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JST HOMESATREPS HOMECase StudiesEnvironment and Energy

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The irreplaceable Earth "simulated" by computer

"Abnormal weather" has become a common term throughout the world. Global environmental change is an issue too large to be resolved by any one country, and many regions are suffering from droughts and floods. The Republic of South Africa, whose agriculture is to a great extent weather-dependent, has been particularly and significantly impacted by meteorological phenomena. Although abnormal weather itself cannot be eliminated, forecasting changes in climate enables farmers to take such measures as substituting crops better suited to the changing climate.
This project utilizes Japan’s world-class supercomputer, JAMSTEC Earth Simulator, to, as the name implies, create an artificial Earth in order to forecast the climate up to a year in advance. These forecasts will be posted on websites to make them easily accessible to people in the areas affected. This is a groundbreaking project linking climate forecasts generated by a supercomputer, a crystallization of Japanese technology, with the people of southern Africa.

Toshio YamagataPrincipal investigator (Japan): Dr.Toshio YamagataApplication Laboratory, Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology

Formerly Professor and Dean of the University of Tokyo's School of Science (2009-2012); earned his PhD in Geophysics from the University of Tokyo. His areas of expertise are physical oceanography and climate dynamics.
After stints as an associate professor at Kyushu University and an associate professor in the University of Tokyo's Faculty of Science, he became a professor in the University of Tokyo's Graduate School of Science in 1994. He has discovered and named numerous large-scale atmospheric and oceanographic phenomena such as the Indian Ocean Dipole mode that generates abnormal weather. He also heads the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology’s research team engaged in world-leading prediction of climate change utilizing the Earth Simulator. He has won many awards both in Japan and abroad, including the Society Award of the Oceanographic Society of Japan, the Society Award of the Meteorological Society of Japan, and the Sverdrup Gold Medal from the American Meteorological Society.

Willem LandmanPrincipal investigator (South Africa): Dr.Willem LandmanChief Researcher, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research

Dr Landman has been working as a weather and climate scientist for about three decades. He was a Chief Scientist at the South African Weather Service before he joined the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in November 2009 where he has since been appointed to Chief Researcher. He specializes in research and development of prediction systems for short-range weather to long-range seasonal time scales. He is a Professor Extraordinary at the University of Pretoria, and has a B2-rating from the National Research Foundation of South Africa. He serves as Adjunct Research Scientist at the International Research Institute for Climate and Society in New York, USA. He is a member of the Working Group on Regional Climate for the World Climate Research programme (WCRP).


Japan perspective

■ Gathering clues to elucidate climate change across the globe
Climate prediction must incorporate a wide range of elements in its calculations, including atmospheric and oceanographic phenomena spanning extensive areas, so Japan cannot obtain sufficient data on its own. Conducting joint research with South Africa to develop forecasts for regions heretofore not highlighted will provide clues for elucidating climate change across the entire planet. We also anticipate that the know-how cultivated through exchange with local researchers having differing cultural backgrounds and values will prove useful in Japan's climate forecasts.

South Africa

South Africa perspective

■ Enabling seasonal prediction with Coupled Ocean-Atmosphere Models
The computers introduced for this project are the first computers in South Africa to be dedicated entirely to seasonal forecasts, and these seasonal forecasts will be the first such forecasts generated on the African continent using Coupled Ocean-Atmosphere Models. The scientific and technological exchange that this project allows with Japan, which boasts high scientific standards, is extremely important for South Africa as well, and we are very grateful to SATREPS.

Project Overview

Subtropical Dipole modes Subtropical Dipole modes

Project interview

What are the climatic characteristics of southern Africa?

世界のワイン通を唸らせる一杯が生まれます。South Africa has a diversity of climates ? an arid climate, a subtropical climate as well as a Mediterranean climate are found in the country ? and each region cultivates crops suited to its climate. The wine made in areas with a Mediterranean climate is an good example. As the climate is stable throughout the year, very few efforts have been made to deal with floods, droughts or other abnormal meteorological phenomena.

What was your inspiration in starting this research?

It became possible to make climate change predictions for tropical zones quite precisely using the Coupled Ocean-Atmosphere Models, and we are even able to correctly forecast El Nino patterns (a phenomena bringing unusual warming to the South American coastline every few years) up to two years in advance. However, predicting climate change for the mid latitude zones in which Japan and South Africa reside is extraordinarily challenging. Although situated in the same mid latitude zone, South Africa is not subjected to complex monsoons and thus has weather patterns easier to forecast than that of Japan. The research on climate change prediction in southern Africa is a first step to increase the precision of predictions for mid-latitude areas.

Why South Africa?

Cape of Good HopeJapan and South Africa have long carried out research on climate forecasting in South Africa and the rest of southern Africa. However, the great distances from the southern Indian Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean meant a dearth of available data in Japan, which made it difficult to verify the validity of our simulation research. South Africa, on the other hand, faced deficiencies in its simulation research aimed at interpreting observational results. We therefore launched a project that combines the observational data accumulated by South Africa with our simulation technology.

What do local residents think of this project?

FarmerResearchers in South Africa have shown themselves very eager to learn about Japan's simulation models. Local residents engaged in agriculture, too, have reportedly expressed high expectations of getting hold of seasonal forecasts several months ahead of time.

What does the future hold for this project?

At the moment South Africans are just using Japanese technology, but I hope in future to see young local researchers master the technology, operate their own systems, and improve their models on their own initiative.

Table MountainAccurate seasonal climate forecasts are good for lots of things besides agriculture! When heavy rains are forecast, mosquito population could increase and malaria countermeasures should be taken, while forecasts for sparse rains can prompt the reduction of water flow from dams to ensure there are no water shortages. The people living around Table Mountain (shown in the photo above), a symbol of Cape Town in South Africa, are able to forecast the weather by looking at the mist and clouds on the mountain. This is the ancient wisdom!

Differences between meteorological phenomena, weather, weather patterns, and climate

Comments from an intern

Takuya Ito, SATREPS Intern This is a famous project about which I often heard from my first days as an intern, so I am quite honored to have an opportunity to introduce it. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Rio Summit, where the global environment became a worldwide concern, and key figures from around the world gathered this year at "Rio+20" to discuss the progress made on environmental issues and future directions. President Jose Mujica of Uruguay offered some stern words to the other participants, exhorting them to make a fundamental re-examination of the way they see environmental issues: " The element of the environment that must be given utmost priority is 'human happiness.' This itself is an environmental issue." To help South Africans harvest, sell and live off the proceeds of the agricultural commodities that have been painstakingly produced, Japan is using a supercomputer, a symbol of development, in this project. I would be very pleased if more of the world were aware that there are many people firmly committed to working for the sake of 'human happiness.'

(Takuya Ito, SATREPS Intern)

Environment and Energy (Climate change)

Prediction of Climate Variations and its Application in the Southern African Region The “Virtual Earth” Will Change Agriculture in South Africa


Principal Investigator (Affiliation) Head of Laboratory, Dr. YAMAGATA Toshio / Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC)
Collaborators The University of Tokyo
Adoption fiscal year FY 2009
Research Period 3 Years
ODA Recipient Country Republic of South Africa
Counterpart Research Institutions Applied Centre for Climate and Earth Systems Science (ACCESS), etc

* 'Research Period' indicates the period of collaboration finalized between the research institutes.

Project Details