India at Antarctic and Artic regions

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Context: The South African oceanographic research vessel SA Agulhas has started its journey for the 11th expedition of an Indian mission to the Southern Ocean, or Antarctic Ocean from Port Louis (Mauritius).Currently, the research vessel was located at Prydz Bay, in the coastal waters of “Bharati”, India’s third station in Antarctica.

Prelims: General issues on Environmental Ecology, Bio-diversity, and Climate Change.

  • GS I- geographical features and their location- changes in critical geographical features (including water bodies and ice-caps) and in flora and fauna and the effects of such changes.
  • GS III-
    • Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment.
    • Disaster and disaster management.

India in Antarctica

  • Antarctica is Earth's southernmost continent.
  • It contains the geographic South Pole and is situated in the Antarctic region of the Southern Hemisphere, almost entirely south of the Antarctic Circle, and is surrounded by the Southern Ocean. At 14,000,000 square kilometres (5,400,000 square miles), it is the fifth-largest continent. About 98% of Antarctica is covered by ice that averages 1.9 km in thickness, which extends to all but the northernmost reaches of the Antarctic Peninsula.
  • The Indian Antarctic Programme is a multi-disciplinary, multi-institutional programme under the control of the National Centre for Antarctic and Ocean Research, Ministry of Earth Sciences, Government of India.
  • Under the programme, atmospheric, biological, earth, chemical, and medical sciences are studied by India, which has carried out 35 scientific expeditions to the Antarctic till now.
  • India officially acceded to the Antarctic Treaty System on 1st August 1983. On 12 September 1983, India became the fifteenth Consultative Member of the Antarctic Treaty.

The different research stations in the Antarctic 
  • Dakshin Gangotri:
    • Dakshin Gangotri was the first Indian scientific research base station established in Antarctica, as a part of the Indian Antarctic Program.
    • Located at a distance of 2,500 kilometres from the South Pole, it was established during the third Indian expedition to Antarctica in 1983/84.
    • This was the first time an Indian team spent a winter in Antarctica to carry out scientific work.
    • It has weakened and become just a supply base.
  • Maitri:
    • Maitri is India’s second permanent research station in Antarctica. It was built and finished in 1989.
    • Maitri is situated on the rocky mountainous region called Schirmacher Oasis. India also built a freshwater lake around Maitri known as Lake Priyadarshini.
  • Bharti:
    • Bharti, India’s latest research station operation since 2012. It has been constructed to help researchers work in safety despite the harsh weather.
    • It is India’s first committed research facility and is located about 3000 km east of Maitri. Bharti made India an elite member of the club of nine nations that have multiple stations in the region.
  • Other research facilities
    • Sagar Nidhi:
      • In 2008, India commissioned the Sagar Nidhi, the pride of the National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT), for research.
      • An ice-class vessel, it can cut through the thin ice of 40 cm depth and is the first Indian vessel to navigate Antarctic waters.

National Centre for Polar and Ocean Research
  • National Centre for Polar and Ocean Research (NCPOR) was established as an autonomous research and development institution of the Ministry of Earth Sciences in 1998.
  • It is located in Goa.
  • It is responsible for the country’s research activities in the Polar and Southern Ocean realms.
  • It is the nodal agency for planning, promotion, coordination and execution of the entire gamut of polar and southern ocean scientific research in the country as well as for the associated logistics activities.
  • Its major responsibilities include:
  • Management and upkeep of the Indian Antarctic Research Bases “Maitri” and “Bharati”, and the Indian Arctic base “Himadri”.
  • Management of the Ministry’s research vessel ORV Sagar Kanya as well as the other research vessels chartered by the Ministry.


Antarctic Treaty System (ATS)

Antarctic Treaty and related agreements are collectively known as the Antarctic Treaty System (ATS)

  • Antarctic Treaty System (ATS)
    • It regulates international relations with respect to Antarctica
    • Antarctica is defined as all of the land and ice shelves south of 60°S latitude
    • Antarctic Treaty Secretariat Headquarters —  Buenos Aires, Argentina
  • Antarctic treaty 
    • First arms control agreement established during the Cold War
    • Signed in Washington on 1959(1 December) by the twelve countries whose scientists had been active in and around Antarctica during the International Geophysical Year (IGY) of 1957-58
    • Entered into force in 1961
    • Currently has 53 parties
    • Sets aside Antarctica as a scientific preserve
    • Provisions:
      • Antarctica shall be used for peaceful purposes only(Art. I)
      • Freedom of scientific investigation in Antarctica and cooperation toward that end … shall continue(Art. II).
      • Scientific observations and results from Antarctica shall be exchanged and made freely available(Art. III).
  • Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty
    • Signed in Madrid on October 4, 1991
    • In 1998, entered into force 
    • Designates Antarctica as a “natural reserve, devoted to peace and science”
    • It sets forth basic principles applicable to human activities in Antarctica
    • Article 7, prohibits all activities relating to Antarctic mineral resources, except for scientific research. 
  • Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR),1982
    • Secretariat :
      • Hobart, Tasmania
    • Objective:
      • To conserve Antarctic marine life.
      • Response to increasing commercial interest in Antarctic krill resources, a keystone component of the Antarctic ecosystem.
      • It practises an ecosystem-based management approach.

11th expedition of an Indian mission to the Southern Ocean

Details about the mission:

  • This is the 11th expedition of an Indian mission to the Southern Ocean, or Antarctic Ocean.
  • Onboard the vessel is 34 scientific staff from India, which is an 18-institution team led by Dr Anoop Mahajan.
  • The first mission took place between January and March 2004.


  • The mission mainly aims to understand the influence of the Southern Ocean across eco-system and atmospheric changes; and how it affects the tropical climate and weather conditions.
  • The cycle, The carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere goes to the Antarctic and polar regions, through atmospheric circulation.
  • Since the temperature is very low there, these gases are absorbed and converted into dissolved inorganic or organic carbon.
  • Through water masses and circulation, it is coming back to tropical regions. Since it is warmer in these areas, it re-enters the atmosphere.
  • It is this cycle, which the mission will help understand better.
  • Sampling – For this, the team is collecting air and water samples from around 60 stations along the cruise track.

What are the six core projects?

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

What is the progress so far?

  • The mission has extracted one of the largest sediment cores from the Southern Ocean measuring 3.4 metres.
  • The changes that have occurred in the climate and the ocean over the years can be observed from the sediments collected.
  • It is estimated that the sediments may date back to at least 30,000 years.
  • When the samples collected are onshore, the first thing will be done is establishing the chronology using radiocarbon dating.


Significance of the Expedition

  • Cyclic Movement of Carbon Dioxide:
    • The carbon dioxide (CO2 ) is emitted in tropical regions and through atmospheric circulation, it reaches to the Antarctic and polar regions.
    • Due to the low temperature in these regions, CO2 is absorbed and converted into dissolved inorganic carbon or organic carbon.
    • Further, through water masses and circulation it is coming back to tropical regions. Since it is warmer in these areas, it re-enters the atmosphere,
    • The expedition will help to plot the quantity and time period for such cyclic movement of CO2.
  • The Southern Ocean- A Transport Agent :
    • The expedition will help to study the Southern Ocean as it connects all the major oceans around the world. Thus the conveyor belt that circulates heat around the world is connected through the Southern Ocean and can have a large impact on climate change due to anthropogenic forces.


India and the Arctic

  • Himadri:
    • India launched its first scientific expedition to the Arctic Ocean in 2007 and opened a research base named “Himadri” at the International Arctic Research Base at Ny-Alesund, Svalbard, Norway in July 2008 for carrying out studies in disciplines like Glaciology, Atmospheric sciences & Biological sciences.
  • Objective Of Himadri:
    • To study the hypothesized teleconnection between the Arctic climate and the Indian monsoon by analyzing the sediment and ice core records from the Arctic glaciers and the Arctic Ocean.
    • To characterize sea ice in the Arctic using satellite data to estimate the effect of global warming in the northern polar region.
    • To conduct research on the dynamics and mass budget of Arctic glaciers focusing on the effect of glaciers on sea-level change.
    • To carry out a comprehensive assessment of the flora and fauna of the Arctic and their response to anthropogenic activities. In addition, it is proposed to undertake a comparative study of the life forms from both the Polar Regions
  • India Position:
    • India has been closely following the developments in the Arctic region in the light of the new opportunities and challenges emerging for the international community due to global warming-induced melting of Arctic’s ice cap.
    • India’s interests in the Arctic region are scientific, environmental, commercial as well as strategic.
    • In July 2018, Ministry of Earth Sciences renamed the “National Centre for Antarctic and Ocean Research” to the “National Centre for Polar and Ocean Research.”
    • It is a nodal organisation coordinating the research activities at the stations at the poles.
    • India has also entered into MOU with Norwegian Polar Research Institute of Norway, for cooperation in science, and also with Kings Bay (A Norwegian Government-owned company) at Ny-Alesund for the logistic and infrastructure facilities for undertaking Arctic research and maintaining Indian Research base ‘Himadri’ at Arctic region.
    • In 2019, India has been re-elected as an Observer to the Council.
    • India does not have an official Arctic policy and its Arctic research objectives have been centred on ecological and environmental aspects, with a focus on climate change, till now.
  • Commercial and Strategic Interests:
    • The Arctic region is very rich in minerals, and oil and gas. With some parts of the Arctic melting due to global warming, the region also opens up the possibility of new shipping routes that can reduce existing distances.
    • Countries already have ongoing activities in the Arctic hope to have a stake in the commercial exploitation of natural resources present in the region.
    • The Arctic Council does not prohibit the commercial exploitation of resources in the Arctic. It only seeks to ensure that it is done in a sustainable manner without harming the interests of local populations and in conformity with the local environment.
    • Therefore, to stay relevant in the Arctic region, India should take advantage of the observer status it has earned in the Arctic Council and consider investing more in the Arctic.

Arctic council
  • About:
    • 1996, Ottawa declaration.
    • It is an Intergovernmental forum which addresses issues faced by the Arctic governments and people living in the Arctic region
    • It is Not a treaty-based international organization but rather an international forum that operates on the basis of consensus.
    • The decisions, recommendations or guidelines of the Arctic Council are non-enforceable and strictly the prerogative of the individual state.
    • Its mandate explicitly excludes military security.
  • Organization structure:
    • Chairmanship:
      • Rotated every two years once
    • Secretariat:
      • Rotated biennially with the Chairmanship of the Arctic Council
      • It supports the Chair of the Arctic Council
      • It manages logistics related to the biennial member states’ meetings and the more frequent SAO meetings.
    • SAO ( Senior Arctic Official):
      • A government representative, usually from a member states’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs. SAO guides and monitors Arctic Council activities in accordance with the decisions and instructions of the Arctic Council Foreign Ministers.
  • Members:
    • The Council has members, ad hoc observer countries and “permanent participants”
    • Members:
      • Ottawa Declaration declares Canada, the Kingdom of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, the Russian Federation, Sweden and the United States of America as a member of the Arctic Council.
      • Denmarks represents Greenland and the Faroe Islands.
    • Permanent participants:
      • In addition, six organizations representing Arctic indigenous peoples have status as Permanent Participants.
      • The category of Permanent Participant was created to provide for active participation and full consultation with the Arctic indigenous peoples within the Council.
      • They include the Aleut International Association, the Arctic Athabaskan Council, Gwich’in Council International, the Inuit Circumpolar Council, Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North and the Saami Council.
    • Observer status:
      • It is open to non-Arctic states, along with inter-governmental, inter-parliamentary, global, regional and non-governmental organizations that the Council determines can contribute to its work.
      • It is approved by the Council at the Ministerial Meetings that occur once every two years
      • Arctic Council Observers primarily contribute through their engagement in the Council at the level of Working Groups.
      • Observers have no voting rights in the Council.
      • As of May 2019, thirteen non-Arctic states have Observer status:
        • Germany, 1998
        • Netherlands, 1998
        • Poland, 1998
        • United Kingdom, 1998
        • France, 2000
        • Spain, 2006
        • China, 2013
        • India, 2013
        • Italy, 2013
        • Japan, 2013
        • South Korea, 2013
        • Singapore, 2013
        • Switzerland, 2017

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