Interviews | VOL. 11, ISSUE 65, March-April 2011

Working towards saving earth

Dr Shailesh Nayak in conversation with the editor offers insights on issues of sustainability and scientific integration in order to create solutions in a changing climate regime.

Dr Shailesh Nayak IS Secretary Ministry of Earth Sciences and Chairman, Earth Commission.

Dr Shailesh Nayak

‘Earth System Science’ – the mandate area of the Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES) includes the atmosphere, hydrosphere, cryosphere and geosphere and encompasses a range of activities. Please tell us how this integration helps the Ministry fulfil its role in a more effective manner?

The main goal of the Earth System Science Organisation, MoES is to deliver knowledge to improve prediction of weather, climate and hazards. Such predictions depend on scientific understanding of the earth systems, i.e. atmosphere, hydrosphere, cryosphere, geosphere and biosphere, in an integrated manner. It is also necessary to understand how each component of the earth system responds to natural processes and anthropogenic activities. The interaction between each component of the earth system and how the earth is changing provides the physical basis of studying climate variability and change. Thus this integration helps to fulfil the Ministry’s role in an effective manner.

In light of the recent earthquake-tsunami disaster in Japan, please elaborate on the latest developments in the country with reference to forecasting earthquakes and tsunamis?

The forecasting of earthquake is not possible as of now. But an optimum network of seismic stations has been built to monitor earthquakes in the country and this can provide information about earthquake magnitude and location within few minutes of an event occurring. Studies to analyse data of various precursors have been initiated to improve our understanding about earthquake processes. Microzonation studies of major towns and cities to identify vulnerable areas have been undertaken. All these steps will help us to respond to earthquakes in a better manner.

A state of the art tsunami warning system comprising seismic stations, sea level stations, a decision support system and a mechanism for timely dissemination of advisories has been set up. We are able to provide tsunami travel time and run up estimates to 1800 coastal forecast points. In the recent Japan earthquake, the first bulletin was released in seven minutes. Hence, we are well prepared for any tsunami event.

What are some of the highlights of the Ministry’s endeavour towards the ‘exploration and exploitation of ocean resources’ in the past few years?

India has an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of about 2 million sq km, in addition, it has acquired mining rights in the Central Indian Ocean. A detailed geophysical and bathymetric survey for exploitation and assessment of mineral resources was undertaken in the legal continental shelf of the country. Based on analysis of the collected data, a case has been presented to the Commission on Legal Continental Shelf (CLCS), a UN body, to claim additional areas under EEZ. At present some of the ongoing programmes include:

Exploration for hydrothermal sulphides and cobalt crust – investigations are underway to locate zones of hydrothermal mineralisation and cobalt enriched ferromanganese crusts.

Exploration for gas hydrates- geological surveys, swath bathymetry and multi channel seismic surveys have been conducted in the Bay of Bengal to access reserves of gas hydrates.

Exploration for Polymetallic nodules – total reserves of 380 million tonnes have been located in the Central Indian Ocean. The development of indigenous technology for deep sea mining is underway.

The work of the Ministry has enormous social benefits. Please elaborate on some of these benefits for the common citizens.

We have been providing various services for general public as well as specific sectors of the economy. Weather services now include forecasting for up to 3 days, medium range forecasting for up to 7 days, now-casting, seasonal forecasting of monsoon and specific services for agriculture, water resources, aviation, environment, sports, etc. Ocean services are available for sea state and potential fishing zones. Disaster support services have been developed for cyclones, storm surges, tsunamis, earthquakes, coastal erosion etc. Hatchery technology is provided for ornamental fishery. Marine pollution and harmful algal blooms are monitored.

What is the significance of Earth Day 2011 for the Ministry and what is the dream project that you would want to launch during the Earth Day celebrations in the following years?

The Earth Day is celebrated to focus attention and build awareness to protect the earth and various components of the earth system for sustaining life. There are many projects that we would like to take up but have not planned any specific project to launch on Earth Day.

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