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India, Norway for joint polar research

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The potential for enhancing collaborative polar research between India and Norway is immense. This was the message of the Indo-Norwegian meeting titled ‘Pole to Pole’ on February 3, which included an exhibition and a seminar, and was organised by the Ministry of Earth Sciences and the Royal Norwegian Embassy in collaboration with the Ministry's National Centre for Antarctic and Ocean Research (NCAOR), Goa, and the Norwegian Polar Institute, Tromso.

Such collaborative research, the scientists of the two countries believe, will yield new insights into the effects of climate change and, indeed, the Polar Regions are referred to as nature's laboratories. Geology, glaciology and bacteriology were identified as the key areas for future collaboration in polar science at the end of the meeting that discussed possible areas for joint exploration and investigations.

After three decades of Antarctic research — India's first expedition to Antarctica was in 1981 — India expanded its polar research by undertaking its first Arctic expedition in August 2007 and setting up its Arctic research station ‘Himadri' at Nye-Alesund in the Svalbard region of Norway in 2008 to mark the International Polar Year (IPY). India established its first Antarctic research station Gangotri in 1983 and the second permanent station Maitri in 1989. It is establishing its third Antarctic station at Larsemann in East Antarctica.

Unlike the Antarctic, Norway has a sovereign right over the Svalbard region, which is governed by the Svalbard Treaty of 1920. The Treaty today has 40 member countries. India signed the Treaty in 1923 which gives it the right to establish a research station there.

India and Norway are the nearest neighbours in Antarctica and have been carrying out joint research in the past.

 

Different climate

The present initiative will take the collaboration further by widening the scope to include studying the Arctic region, which has a fundamentally different climate from Antarctica, as well. While the Antarctic is all solid, the Arctic is an ocean surrounded by landmass.

Inaugurating the meeting, Pawan Kumar Bansal, the Minister of Science and Technology, thanked Norway for the support in India's polar research endeavour and said that there was a wide gap in our understanding of the Arctic which was hindering a much needed bi-hemispherical approach to polar sciences. The objective is to carry out studies similar to what has been done in the Antarctic in the last 30 years.

It is, in fact, known that the Arctic is undergoing dramatic climate change. According to Nalan Koc of the Norwegian Polar Institute, the Arctic summer is disappearing and one is already seeing the impact of climate change from the observed loss of sea ice.

According to her, temperature anomalies in the fall in the Arctic during 2005-08 have been greater than 5ºC, which could affect weather patterns even away from the Arctic.

The Norwegian Minister for Research and Education, Tora Aasland, who also addressed the gathering, said: “We are now both in the Antarctic and the Arctic.” Speaking to The Hindu later, she said: “India has been doing polar research for many years, not the least because of the Himalayas, the third pole. And Indian research in polar questions, like air pollution, ocean pollution, changes in the glaciers and changes in the behaviour of animals, are the ones that Norway is also interested in. And that's the reason why the two nations have found each other.”

 

Unique natural system

At the Indian station in Svalbard, research is being done on long-term monitoring of Kongsfjorden, a unique natural system where saline water input from the Atlantic mix with the fresh water melt from the Arctic glaciers.

Svalbard's geology is also unique where a complete geological column extending from Precambrian is exposed. Investigations are also being carried out on aerosol and precursor gases over the Arctic region, diversity of Arctic cyanobacteria, crustal formation studies and assessment of the flora and fauna of the Arctic.

“We intend to come out with a composite geological map of the Arctic,” said Rasik Ravindra, the head of the NCAOR which operates and manages the Svalbard research station.

 

R. Ramachandran

 

 


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