A hundred years ago on 14 December, Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen and his team reached the South Pole and conquered the last significant land mass on the earth.
While the many events that surrounded this quest for the South Pole have been the material for several books and movies, they more significantly marked the symbolic end of Europe’s 500-year obsession with geographical exploration, and the beginning of Europe and America’s wholehearted scientific engagement with ice.
In the century since, nearly 30 countries have together set up over 70 research stations and the entire continent, which doesn’t belong to any one country, is the petri dish of some of the most exciting experiments in cosmology, microbial evolution as well as simulating palaeoclimatic conditions. Next year, India plans to set up its third research station, Bharati.Once that happens, it will become one of the nine countries to have multiple stations in Antarctica.
However, in spite of a nearly 30-year engagement with the Antarctic, Indian science is yet to come up with any exciting research results. While it has certainly discovered a substantial number of microbes, developed facilities and analysed ice core samples, none of them has really translated into a novel understanding of the history of the Indian subcontinent’s relationship with the Antarctic. As this paper has previously pointed out, much of the data that scientists glean from explorations for reconstructing historical climate trends as well as assessing environmental damage at the poles is of Western origin. The most noteworthy contribution has been of a particular Indian scientist collaborating with an American or European climatologist.
While this certainly may be the age of collaboration, with scientists increasingly professing support to open access to scientific publication, international deliberations on the responsibility for cleaning up greenhouse gas emissions have clearly shown that nations with the best climate science data—especially historical temperature trends and projections of the impact of warming climate—often have the best bargaining chips.
While a third base station in Antarctica might look impressive on India’s Antarctic exploration CV, it’s worth little if it can’t be used to generate more impressive research.
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