1999 photo of Takio Murakami. He passed away in 2013 at the age of 92.

1999 photo of Prof. Takio Murakami

“We are going to flatten the Himalayas and see what will happen to the Indian monsoon! We will be cooling the Indian Ocean to find out if the monsoon will go dry!” The words were coming from a short-statured man speaking with great enthusiasm and confidence. The year was 1968. The place was the open verandah of Ramdurg House where the Institute of Tropical Meteorology was situated in Pune. The speaker was standing in front of a blackboard with just a chalk in his hand and manipulating the monsoon seemed like a child’s play to him. He was Takio Murakami. He had come to spend a year at ITM (it became IITM in 1971) and was giving a preliminary talk before ITM scientists, spelling out his ideas about the Indian monsoon.

I was listening to the talk as a recently recruited scientific assistant. My job in ITM was to help scientists do their research. But I was fascinated by Takio Murakami. I was in my early twenties and I had seen the Himalayas and the Indian Ocean only in geography textbooks. How could Murakami cut the Himalayas to size or modify the temperature of the sea, I wondered. I was soon to discover that Murakami’s only tool was a computer named IBM 1620.

The IBM 1620 occupied a whole room. It had an operator’s console with hundreds of flashing lights and switches. It had a memory of 32 K that was the size of a large cupboard. It was fed with cards that had been punched with appropriate code. Thousands of cards would be going into waste paper baskets by the end of each day. Six machines of the IBM 1620 series had been imported by the government of India, which in its wisdom and foresight had given one of them for meteorological research. In those days words like hardware and software had not been coined. We had Fortran programs and subroutines which we wrote ourselves. The internet did not exist, so there was no question of downloading anything.

Murakami’s monsoon model was conceptualized by him, designed by him, and written by him on paper. I had the privilege of converting his paperwork into what was executable on a computer. It was quickly evident that Murakami’s model, even when trimmed to its barest minimum was too large for the IBM 1620 to handle. So we began to hire computer time on the more powerful CDC 3600 at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai. I would carry boxfuls of cards to Mumbai, run the programs there and bring back the results to show them to Murakami. Sometimes he would be thrilled to see them, sometimes disappointed.

On an occasion that I still remember, Murakami had given me a hundred pages of code in his own handwriting and had asked me to get them punched on cards. I completed that job with a speed that Murakami had perhaps not been expecting. He was skeptical that I had not done a thorough check. I felt unhappy with his remark and retorted that there were no errors on my part, but that his mistakes if any have been copied faithfully by me. Murakami was visibly offended. He tried his best to find out errors in my work, but he could discover none. He called me later and expressed his appreciation.

When Murakami arrived at ITM, so many people flocked around him. They saw in him an opportunity to do great research. But Murakami was not only a great scientist, he was also a strict taskmaster. He expected a lot from his co-workers, and his expectations were difficult to meet. I was one person who remained attached to Murakami until it was time for him to leave ITM.

Murakami’s work was truly pioneering. He simulated a near-steady state monsoon in a zonally symmetric framework along the longitude 80º E in the month of July. He designed a primitive equation model with a -system in which the atmosphere was divided into 8 layers. The top of the frictional boundary layer was taken as level 8½. In the horizontal only y-variation was considered, with 18 grid points at 5º latitude interval. In the x-direction, symmetry was assumed. Radiation heating and cooling was computed using the distribution of absorbing gases and clouds for the month of July. During the iterations, whenever the vertical lapse rate of temperature exceeded the wet (dry) adiabatic value with saturated conditions, it was adjusted to the wet (dry) adiabatic value by a redistribution of static energy. SST was kept at a constant value of 300ºK, while the land surface temperature was computed from the heat balance of the surface fluxes. The model was run with a calm initial state and the initial vertical distribution of temperature was prescribed as per the standard atmosphere. The model was run with a 10-minute time step for 80 days and experiments were repeated without the Himalayan orography. Murakami was successful in simulating some of the large scale features of the monsoon circulation and the wind speeds were of the same order as those in climatological normals. The result of particular importance was that when the Himalayan mountains were removed from the orographic profile along the longitude 80º E, the zonal circulation became much weaker, with lower level westerly winds of 10 knots and upper level easterly winds of 20 knots only. This showed that a realistic parameterization of the Himalayan mountains is crucial to the numerical simulation of the monsoon.

Presently the term “monsoon model” has become a household word in India. But the monsoon model that Murakami designed and ran successfully five decades ago, was something way ahead of his time!

It is ironical that such fundamental and invaluable work never got published in a journal and it remains confined to the pages of a conference proceedings volume.*

I learnt a lot of meteorology from Murakami. But on a personal level, I got to learn much more from his way of life: values like honesty, dedication, foresight, which are becoming increasingly difficult to find in today’s world. I know that my own contribution to Murakami’s work was minimal, but he was gracious enough to include my name as his co-author. That was Takio!

– R R Kelkar
*Murakami T., Godbole R. V. and Kelkar R. R., 1970, “Numerical simulation of the monsoon along 80° E”, Proc. Conf. Summer Monsoon of Southeast Asia, Norfolk, Va, USA, [Ed: Ramage C. S.], 39-51.

Biographical note:

Prof. Takio Murakami commenced his career as a weather forecaster at Japan Meteorological Agency in the 1950s. He then devoted himself to research in tropical meteorology and monsoon dynamics. In 1960 he went to MIT as a visiting researcher for four years. After returning to Japan, he visited Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Pune, in 1968 as an expert of WMO and personally experienced the Indian monsoon. In 1969 he joined the Department of Meteorology, University of Hawaii at Manoa. He made a pivotal contribution to the planning and implementation of both the summer and winter MONEX experiments conducted in 1978-79. He hosted a number of young researchers from Japan, China, and many other monsoon countries. He officially retired from the University of Hawaii in 1990 and became a professor emeritus. He passed away in 2013 at the age of 92.