Reinforcing Fiji’s Weather Monitoring

NIWA and the Fiji Meteorological Service (FMS) have extended Fiji's weather monitoring by adding weather stations on four islands in Fiji's outer Lau Group.

This is part of an on-going programme to improve climate and weather monitoring and forecasting in Fiji and its neighbouring countries. 

NIWA has assisted FMS with the installation of more than 20 meteorological monitoring stations around the Fiji Island group. 

The aim

The aim of this project is to upgrade stations in the outer Islands of Fiji. These stations, part of the weather monitoring network, need to be sustainable and continuously send reliable and standard weather information to wherever it is needed. To meet these criteria the network needs to:

  • Work during extreme weather events such as cyclones
  • Have few maintenance requirements
  • Generate reports that are compatible with a global standard
  • Have competent local and remote support to ensure long-term continuous operation 

Overcoming the technical challenges

The first challenge is to get data from the weather stations into the FMS database in Nadi, for this we need a robust communication system. Only two of the four islands have reliable cellular coverage therefore we can't rely on Fiji's cellular network as we do for many mainland stations.

The best way to get the data is via satellite. We chose a geostationary satellite communications system with a new Neon module which has Broadband Global Area Network (BGAN) satellite capability. This optimises continuous data transfer.

A geostationary satellite remains in the same position above the earth's surface and is available to any compatible satellite terminal in its line of sight. This is an improvement from the previous Low Earth Orbiting (LEO) satellite system where data is not always available as a satellite is not always in sight.

Our tests of the Neon BGAN system produced a 'data availability' score of 100 per cent; significantly better than its Low Earth Orbiting predecessor.  

The second challenge is to develop an automatic process to enable the conversion of the proprietary NIWA 'climate monitoring-focused' data to the standard World Meteorological Organization (WMO) weather reporting format. This standard format, called SYNOP (surface SYNOPtic observation) is used internationally to transfer meteorological information.

The automated Synoptic generator allows us to generate SYNOP reports. These can be sent every three hours and consist of ordered groups of formatted numbers describing weather information, such as wind speed and direction, temperature and barometric pressure.

Meeting these challenges; the implementation of BGAN satellite communication systems and the availability of the SYNOP generator integrated with data collection have greatly enhanced monitoring capability, not just for Fiji, but for other Pacific Island countries where similar work is being completed.  

Recording the remote weather data on the Lau Islands

We installed a weather station on four islands: Vanuabalavu, Lakeba, Ono-i-Lau and Matuku. 

These new station measurements conform to WMO standards. They record wind speed and direction, air temperature, humidity, barometric pressure and rainfall, and have the capacity for several other parameters.

Each NIWA station operates automatically, it reads its climate sensors every 3 seconds and records the data on the Neon data logger every 10 minutes. Data is usually reported hourly but 10 minute updates can be requested as required. Stations have been designed to minimise the need for site visits for maintenance and calibration checks.

The FMS data capture systems use NIWA's Flosys client/server software for data retrieval and carrying out tasks such as processing alarms generated when data values fall outside a pre-programmed range at any of the remote monitoring stations. 

Training

Training is an important part of the project. The sustainability of the operation depends on the successful up-skilling of the FMS technicians who will be maintaining the systems.  

Where to next?

The FMS is planning further upgrades to the network and more satellite-based weather stations.

Upgrading from the present Flosys server to a newer web-based Neon server is also being considered. This would enable FMS to easily make data accessible via the Internet. It would also enable us to provide a live interactive computer display showing an overview of the network, the individual stations and their data, in near real time.

NIWA will provide FMS staff with ongoing training both in New Zealand and Fiji to ensure the sustained operation of the network.

Related articles

Upgrading the Fiji Meteorological Services Rainfall Network

Who was involved in the project

NIWA

Fiji Meteorological Service (FMS)

Funded by the Fiji Government.

Contacts

Jeremy Bulleid - Instrument Systems 
jeremy.bulleid@niwa.co.nz 

Andrew Harper - Climate Networks 
andrew.harper@niwa.co.nz 

A friendly technological invasion at Fiji’s Ono-i-Lau Island. Photo: A. Nabianivalu (FMS)
BGAN Satellite aerial mounted on the side of a mast facing a geostationary satellite. Photo Andrew Harper (NIWA)
Josefa Vodo, Andrew Harper, Len Bale and Uraia Tuilovoni stand in front of a completed weather station Photo: A Chandra (FMS)
The night shift initialises the Neon system. photo: I Waqabaca (FMS)
Map of Fiji and outer islands, showing the locations of the weather stations.
Research subject: Instrumentation