In depth: The pride that is Indian Antarctic Programme
As more than 45 members of 40th Indian Scientific Expedition to Antarctica (ISEA) departed for the South Pole from Mormugao Port, Goa this week, Indian scientists and researchers cheered for this extraordinary programme of the country. Antarctica is a tough continent, covered in snow with extremely difficult weather conditions. Surviving these conditions and doing research while staying there needs a lot of preparation and courage.
Almost 98% of Antarctica is covered by ice and the continent has the cleanest air in the world. Politically, Antarctica’s status remains neutral, and it is regulated by the 1959 Antarctic Treaty, which established Antarctica as a region of peace and cooperation. The treaty applies to all the land and ice shelves and now has more than 45 signatory nations that meet annually to discuss and decide activities in Antarctica. Many countries have set up research stations here to study the climate, weather, geology, and wildlife of this unique region.
The Indian Antarctic Programme was initiated in 1981 with a selected team of 21 members under the leadership of Dr S Z Qasim, Secretary of Department of Environment and former Director of National Institute of Oceanography (NIO) with the aim of conducting scientific research in the frozen continent. The expedition lasted for 77 days. India has three research bases there. India is one of the 29 countries to have research stations on Antarctica. There are currently 70 permanent research stations scattered across that continent.
India’s research centres
The first Indian scientific research base station was established in Antarctica in 1983-84 and was called Dakshin Gangotri. This was the first time an Indian team spent a winter in Antarctica to carry out scientific work. In 1989, it was excavated and is being used again as a supply base and transit camp.
Maitri Research Centre was established in 1988 and was erected on steel stilts. It has stood the test of time — conducting experiments in geology, geography and medicine.
Maitri Research Centre
Located beside Larsemann Hill, about 3000 km east of Maitri, Bharati was established in 2015. It is located between Thala Fjord & Quilty bay, east of Stornes Peninsula in Antarctica. Interestingly, Bharati has been constructed using 134 recycled shipping containers, to help researchers work in safety despite the harsh weather.
Bharti research station
India is not only contributing in research and accommodations, it is also helping scientists travel to the south polar continent. In 2008, India commissioned the Sagar Nidhi for research. An ice class vessel, it can cut through thin ice of 40 cm depth and is the first Indian vessel to navigate Antarctic waters. The ship is the first of its kind in the country and has been used several times for the launch and retrieval of remotely operable vehicle (ROV) and the deep-sea nodule mining system, as well as for tsunami studies.
Sagar Nidhi vessel