It is not merely to demonstrate its technological achievements and capabilities, however, that India has undertaken these expeditions. It has many other reasons to take serious interest in the frozen continent. For one thing, Antarctica is a largely unexplored land mass where many geological and geophysical secrets are still locked in their pristine condition.
There are also strong economic reasons for the Indian interest. Apart from fish in the Antarctic waters, it is known to contain valuable mineral resources.
Though only a spirit of adventure brought the early explorers to this frozen land, the knowledge gathered in recent years about its vast hidden mineral deposits has rekindled keen interest and even raised disputes among countries in staking their claims. These recent developments have influenced the Indian government in starting and continuing these expeditions.
The untapped wealth in a land mass the size of the US and Europe combined is enormous. By current estimates (generally on the lower side), Antarctica has 15 million cubic metres of natural gas, 45 billion barrels of crude oil and several thousand tonnes each of uranium, titanium, silver, gold, coal, cobalt, chromium, nickel, copper, iron, manganese and zinc.
The protein-rich prawn like krill abound in Antarctic waters. Estimates of total stock range from 1.25 to 6 trillion tonnes; sustainable annual harvest could run from 60 to 150 million tonnes – about one to two and a half times the current world fish catch. These high protein species known to zoologists as Euphausia Superba are said to be the lone surviving creatures under extreme climate conditions in the icy ocean.
Since krills have been surviving at 3 or 4 degrees Celsius, these have to be processed and preserved in situ before shipping them out. Currently the Russians, Japanese, Germans and Poles take most of the catch. The tenth expedition took up experimental harvesting of krill’s.
Studies reveal that nearly 60 per cent of the world protein demand from marine life can be met if krill’s are properly harvested in Antarctica. The krill shells can be used to manufacture Chitin used in pharmaceutical industry.
Though the general purpose of the treaty was to preserve the area exclusively for peaceful research, its character seems to have undergone a serious change.
For instance, several members of the Antarctic Club (as the original signatories of the Antarctic Treaty of 1959 are called) now make territorial claims in the area, though the remaining members do not have claims and do not recognise any.
In 1980, the Club members drew up their own regime for krill fishing, and during 1983-84, the original signatories had held five inconclusive meetings to work out a mineral regime for Antarctica.
Antarctica Treaty nations held a meeting in November 1990 to negotiate an agreement to save the world’s last great wilderness from pollution caused by an increasing human presence.
Members were divided on whether to declare Antarctica permanently out of bounds for commercial fishing and mining. The icy continent plays a critical role in the world’s climate and its value as an uncontaminated laboratory is well established.
The sinking in 1989 of an Argentine ship spilling 640 kilolitres of fuel oil killed countless skua and penguin chicks. Conservationists raised immediate alarm over the dangers of an ecological disaster occurring in Antarctica. They want Antarctica, whose 14 million square kilometres icecap represents some 70 per cent of the planet’s fresh water, turned into a world part for scientists only.
The November 1990 meeting gave official observer status to the Antarctica and Southern Ocean Coalition (ASOC), an umbrella organisation of 200 environmental groups from 35 countries. Switzerland was admitted as the treaty’s 39th member with observer status. Holland and Ecuador became full consultative parties.
Australia and France have a draft of an environmental protection convention that bans mining outright and makes Antarctica a nature preserve. This lays out strict and legally binding controls on all human activity, including careful monitoring of the Antarctica mineral resource activities.
With the entry of India, a developing country of the Third World and member of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), in the freezing and bone chilling business of Antarctica expeditions, a new powerful element has been introduced in the Antarctica Treaty.
India is the third country from the Third World to undertake and continue scientific expeditions to Antarctica, the other two being Argentina and Chile.
India to set up 3rd station in Antarctica:
India’s Minister for Science Technology announced the plan for setting up a third station in the continent.
Failed launch of satellite intended to monitor CO2:
A satellite intended to monitor CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere suffered a technical failure after its launch on Feb. 24, 09 and crashed into the ocean near Antarctica.
The US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)’s orbiting carbon observatory (OCO) was designed to map the sources of carbon emissions and monitor the rates of carbon absorption by forests and oceans. However, a Japanese satellite, GOSAT, was launched in January with a similar purpose.
Environment ministers’ meeting:
Environment ministers and other officials from more than a dozen states, including China, Finland, Norway, Russia, the UK, and the USA, on Feb. 23, 09 made an unprecedented visit to Norway’s Troll research station in Antarctica to meet scientists conducting research as part of the 2007-09 International Polar Year (IPY).
The temperature changes on the continent and the interaction of Antarctica’s vast ice fields with the atmosphere and the ocean were currently poorly understood. It was thought that the melting of even a small percentage of the ice cap through global warming could lead to a significant rise in sea levels.
Mapping of Antarctic mountains:
It was reported by the BBC online news service on Feb. 25, 09 that an expedition including scientists from Australia, China, Germany, Japan, the UK, and the USA had mapped the Gamburtsev range of mountains in eastern Antarctica, as part of the IPY survey.
The mountains, the peaks of which were some 4 km. below the surface of the ice, were first detected by a Soviet expedition in 1958. A combination of aircraft carrying radar and gravitational and magnetic instrumentation and surface seismometers were used to map the mountains, the tallest of which was some 2,800 metres high.