operatein cooperation with the World Meteorological Organization.
The four are well aware that African forecasters face seriousdisadvantages in trying to predict the weather. Three essentialcomponents taken for granted by forecasters in the western world aremissing in Africa: adequate weather data, widespread expertise in theuse of satellite imagery, and computer forecast models with appropriateparameters.
According to Attitso, "We have very little conventional weather data inAfrica. That is the number-one obstacle we face in making a good weatherforecast."
In many parts of Africa, weather observation stations are located onlyin regional administrative centers, often hundreds of kilometers apart.The World Meteorological Organization's recommendations for stationdistribution are not fully implemented because of limited resources.
Kongoti agrees, "The quality of weather forecasts in Africa is verypoor. Besides having so little conventional data, the use of satelliteimagery is limited. We made this module to teach forecasters how toexploit the data that we do have, which is mostly from satellites."
EUMETSAT, a consortium of 17 western European countries, operates aweather satellite that provides excellent coverage of Africa. "From itsposition in space, the best pictures that the satellite gets are theones of Africa," says Kploguede. "With this module, we are going totrain forecasters to use those images to their full potential and makebetter forecasts."
Another obstacle faced by African meteorologists is the lack of forecastmodels. Says Attitso, "The European models are not relevant to thetropics. We have completely different forecasting problems from those inEurope, and these problems vary across our continent." For example,whether a country is located north or south of the intertropicalconvergence zone--where the northeast and southeast trade winds meet andrise--has a tremendous influence on weather. The European models do notadequately account for the ITCZ.
While in Boulder, the four meteorologists performed every aspect ofcreating the module: providing content; designing, scripting, andprogramming; developing animations; preparing audio and video; andplanning for the module's use. COMET project leader Marianne Weingroff,who holds a master's degree in instructional design, says, "It's thebest project I've ever worked on. All four are totally committed totheir mission."
The module exists in both English and French. Educators from aroundAfrica are expected to travel to the centers in Nairobi and Niamey fortraining in satellite meteorology, using the module. Some may also learnhow to build similar tools tailored to their own needs. The module willbe available for distance education at forecasters' offices as well.
"Our CD-ROM is a tool for studying tropical meteorology anywhere, notjust in Africa. You can use it in southern California, in Mexico, in anytropical or subtropical region," says Kagenyi.
According to COMET project manager Brian Heckman, one thousand copiesof the module will be distributed, not only in Africa, but also todeveloping countries around the world, and to U.S. universities offeringcourses in tropical meteorology. U.S. forecasters are interested inAfrican weather because many of the hurricanes that reach the UnitedStates develop from tropical waves over central Africa. These waves areamong the topics included in the module.
Attitso, Kagenyi, Kongoti, and Kploguede are beginning to plan for theirnext module, which will cover additional topics in using satellite datato make better weather forecasts. They will build the CD-ROM in Africain collaboration with Weingroff over e-mail. She has already helped themmap out a production schedule.
After nine months in Boulder, the four African scientists will head homelater this month. Says Kploguede, "We are the pioneers, but the projectis not only for us and our institutes. We are going to train people fromall over the continent of Africa through this module. We are going tohelp our people. This project is real."
The University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) is aconsortium of more than 60 North American universities offering Ph.D.sin the atmospheric and related sciences.
Editor's Note: The original news release can be found at http://www.ucar.edu/publications/newsreleases/1998/africans.html
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