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OTC Asia 2016: Expert warns offshore weather threats

March 24, 2016

The threat of weather-related offshore disasters across Asia is growing, as both the number of deepwater operations and the severity of extreme weather events increase.

In an interview with AOG, MetService manager of forecast operations Ramon Oosterkamp discusses weather threats in the region and science-based weather forecasting and monitoring techniques. 

What are the common weather threats in Asia?

There are two distinct weather phases in Asia, the wet and dry season. However, significant weather events are possible at any time of the year. Of these, typhoons are the most potentially devastating.

The southwest monsoon typically begins around June and finishes in September, with typhoon activity generally occurring from July to October.  

For a time in July 2015, tropical storm Linfa South of Taiwan, typhoon Chan-Hom east of China and typhoon Nankga east of Gua, all existed at the same time, and with one of the more active tropical basins in the world, simultaneous major systems are not unrealistic.

While we are now seeing El Niño, a climate cycle in the Pacific Ocean begin to weaken, enough lingering effects would suggest we may see enhanced activity early in the 2016 season.

This is with a possibility that a system that develops over the western part of the basin be carried westward toward land areas of eastern Asia later during the spring and in the early summer. According to experts, the weakening El Niño should lead to lower overall typhoons compared to 2015.

Other hazards particularly associated with Southeast Asia, if not unique to it, include the difficult to forecast bursts of high wind and swell due to winter cold surges off the continent, complex current and tidal effects along with sub-surface standing waves in certain basins, and atmospheric haze.  Haze in particular can be problematic for aviation operations.   

How do these threats vary from other regions?

The Western Pacific basin is one of the most active tropical basins in the world, and whilst the season for typhoon activity generally is most active from June to September, it is possible that significant activity occurs outside of these months.

Adding climate change to this environment, it is possible that we will see an increase in typhoon occurrence, and if and when they occur that they will be more intense. Last year, typhoon Koppu a category four occurred in the Philippine Sea in October, and typhoon Higos occurred during February, suggesting that typhoons are a potential threat for much of the year. Typhoon activity is rare south of the Spratly Islands and Gulf of Thailand, but not impossible and if they occur intensity is likely to remain modest.

How crucial are metocean studies to offshore operations?

Disruptive effects from typhoon activity can lead to significant down time in exploration and production, and can also result in increased likelihood of incidents on vessels and platforms requiring rapid deployment and shut off.

The ability to offer a significant heads up on the likelihood of increased tropical activity, both broad-scale, typhoons, and meso-scale, squalls and lightning, are able to mitigate some of the inherent risks of this volatile environment.

With improvements in weather forecasting and monitoring techniques, we are able to provide advice beyond the traditional three to seven days, and extend to monthly and seasonal outlooks, giving statistically credible commentary for risk mitigation during times of heightened severe weather.

In addition, the variability of complex currents requires intensive modeling and monitoring programs to optimize design, implementation and maintenance of sub-surface infrastructure. 

How can these challenges be managed?

Improvements in offshore and marine weather forecasting skills gained in domestic markets of Australia, New Zealand and Europe are scalable to the Asian environment. Techniques will have to be adapted to individual specialized regions, and this is already taking place, with computational meteorological techniques undergoing fine-tuning for the subtleties of Asian basins.

Global computer models are able to provide advice on evolving tropical storms and typhoons, whilst we are now able to provide additional pre-formation of typhoons advice to extend the window of opportunity for warnings using nested local area models and ensemble techniques.

With increases in remote sensing capability, we are able to provide warning of impending conducive atmospheric conditions for squall occurrence, and are rapidly working toward an automated squall warning system using a variety of expert algorithms and remote sensing information.

How do science-based marine weather solutions work?

Science-based marine weather solutions use the established disciplines of meteorological modeling and remote sensing, and are at their most effective when client and solution provider work closely together to develop solutions that mitigate specific risks.

When we have a collaborative relationship between client and operational meteorologist, and synergistic relationship between a technological solution and the operational meteorologist, we can effectively convey the level of risk and probability of the occurrence of an event and allow the client to reduce any impact on production.

Image: Ramon Oosterkamp / MetService



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