Thursday, April 3, 2008

Young Indian Scientists in Antarctica

Originally meant for posting on March 23rd:

The 27th Indian Antarctic Expedition will have many achievements to its credit, for example, installation of Earth Station, detailed survey of Larsemann Hills in record time, and others. However, one of the major highlights of the 27th Indian Antarctica Expedition is the inclusion of number of young scientists in its summer as well as winter teams. Out of a total of 50 scientists (in summer and winter teams combined) in the 27th IAE, 8 scientists are 32 years or younger. The youngest is just 23 years in age. Many of them are still at the universities engaged in their doctoral research programme.

Geological Survey of India (GSI) is one of the oldest organizations in India engaged in surveys. It is doing pioneering work in Antarctica since the inception of India’s Antarctic programme and has given many distinguished scientists and expedition leaders to Antarctic expeditions. The present 27th IAE is fortunate in having Mr Arun Chaturvedi as its leader who is spending his fourth winter in Antarctica and his third as the leader of the team. Mr Chaturvedi is leading a team of five scientists from GSI of whom two are just 32 years in age. Ashit Kumar Swain studied, during the Austral summer phase of 24 hours daylight, the characteristics of the shear zones exposed in length and breadth of Schirmacher region and their implications in the evolution of this area. He also monitored the movement of the Dakshin Gangotri glacier snout to study the impact of global warming on glaciers. During the austral winter phase at Maitri, he plans to utilize the ground penetrating radar (GPR) for the measurement of water column depths, snow-ice interface and bed rock depth in different lakes of Schirmacher region. This study will be helpful in carrying out further research work on the lakes and finding a safe passage for convoy route to transport fuel, food and all other necessary material from India bay shelf region to Maitri station. Amit Mondal spending summer months at Maitri and Larsemann Hills studied the crustal evolutionary history of Larsemann Hills area, East Antarctica and the Eastern Ghats (India). The geology of Larsemann Hills is particularly relevant in Indian context to correlate it with Eastern Ghats. As per the Gondwanaland continent theory, the Eastern Ghats area in India was joined with Larsemann Hills before the supercontinent broke into different land masses.

Indian Institute of Geomagnetism is another institute in India which is closely associated with Antarctic expeditions and has given many scientists and leaders towards this endeavor. Mr Ajay Dhar, a senior scientist at the IIG, is one of the stalwarts of India having multiple exposures in Antarctica. He has spent two winters (one as Leader) and several summer seasons here. As a member of the 27th IAE, he is the leader of Larsemann Hills expedition where India is building its third station. Under his guidance, Anand Kumar Singh, Research Fellow at the IIG is monitoring geomagnetic variations and atmospheric measurements, with the help of continuous operation of GPS receiver, like total electron content (TEC), water vapour content and meteorological parameters. The newly coming up Indian station in the Larsemann Hills (69.20 degrees South, 76.40 degree East) is situated in the auroral zone while the present station, Maitri (70.45 degrees south, 11.45 degrees east) in Schirmacher Oasis lies in sub-auroral zone. The simultaneous geomagnetism measurements at Larsemann Hills and Maitri will be helpful in predicting space weather in future. IIG completed the ground work for installing an Imaging Riometer at Maitri during this expedition, which will be installed during the 28th IAE (2008-09). The instrument will provide information on layer absorption; and along with Magnetometers will also provide information on the physical processes taking place in deep magnetosphere.
Jai Prakash Chaubey, Research Fellow at Space Physics Lab, Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (ISRO) is studying the land based anthropogenic impact of coarse particles on Antarctic shelf. These aerosols particles have a great impact on climate (global warming) and influence the biological activities. This study aims to determine the physical and chemical characteristics of these aerosols with the help of instruments, which are able to give mass, size and chemical composition of the particles of Antarctic environment.

Pramod Kumar, Research Fellow at the Department of Limnology, Barkatullah University, Bhopal is comparing the impact of Anthropogenic Activities on Flora and Fauna of Antarctic and High Altitude Himalayan Lakes of Ladakh. Limnology is the branch of science that studies the physical, chemical and biological characteristics of fresh water or inland water. The study will attempt to answer the complex question whether anthropogenic activities in these areas lead to any pollution load or not. The study will also compare the past and present environment of Antarctic and Himalayan regions by studying the floral and faunal biodiversity of these areas.
Purushottam Bhawre from the National Physical Laboratory, New Delhi is wintering at Maitri to investigate the magnetospheric-ionospheric coupling between high and low latitude related to space weather events during International Polar Year. This study is significant since ionosphere plays an important role for long distance HF communications as well as affects the satellite communication and navigation services especially in high and equatorial latitudes.

Sudipta Sasmal, Centre for Space Physics, Kolkata is studying the global tectonic plate movements and earthquake precursory studies. The instruments/antennas will constantly monitor the signals from VLF stations throughout the world and data will be analyzed and stored in the data banks. The significance of the present work is that during the last few days preceding a major earthquake, when the tectonic plates begin to crack and micro-electric discharge ionizes the lower part of the ionosphere surrounding the earthquake preparation zone, the modulation of the signals has already started taking place. Thus, this procedure gives warning several days ahead of time as opposed to only a few hours in other warning methods. Thus it will be possible to warn the public well in time for earthquakes as well as for Tsunami.

Rudra Pratap Singh, Department of Environmental Sciences, Dr R.M.L. Avadh University, Faizabad will study the influence of Ultraviolet-B radiation on survivorship and pigment concentration of flora over Schirmacher Oasis in Antarctica. The study is important in view of the increasing global concern of ozone depletion which is believed to have been reduced up to 50% over Antarctica over last two decades. Thus, a significant amount of harmful UV-B radiation is entering the atmosphere at a higher intensity. The organisms which are not accustomed to this high level of UV radiation will be adversely affected suppressing their photoautotrophic productions. If the primary producers are threatened it will be difficult for the survival of higher trophic level organisms.

Soumya Biswas, Visva Bharati, West Bengal is involved in the assessment of microbial biodiversity of Antarctic soil and its implications for future. Conservation of biodiversity as a lone issue may not sound profitable but biodiversity is the source from where the important exploitable organisms may come. The project intends to accomplish the primary observation to discover that fermentation process, precursor of a useful product, is taking place within a microorganism. Fermentation processes obtain most of the exploitable biotechnological microbial products.

The enthusiasm and work of these young people is exemplary, weathering long working hours in biting and freezing temperatures and piercing winds. It is highly encouraging and reassuring that India’s scientific future is in safe hands.

(Acknowledgement: Mr Ajay Dhar, Leader, 27th Indian Scientific Expedition to Larsemann Hills)


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Unknown said...

Hi, I'm trying to write a fiction piece on Antarctica and would love to ask you some questions. It would be great if I had an email ID to get in touch with you. Alternatively, you can write to me at

Sudhir Khandelwal said...

Hi, Bidisha, thanks for your visit; please put your questions on my latest post, and I shall try to answer to best of my ability.


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