Tuesday, December 7, 2021

India’s research spree in Antarctica: 41st scientific expedition successfully launched

India successfully launched the the 41st scientific expedition to Antarctica on November 15, first batch of the contingent of which has reached the southern continent. The Ministry of Earth Sciences, in a statement, informed that the first batch of the contingent, comprising 23 scientists and support staff, reached the Indian Antarctic station, Maitri, last week. Four more batches are expected to land in Antarctica by mid January 2022, using the DROMLAN facility.

41st scientific expedition to Antarctica

Once the entire contingent reaches Antarctica, two major programs will be launched by the team as part of the expedition.

First Program: This includes geological exploration of the Amery ice shelf at Bharati station, a permanent Antarctic research station commissioned by India. This involves studying and exploring the links between India and Antarctica in the past.

Second program: Reconnaissance surveys and preparatory work will be undertaken as part of this program for drilling of 500 meters of ice core near the Maitri station. The idea behind this program is to improve the understanding and undertaking proper study of Antarctic climate, westerly winds, sea-ice, greenhouse gases etc. from a single climate archive for the past 10,000 years.

Ice core drilling

The second program involves drilling of 500 meters of ice core near the Maitri station. The British Antarctic Survey and the Norwegian Polar Institute have especially collaborated to carry out the drilling. This collaboration will also play a role in replenishing the annual supplies of food, provisions, fuel, and spares for operations and maintenance of life support systems at Maitri and Bharati.

The Indian Antarctic Programme

The Indian Antarctic Program is run and controlled by National Centre for Polar and Ocean Research, Ministry of Earth Sciences, GoI. Under the program, biological, atmospheric, chemical, medical and earth sciences are observed and studied by India. India launched its first Annual Scientific Expeditions to the Antarctica in 1981, after having realised the importance that Antarctica holds in terms of scientific research. The first permanent settlement Dakshin Gangotri, was built in 1983 but it was decommissioned in 1990 after half of it got buried under the ice. This was followed by setting up of the living-cum-research station ‘Maitri’ in 1989 and the Bharati station, later in 2012.

Bharati & Maitri stations: India’s research cores in Antarctica

The Bharati station is India’s third Antarctic research facility in Antarctica. It holds its position as one of two active Indian research stations, alongside the Maitri station. Its completion made India one of the 9 nations to own multiple stations within the Antarctic Circle.

Bharati has been operational since March 2012, though it is still used for trials and awaits a formal launch. The research it undertakes includes oceanographic studies & the phenomenon of continental breakup. It also facilitates research to refine the present understanding of the Indian subcontinent’s geological history.

The Maitri station, on the other hand, holds its position as India’s second permanent research station in Antarctica as part of the Indian Antarctic Programme, under which atmospheric, biological, earth, chemical, and medical sciences are studied by India. It sits in the rocky mountainous region called the ‘Schirmacher Oasis’ and is situated 5 km away from the Russian Novolazarevskaya Station. Work here was first started by the Indian Expedition in end Dec 1984, whereas the first huts were started by the 4th Antarctica Expedition and completed in 1989, shortly before the first station Dakshin Gangotri got buried in ice.

In order to keep the southern continent free of COVID-19, the contingent was made to undergo a strict medical examination at AIIMS (Delhi) and a stringent sanitary protocol which also included a 14-days quarantine at Cape Town in South Africa.

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