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A glimpse of the Antarctic Mission: Retracing India’s journey to the Great White Continent

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By Gaurav Sharma

There are many places on Earth which do not fit the conventional definition of ‘popular’ tourism places.

Topping the list of these unconventional places is Antarctica.

Nearly twice the size of Australia, Antarctica, on any ‘normal’ day, is the coldest, driest and the windiest place located at the highest average elevation among all continents on Earth.

The vast wilderness and isolated grandeur of the Southern landmass has always been an appealing attraction to the curious eyes of human explorers.

Legal standing of Antarctica

Members of the Antarctic Treaty
Members of the Antarctic Treaty

Geopolitically, Antarctica is governed by The Antarctic Treaty, an international legislation signed by more than 50 countries, representing the large majority of the world’s population.

The treaty underscores the contention that the great white continent is too huge and too unique to be governed by any one nation.

The 1961 treaty holds Antarctica as a scientific preserve, bans military activities and sanctions scientific investigations while highlighting the importance of minimal human activities in the region.

India acceded to the treaty on August 1, 1983, becoming its thirteenth Consultative member.

India’s foray into the Great White

Indian scientists, explorers and researchers haven’t been left behind in the quest for discovering the unique biodiversity and environmental physiology of Antarctica.

Historic-02
Lieutenent Ram Charan

Lieutenent Ram Charan, an Indian Navy Meteorologist, was the first Indian to touch ground in Antarctica while accompanying an Australian expedition in 1960.

The Indian flag, however, was unfurled in Antarctica for the first time in the beginning years of 1980s, cascading into a series of other Southern Ocean expeditions.

Dr Syed Zahoor Qasim, a leading marine biologist led India’s first expedition to the frozen continent, hoisting the tricolour on the white expanse on January 9, 1982.

Breaking the monopoly of the rich and developed nations, the fourteen member team led by Dr Qasim made the world take notice of India as a leading explorative nation.

Till date more than 30 expeditions to the Southern ice-mass have been successfully organized by India.

Establishing Research Stations

Dr Syed Zahoor Qasim

After leading India’s first expedition to Antarctica, Dr Qasim successfully organized and guided seven other tours from 1981 to 1988.

  • Dakshin Gangotri: Located 2500 Kms from the South Pole, Dakshin Gangotri was India’s first scientific base station. Set up by an 81 member team, the base station comprised entirely of indigenous equipment and was powered by solar energy. The station was used as an automatic weather recording station apart from serving as a test station for radio waves and an observatory for physical oceanography.

  • Maitri: India’s second permanent research base in Antarctica was built in 1989. Maitri is situated atop a mountainous region called Schirmacher Oasis. The station is endowed with modern facilities to carry out research in various disciplines such as  biology, earth sciences, glaciology, atmospheric sciences, meteorology etc. After the establishment of Maitri, India achieved the aim of mapping the Oasis and also built its own freshwater lake, Lake Priyadarshini in the region.

  • Bharti: India commissioned its third research facility in Antarctica on a rocky promontory fringing the Prydz Bay between Stornes and Broknes peninsula in the Larsemann Hills area. Bharti focuses on oceanographic studies and the phenomenon of continental breakup, Additionally, it also facilitates research to refine the current understanding of the Indian subcontinent’s geological history.

Who organizes India’s Antarctic program?

Indian Antarctic Program

The National Centre for Antarctic and Ocean Research(NCAOR), a government body functioning under the Ministry of Earth Sciences controls India’s Antarctic program.

The NCAOR, in collaboration with the Department of Ocean Development, selects members of the tours.

Trainees have to undergo thorough medical tests and acclimatization trips on the Himalayas before being selected. They are then subsequently trained in firefighting, survival tactics and environmental ethics.

Commitment to Antarctic protection

Apart from being a party in the Antarctica Treaty System, India has signed the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR). In 1997, India also ratified the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty thus reaffirming India’s commitment to protection of the Antarctic environment.

The chair to CCAMLR has been occupied by India in 1998 for a period of two years.

Furthermore, India collaborates with major global organizations; the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, Regional Committee of Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission in Coastal Indian Ocean (IOCINDIO), & International Seabed Authority (ISBA).

Today, India stands in good stead with the major superpowers while crafting out its own unique scientific, research space in Antarctica.

At the same time, India has ensured that the pressing issue of environmental degradation due to human activity is addressed through its own example of international cooperation.

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The connection between Antarctic Volcanic Eruptions and abrupt Climate Change: Study

Joseph McConnell conducted the study

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The connection between Antarctic Volcanic Eruptions and abrupt Climate Change
The connection between Antarctic Volcanic Eruptions and abrupt Climate Change. Pixabay
  • The Climate change that began approximately 17,700 years ago included a sudden poleward shift in the westerly winds encircling Antarctica
  • Joseph McConnell’s ice core laboratory enabled high-resolution measurements of ice cores extracted from remote regions of the Earth, such as Greenland and Antarctica
  • West Antarctic Ice Sheet Divide core was drilled to a depth of more than 3,405 meters

New York, USA, September 7, 2017: A series of volcanic eruptions in the Antarctica coincided with increased deglaciation and rise in global greenhouse gas concentrations about 17,700 years ago, says a study.

“Detailed chemical measurements in Antarctic ice cores show that massive, halogen-rich eruptions from the West Antarctic Mt. Takahe volcano coincided exactly with the onset of the most rapid, widespread Climate Change in the Southern Hemisphere during the end of the last ice age,” said Joseph McConnell, Professor at the Desert Research Institute (DRI) in Nevada, US.

The Climate Change that began approximately 17,700 years ago included a sudden poleward shift in the westerly winds encircling Antarctica with corresponding changes in sea ice extent, ocean circulation and ventilation of the deep ocean.

Evidence of Climate Change like this is found in many parts of the Southern Hemisphere and in different paleoclimate archives, but what prompted these changes has remained largely unexplained.

“We postulate that these halogen-rich eruptions created a stratospheric ozone hole over Antarctica that, analogous to the modern ozone hole, led to large-scale changes in atmospheric circulation and hydro climate throughout the Southern Hemisphere,” McConnell said.

Furthermore, the fallout from these eruptions – containing elevated levels of hydrofluoric acid and toxic heavy metals – extended at least 2,800 kilometers from Mt. Takahe and likely reached southern South America.

For the study, McConnell’s ice core laboratory enabled high-resolution measurements of ice cores extracted from remote regions of the Earth, such as Greenland and Antarctica.

One such ice core, known as the West Antarctic Ice Sheet Divide (WAIS Divide) core was drilled to a depth of more than 3,405 meters, and much of it was analyzed in the Desert Research Institute Ultra-Trace Laboratory for more than 30 different elements and chemical species.

Additional analyses and modeling studies critical to support the authors’ findings were made by collaborating institutions around the US and the world.

“These precise, high-resolution records illustrate that the chemical anomaly observed in the WAIS Divide ice core was the result of a series of eruptions of Mt. Takahe located 350 kilometers to the north,” Monica Arienzo, Assistant Research Professor at DRI, said. (IANS)

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Largest Volcanic Region on Earth Discovered in Antarctica

"The big question is: how active are these volcanoes? That is something we need to determine as quickly as possible,"

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The largest volcanic region is below the ice sheets in west Antarctica
Largest volcanic region discovered in Antarctica. Pixabay
  • The largest volcanic region on Earth has been discovered in west Antarctica 
  • The newly discovered volcanoes range in height from 100 to 3,850 m
  • These active peaks are concentrated in a region known as the west Antarctic rift system

London, August 15, 2017: The largest volcanic region on Earth — with nearly 100 volcanoes — has been discovered two km below the surface of the vast ice sheet in west Antarctica.

Researchers from the University of Edinburgh in Britain found a staggering 91 previously unknown volcanoes, adding to the 47 others that had been discovered over the previous century of exploring the region.

These newly discovered volcanoes range in height from 100 to 3,850 m, with the highest almost as tall as Switzerland’s 3,970-m Eiger mountain.

These active peaks are concentrated in a region known as the west Antarctic rift system — which stretches 3,500 km from Antarctica’s Ross ice shelf to the Antarctic peninsula.

According to geologists, this huge region is likely to dwarf east Africa’s volcanic ridge — currently rated as the densest concentration of volcanoes in the world.

ALSO READVenus could have active volcanoes, says research

However, the activity of this range could have worrying consequences, glacier expert Robert Bingham was quoted as saying to the Guardian.

“If one of these volcanoes were to erupt it could further destabilise west Antarctica’s ice sheets,” Bingham warned.

“Anything that causes the melting of ice, which an eruption certainly would, is likely to speed up the flow of ice into the sea,” he said.

“The big question is: how active are these volcanoes? That is something we need to determine as quickly as possible,” he added.

The Edinburgh volcano survey, reported in the Geological Society’s special publications series, involved studying the underside of the west Antarctica ice sheet for hidden peaks of basalt rock similar to those produced by the region’s other volcanoes.

Presently, volcanism is seen in regions, including Iceland and Alaska, that have recently lost their glacier covering. The same could happen in west Antarctica, where significant warming in the region caused by climate change has begun to affect its ice sheets.

If they are reduced significantly, this could release pressure on the volcanoes that lie below and lead to eruptions that could further destabilise the ice sheets and enhance sea level rises that are already affecting our oceans, Bingham noted. (IANS)

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Antarctic Peninsula: One of the Coldest Areas in the World is getting Greener, say Researchers

The cores, researchers say, showed “increased biological activity” over the past 50 years as the peninsula warmed. Researchers say their findings show “fundamental and widespread change,” and that the change was “striking.”

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Researchers say the Antarctic Peninsula is rapidly greening due to climate change. (Matt Amesbury). VOA

Antarctica, May 20,2017-One of the coldest areas in the world is getting greener, and researchers say it’s because of global warming.

Researchers from the University of Exeter in England who first studied the increase of moss and microbes in the Antarctic Peninsula in 2013, now say the greening of the region is widespread.

“This gives us a much clearer idea of the scale over which these changes are occurring,” says lead author Matthew Amesbury of the University of Exeter.

“Previously, we had only identified such a response in a single location at the far south of the Antarctic Peninsula, but now we know that moss banks are responding to recent climate change across the whole of the Peninsula.”

The peninsula, researchers say, is one of the more rapidly warming area in the world, adding that temperatures have risen by about a half-degree Celsius each decade since the 1950s.

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For their study, researchers looked at five more core samples from three areas of moss banks over 150 years old. The new samples included three Antarctic Islands off the peninsula.

The cores, researchers say, showed “increased biological activity” over the past 50 years as the peninsula warmed. Researchers say their findings show “fundamental and widespread change,” and that the change was “striking.”

The changes are likely to continue.

“Temperature increases over roughly the past half-century on the Antarctic Peninsula have had a dramatic effect on moss banks growing in the region, with rapid increases in growth rates and microbial activity,” says Dan Charman, who led the research. “If this continues, and with increasing amounts of ice-free land from continued glacier retreat, the Antarctic Peninsula will be a much greener place in the future.”

The next step for researchers is to look back even further in history to see how climate change affected the region before humans made an impact.

The findings appeared in Current Biology on May 18. (VOA)

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