What is our earth like? What all does she hold? What is going to be the future of earth? And how should humans act with the elements of earth? Our mother earth is undergoing upheavals in a tremendous way following heightened aspirations of human civilisation. Above all, the spectre of climate change is looming over us. Knowing about the vagaries of nature is yet another formidable challenge. To comprehend these critical issues of humanity, the Ministry of Earth Sciences (MOES) of the Government of India has been following scientific researches in India and outside India with considerable achievement during the last three years.
At a height of 4000m in Spiti in Himachal Pradesh, a research station has been built. Himalayan glaciers are being monitored from this research station called HIMANSH, literally meaning, a slice of ice.Over a stretch of 130km of Chandra River, water level recorders have been installed at five locations for studying hydrological balance. Using Terrestrial Laser Scanners and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, the glacier motion and snow cover variations can be surveyed and digitalized.
Besides, 150 ablation stakes over six glaciers are installed to know its mass balance to further on the knowledge of changing climate system. Ground Penetrating Radar is computing the estimated mass volume that can reveal this mass balance. HIMANSH has Automatic Weather Station, Steam Drill, differential global positioning system, flow tracker among other advanced scientific gadgets.
India’s first Moored Observatory in the Arctic at a water depth of 180m has come up. This mooring can enable acquiring data of sub-surface parameters during winter when the surface is frozen. The long term collection of the data can help understanding variability of processes due to climate change and also the understanding of atmospheric processes over the Indian sub-continent.
To get a glimpse of the interiors of the earth is a fabled wish of scientists and the lay alike. Last year, India’s Borehole Geophysics Research Laboratory has undertaken scientific deep drilling of the earth’s crust in Koyna, Maharashtra and its pilot borehole has now gone up to a depth of 2662m. This study will provide insight to the physics of reservoir triggered earthquakes and thereby prepare a predictive model.
For the first time, a deep sea drilling program was conducted in the Arabian Sea in 2015 as part of International Ocean Drilling Program. This was to document the co-evolution of mountain building, weathering, erosion, and climate over a range of timescales including the study of evolution of continental breakup between India and Seychelles and its relationship to the plume related volcanism of the Deccan Plateau.
India has been accorded observer status in the Arctic Council in recognition of her scientific contributions and endeavours in polar research. India’s Antarctic scientific expedition in its 35th and 36th edition had expedition members representing different organizations with projects covering upper atmosphere, astrophysics, geophysics, meteorology, glaciology, geology, biology, environmental sciences, human physiology and medicine. Last year, climate change and glaciology were stressed upon. The 3rd Indian Permanent Research Station Bharati has commenced its operations to study glaciology, atmosphere, paleo-climate and polar biology.
In 2015, Polar Remotely Operable Vehicle was launched successfully in the Antarctica waters at 100 m depth. It is a technological tool to help carry out explorations in the Polar Regions and at water depths up to 500m. In 2016, it was successfully deployed in the Andaman coral islands and the vehicle was successfully maneuvered in the undulating reef terrain to record high quality underwater visuals of coral reef biodiversity with spectral irradiance.
India became a member of the International Energy Agency –Ocean Energy Systems (IEA-OES). With this, India will have access to advanced R & D teams and technologies across the world. The Ministry of Earth Sciences signed a 15-year contract with the International Seabed Authority (ISA), for exploration of Poly-Metallic Sulphides (PMS) in the Indian Ocean. The ISA is an institution set up under the Convention on Law of the Sea to which India is a party.
Earth Science has also been directly sending advisories to the common people, be it for improved weather and cyclone predictions and improved monsoon predictions that have brought a tremendous benefit not just to agriculture but water resources, power generation, transport and certainly the Indian economy.
Fishermen in India have been relying on their instincts that become a delimiting factor for a good catch. The Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS) provides potential fishing zone advisories to 2.75 fishermen on a daily basis to help them to easily locate the areas of abundant fish in the ocean. Advisory maps are made by utilising data from multiple satellites. These advisory maps also include information on Indian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) boundary to avoid fishermen crossing across and surface currents of oceans.
MOES along with Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) is providing Agromet Advisory Services in vernacular languages to 21 million farmer in130-agro-met zones across 608 districts of the country.
The Climate Centre at India Meteorological Department (IMD), Pune has now been recognised as the Regional Climate Centre by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) for providing regional climate services to South Asian countries. An Earth System Model developed by the scientists at the Indian Institute of Meteorology, Pune will be the first climate model from India to contribute to the forthcoming sixth IPCC climate change assessment process. The model can be further used to develop future regional climate change scenarios at 25 km resolution and conduct climate impact assessment studies.
Scientific achievements done at the expense of the state should bear tangible benefits for people. Science should augment societal causes and bring benefits to all. There are certain researchers that take considerable time but their future societal impact is assessed beforehand. India’s scientific acumen has led to participation in several international organisations with redoubtable contribution to make a better habitation.
(Author is a senior journalist and a radio documentary maker)