Monday, March 4, 2013

Mission to study Indian Ocean begins

In a first Indian mission of its kind, a team of largely young researchers on Saturday set off from Mormugao port aboard the oceanographic research vessel (ORV) 'Sagar Kanya' on a 60-day Indian ocean mission to determine the distribution of selected trace elements and isotopes in the marine environment.

The project assumes significance as it will accurately determine many scientific properties of the Indian ocean. Sunil Singh, one of the two chief scientists for the mission, said it had been found that an earlier western study on the Indian ocean that had determined the neodymium levels was incorrect and this mission will attempt to accurately determine the levels of this and other trace elements.

Trace elements and isotopes play important roles in the ocean as nutrients and tracers of the contemporary and the past processes. They regulate ocean processes, such as marine ecosystem dynamics and carbon cycling. For instance, iron is a key micro-nutrient, the scarcity of which limits photosynthesis and nitrogen fixation. Sources, sinks and bio-geochemical cycling of trace elements need to be understood to explain the spatial and temporal productivity variations in the global oceans.

The 'Geotraces India' project includes 28 researchers, including 7 women, hailing from 9 scientific research institutes such as the physical research laboratory (PRL) - Ahmedabad, national centre for Antarctic and ocean research (NCAOR), national institute of oceanography (NIO), ISER - Kolkata, universities of Tamil Nadu, Mangalore, Cochin, Pondicherry and Goa.

The Geotraces researchers will be collecting and testing ocean water and sediments at different locations in the ocean as part of the mission and special equipment such as an imported conductivity temperature versus depth (CTD) system to collect samples, and a metal-free clean room for testing will be utilised for the purpose. The mission will take the Sagar Kanya on a path towards Australia and the ship will make a port call at Jakarta in Indonesia on their return to Chennai.

S Rajan, director NCAOR which is a major partner for the mission, said "this is the most ambitious programme launched by NCAOR and PRL."

Ravi Bhushan, chief scientist for the first-leg of the cruise, said, "It is a big challenge, as it is unexpected for India to take up such a mission." He said the young research team augured well for the project as the young researchers will be able to carry on their work in this field in the coming years.

Shailesh Nayak, secretary, Union ministry of earth sciences, said this important programme will lead to new discoveries and new understanding of the processes that will come. It will help dispel the perception that the Indian ocean was a dead ocean as far as global climate goes, he added.

Most of the samples collected during the mission will be brought back for analysis to a NCAOR' completely metal-free clean laboratory that is being set-up, said Thamban Meloth, programme director, NCAOR. The world-class facility will be the first of its kind in India and only the fourth in the world, said Nayak.

Latika N, from NCAOR, said she "will be analysing sediment cores for trace metals and see how they can be used as proxies, as well as measure isotopes." For Akhil P S, from Cochin university, the research he will undertake during the mission was part of his doctoral thesis, while M Murugamanthan from Pondicherry university, said he will be carrying out micro-fossil study in the Andaman sea.

Source: Times of India

Image courtesy of bram_souffreau via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)