Indian scientists on a South African vessel are in Antarctica, midway through an expedition across the Southern Ocean. 

About the expedition

  • This is the 11th expedition of an Indian mission to the Southern Ocean, or Antarctic Ocean. The first mission took place between January and March 2004.
  • On board the vessel are 34 scientific staff from India, apart from technical hands, seamen and a chef who are all from South Africa. 
  • It contains the 18-institution team from India  led by Dr Anoop Mahajan from the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Pune
  • The vessel SA Agulhas,is from South African oceanographic research vessel .It set off from Port Louise in Mauritius, on a two-month Indian Scientific Expedition to the Southern Ocean 2020. 
  • Currently  the vessel is at Prydz Bay, in the coastal waters of “Bharati” which is India’s third station in Antarctica.

Objective of the mission

  • A key objective of the mission is to quantify changes that are occurring and the impact of these changes on large-scale weather phenomenon, like the Indian monsoon, through tele-connection
  • It aims to understand the influence of the Southern Ocean across ecosystem and atmospheric changes and how it affects the tropical climate and weather conditions.
  • Collecting air and water samples from around 60 stations along the cruise track. 

Six core projects under the mission

  1. Studying hydrodynamics and biogeochemistry of the Indian Ocean sector of the Southern Ocean; involves sampling sea water at different depths. This will help understand the formation of Antarctic bottom water.
  2. Observations of trace gases in the atmosphere, such as halogens and dimethyl sulphur from the ocean to the atmosphere. Will help improve parameterisations that are used in global models
  3. Study of organisms called coccolithophores that have existed in the oceans for several million years; their concentrations in sediments will create a picture of past climate.
  4. Investigate atmospheric aerosols and their optical and radiative properties. Continuous measurements will quantify impact on Earth’s climate.
  5. Study the Southern Ocean’s impact on Indian monsoons. Look for signs in the sediment core taken from the bottom of the ocean.
  6. Dynamics of the food web in the Southern Ocean; important for safeguarding catch and planning sustainable fishing.

Significance of the research

  • These will give valuable information on the state of the ocean and atmosphere in this remote environment and will help to understand its impacts on the climate.
  • It will make us understand the gaseous cycle of GHGs by quantifying how much carbon dioxide is going to those regions, and how much is coming back.
  • Understanding of how the climate system works through the oceans

Progress so far under the mission

  • The mission has extracted one of the largest sediment cores from the Southern Ocean measuring 3.4 metres.
  • The sediment core can help us understand the past climate, and aid in understanding how the climate is going to change in the future.

India’s research stations in Antarctic and Arctic

  • India presently has two research stations at Antarctica namely 
    1. Maitri 
    2. Bharati
  • At both the stations, research and investigations are undertaken to understand the Polar processes and phenomenon.
  • Indian Arctic station ‘Himadri’ is located at Ny Alesund, Spitsbergen Island, Norway and has served as a hub of Indian scientific investigations since 2008.
  • India does not have ice-breakers for exploration and research in the above places.