Shailesh Nayak
Director, National Institute of Advanced Studies
Former Secretary, Ministry of Earth Sciences.

Charting a New  Course for the Oceans

What is the role of oceans in shaping our future and ensure sustainability of the Planet Earth? We know that life originated in the ocean almost three billion years earlier than on land which means that oceans make the planet Earth habitable. We need to focus our attention on ‘oceans’ as they control weather, climate and hazards, provide us energy, food and mineral resources as well as an ecosystem to survive.

Hence, the agenda for the country include exploration of oceans for resources, discovery of new ocean phenomena, understand oceanic processes and their interaction with anthropogenic activities and application of this knowledge for sustainability of oceans and build services for humanity. In this regard, Earth System Science Organisation (ESSO)—National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT) has contributed significantly during last twenty-five years. The Indian Ocean has been poorly observed. The efforts put by ESSO-NIOT have strengthened and sustained the observations and facilitates the understanding of oceanic processes, air-sea interaction to study especially seasonal monsoon variability and frequency and intensity of cyclones. Indigenous efforts to develop moored buoys, tsunami buoys, tide gauges, floats, drifters, etc. having INSAT based communication system is praiseworthy. The indigenously developed mooring system has been successfully deployed in the Arctic Sea and a similar system is being planned in the Southern Ocean. The ocean and coastal research vessels have provided much needed high-resolution data to understand oceans. The large volume of data have been organised around GIS as the Ocean Data and Information System (ODIS). This end to end system has matured as a prime vehicle to provide advisory services such as potential fishing zone, ocean state forecast, tsunami, coral reef alert and ocean data to many stakeholders.

Ocean resources, both living and non-living resources, in the our EEZ and high seas, are vital for our economy. Various technologies have been developed to explore mineral resources, such as in-situ soil tester, remote operable vehicle, autonomous coring machine, autonomous vehicles, and mining equipment. Remotely operable vehicle (ROV) has multifunctional sampling tools operated with robotic arm, high-resolution video imaging systems, scientific payloads and multi-beam sonar and can operate up to 6000 m depth. Such ROVs were made for polar climate as well. Deep water wire-line autonomous coring machine obtains cores up to 100 m especially to collect gas hydrates samples with custom built in situ pressure core sampler. A mining machine to harvest polymetalic nodules is under development. The remotely operable soil tester (ROSIS) can measure soil properties at 5500 m depth. An acoustic positioning system which facilitates deep sea positioning and track keeping has been developed. In order to explore the sea bed, autonomous vehicles, manned/unmanned submersibles are under development. Mariculture is one of the promising avenues for increasing marine fish production. Cage culture, fattening lobsters and mud crabs has been developed. The adoption of these technologies by fishermen is expected to increase earnings of fishermen. Water is scarce in many coastal regions of India and on the Lakshadweep Islands. Freshwater from sea is a very attractive solution. A Low Temperature Thermal Desalination, developed by ESSO-NIOT, an environment friendly technology that utilises natural ocean thermal gradient, has been providing drilling water to Lakshadweep Islands. Water-borne diseases have reduced considerably on the Islands, wherever these plants have been set up. Similar plant for 2.5 million l/day is being set up at the Tutucorin Power Plant. This technology is being now scaled to 10 million l/d. The challenge is to design suitable seawater intake and appropriate ocean platform.

ESSO-NIOT has been addressing developing technologies for harnessing wave energy through floating wave powered devices, offshore wind energy farms, ocean currents and ocean thermal energy. Attempts are being made to develop  suitable turbines. The investments made in ESSO-NIOT towards stewardship of oceans will pay dividends for generations to come. I am sure, at the occasion of Silver Jubilee, the leadership and members of ESSO-NIOT renew their commitments to oceans and chart a new course  to ensure sustainability of coasts and oceans for the benefit of mankind.