M Ravichandran I NCPOR: India’s gateway to Polar Regions

By: Staff Reporter
In conversation with the leading oceonographer and multi-faceted scientist, M Ravichandran, Director, National Centre for Polar and Ocean Research, Goa.

G’nY. NCPOR has changed its name several times to justify its reorientation to changing roles. How would you define these rechristening?
The first Indian expedition to Antarctica was launched from National Institute of Oceanography (NIO), Goa. Soon after the Department of Ocean Development (DOD) came into existence. With an increasing awareness of Antarctica, DOD soon realised that it needs a dedicated centre for Antarctic Expeditions. In 1998 the Antarctic Study Centre was formed—a unit mandated to take care of Indian Antarctic expeditions. On April 5, 2000, the National Centre for Antarctic and Ocean Research (NCAOR) emerged from it as a structured autonomous arm of DOD. The word ‘Ocean’ was incorporated in NCAOR as it was felt that Southern Ocean research was an important component. Following the launch of the first Southern Ocean expedition in 2004, NCAOR began to increase its footprint into niche research programmes such as exclusive economic zone survey, Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) programme, International Ocean Discovery Programme (IODP) with a focus on geosciences of the Indian Ocean. The beginning of this decade also saw NCAOR launching its first full-fledged expedition to the Arctic and then initiate the Himalayan or Third Pole research. A hydrothermal sulphide programme and an Indian Ocean Geoid Low programme commenced during the last five years. Thus, NCAOR became the only institute in India mandated to cover all the three poles along with research in the Indian and Southern Ocean. This made it truly a trans-hemispheric research institute. With the increasing importance of Arctic due to the rapid decline of sea ice, it became pertinent to rechristen the center to National Centre for Polar and Ocean Research (NCPOR) in order to provide substantial impetus to the global purview. From launching the Antarctic expedition from the Antarctic Study Centre to NCPOR, our institute has come a long way. Polar regions.

G’nY. Since its inception, the Centre has grown steadfastly into a leading institution for Polar regions. How do you see its future role in changing geopolitical scenario, especially in context of Arctic and Antarctic?
Our main objectives are two fold—first, to explore the Polar regions and its link to the tropics on various timescales, especially to the Indian monsoon and second, to explore the non-living resources in the Indian Ocean. The recent increase in anthropogenic activities causing an unprecedented melting of ice at the Poles is a grim pointer to a possible shift in climate. The Poles help unravel climate change imprints, which have a direct bearing on the current ecosystem. India now happens to be one of the prime global players in Polar policy making. Interestingly, we are one of the few countries to have launched Antarctic expeditions since 1981 without a single break—a rare feat indeed. The present Antarctic Treaty understands the need of cohesive coordinated peaceful coexistence in the continent. Antarctica finds more and more nations joining together in a need to conserve its pristine status with myriad marine protected areas now in place. In fact, the 2016 Paris Agreement with 185 signatories helps strengthen conservation of sensitive realms such as the Polar regions, propelling the importance of reducing human induced global warming. Polar regions.

G’nY. NCPOR has recently entered the field of cryosphere study in the Himalaya and established a Research Station at the base of a glacier. There being more than 10,000 glaciers in Himalaya, and distributed from west to east, do you have plans for building more such stations in future?
Himalaya is one of the highest and most glacierised areas outside the polar region. Understanding the behaviour of the Himalayan glaciers and their contribution to the sustainable supply of water is a challenge, especially in the context of over a billion people dependant on the freshwater resource. Indian Himalayan cryosphere is least studied due to the paucity of observational systems, remoteness, challenging field conditions and limited annual window for conducting research. Systematic long term scientific investigations of the Himalayan glaciers are necessary to understand their complex behaviour towards the observed and future changes.
With an increasing concern about receding glaciers NCPOR initiated studies on six benchmark glaciers of Western Himalaya with state-of-the-art research infrastructure. In the Chandra basin, a research station ‘Himansh’ was established that generated quality data on mass balance and hydrological and energy budget in the basin. Based on the results this effort will be expanded to other areas either through an observational network or through modelling. Essentially, we would like to address the following questions in the years to come—first, why are there different glacier responses across the Himalayan region and what are the driving forces?; second, what are the dynamics that control snow cover changes in the Himalaya?; and, finally, what is the response of Himalayan cryosphere to climate change/variability and what are the associated hydrological impacts? Polar regions.

G’nY. NCPOR has lately demonstrated excellent research output through its publications in highly ranked international journals. How do you intend to keep young scientists motivated?
Science is all about perseverance and dedication. It is a penance, as you need patience with your analysis and results. To keep young scientists motivated we have, from 2017-2018, started the best paper award at NCPOR which is handed over each year on the Foundation Day, April 5. More and more youngsters are encouraged to participate in international forums and forge collaborations both nationally and internationally. This trend will continue in the years to come.

G’nY. Maitri station has contributed immensely towards generating the scientific data for central Dronning Maud Land. How advanced are we in rebuilding this base as Maitri is believed to have outlived its stipulated age?
India’s Antarctic base ‘Maitri’ was constructed at the Schirmacher Oasis by the Indian Army in 1989. It has withstood the test of time and resisted countless blizzards in the hostile continent. However, 38 years is a very long time. We are in the process of constructing a new state-of-the art station at the Schirmacher Oasis, bigger and better than the Bharati at Larsemann Hills in 2012. The Indian expedition members have identified a site for the new construction and advanced maps have been generated with elevation models. We have received the go ahead from the Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES) and are in the process of selecting the best design for the station.

Q6. Have you been able to match the need for increasing budgetary requirements for NCPOR- from the Government considering that there is manifold increase in the domain of work?
Yes, we are happy with the budgetary allocation from the MoES. All the projects are being taken up by a workforce ably supported by a large pool of young researchers, who are on tenure positions. Efforts are underway to increase the manpower for undertaking polar and ocean research.

G’nY. How can young researchers benefit from NCPOR?
I would like to invite young researchers who have a passion for advanced research to our Polar progammes. At NCPOR we can give researchers a platform to engage in studies for a place only a miniscule per cent of the global population can even think of going. NCPOR is therefore, in the true sense, ‘where the poles meet’.

For a deep understanding of the Geopolitics of the Polar Regions and The Himalayas,visit:







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