Scientists, who are part of India’s first expedition to the Arctic that leaves on Saturday, will study bacterial life in the region and measure environmental changes to help understand why glaciers in the Himalayas are melting so rapidly. At a conference announcing this on Friday, India’s science minister Kapil Sibal said that the expedition was another front in India’s “global scientific collaborative research in difficult polar regions.”
The scientists will be specifically studying the impact of aerosols, which are solid and liquid particles that stay suspended in the atmoshpere, on global warming. They will use this knowledge to understand environmental changes taking place in India.
Science and technology minister Kapil Sibal with scientists in New Delhi on Friday, at the launch of the Arctic expedition
The scientists—Rasik Ravindra and S.M. Singh of the National Centre for Antarctic and Ocean Research, Goa; S. Shivaji, Centre for Cellular and Microbial Biology, Hyderabad; C.G. Deshpande, Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Pune and Dhruv Sen Singh from the University of Lucknow—will spend between two and four weeks at Ny-Alesund, an island in the Svalbard archipelago of Norway.
India has access to Svalbard because of a treaty with Norway, which has sovereign rights over the area. Currently, Norway, Germany, France, Britain, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea and China have research stations in the area.
“There are no plans yet for establishing an Indian research station, or oil-exploration,” centre in the area, said Ajai Saxena, director of India’s Antarctic and Arctic research activities at the ministry of earth sciences. The Arctic Circle is believed to be a huge reservoir of hydrocarbon and mineral reserves, and has recently seen territorial disputes between Russia and the US.
According to officials in the ministry, these activities are the first step in India’s Arctic research programme; the country expects to send a full-fledged oceanographic expedition in India’s own research vessel to the region by 2009.
The scientists will fly to Svalbard, via Oslo, and will make a second trip around the same time next year.
Arctic sea ice is a treasure house of information relating to the earth’s climate during the ice ages, and scientists study it to predict future trends in the earth’s climate.
D.P. Dobhal, a glaciologist at the Wadia Institute of Himalayan Glaciology, said the expedition was a significant step in India’s research of polar ice. “We have been studying Antarctic ice since 26 years. This (Arctic) research could probably help us better understand the manner in which aerosols influence global warming over India,” he added.