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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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NASA: Earth’s Ozone Hole Shrinks to Smallest Since 1988

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NASA
NASA: Earth's Ozone Hole Shrinks to Smallest Since 1988 (VOA)

Washington: The ozone hole over Antarctica shrank to its smallest peak since 1988, NASA said Thursday. The huge hole in Earth’s protective ozone layer reached its maximum this year in September, and this year NASA said it was 7.6 million square miles (19.6 million square kilometers). The hole size shrinks after mid-September.

This year’s maximum hole is more than twice as big as the United States, but it’s 1.3 million square miles smaller than last year and 3.3 million square miles smaller than 2015.

FILE - A false-color view of total ozone over the Antarctic pole is seen in this NASA handout image released Oct. 24, 2012. The purple and blue colors are where there is the least ozone. The average area covered by the Antarctic ozone hole in that year was the second smallest in two decades, at 8.2 million square miles; in September 2017, it was 7.6 million square miles.

[ FILE – A false-color view of total ozone over the Antarctic pole is seen in this NASA handout image released Oct. 24, 2012. The purple and blue colors are where there is the least ozone. The average area covered by the Antarctic ozone hole in that year was the second smallest in two decades, at 8.2 million square miles; in September 2017, it was 7.6 million square miles ].

Paul Newman, chief Earth scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, said stormy conditions in the upper atmosphere warmed the air and kept the chemicals chlorine and bromine from eating ozone. He said scientists haven’t quite figured out why some years are stormier — and have smaller ozone holes — than others.

“It’s really small this year. That’s a good thing,” Newman said.

Newman said this year’s drop is mostly natural but is on top of a trend of smaller steady improvements likely from the banning of ozone-eating chemicals in a 1987 international treaty. The ozone hole hit its highest in 2000 at 11.5 million square miles (29.86 million square kilometers).

Ozone is a colorless combination of three oxygen atoms. High in the atmosphere, about 7 to 25 miles (11 to 40 kilometers) above the Earth, ozone shields Earth from ultraviolet rays that cause skin cancer, crop damage and other problems.

Scientists at the United Nations a few years ago determined that without the 1987 treaty, by 2030 there would have been an extra 2 million skin cancer cases. They said that overall, the ozone layer is beginning to recover because of the phase-out of chemicals used in refrigerants and aerosol cans. (VOA)