Interviews |

Dr M N Rajeevan I Technological innovations can help India become third largest economy by 2030

G’nY. With the global environment subject to rapid change, where do you think oceans feature?
Oceans are the storehouses of energy, water and food and control weather and climate, underpinning life on Earth. However that relationship is ever-changing. Any change in the ocean system caused by anthropological means or otherwise affects the planet in some way or the other. The systems are so connected and dynamic that it is almost impossible to mathematically model it with accuracy. Although industrialisation has helped humans to take rapid strides, it has also exacerbated global warming and climate change. Common man is severely impacted with droughts, floods and such other extreme climate events. Global warming is also causing the Arctic ice melting, thus leading to a sea level rise.
G’nY. As global warming is leading to a sea level rise—what do you think are the emerging challenges for India’s coastal population?
India has about 171 million people out of a total of 1.28 billion (2014) living in coastal areas. They are distributed along the 7,500 km coastline that includes the islands of Andamans and Lakshadweep. About 1 million fisherpeople depend on the coasts for their livelihood. Sea level rise will affect low lying states such as Gujarat and West Bengal (Sundarban). It is now scientifically proven that climate change has irreversible influence on various parameters of the earth system. Owing to the increase in concentration of greenhouse gases (GHGs), especially anthropogenic CO2, global temperatures are increasing. This leads to melting of ice in the polar region and internal expansion due to ocean warming (thermosteric effect) leading to increase of water volume and sea level rise over most of the global oceans. The other possible reasons for the sea level changes are attributed to salinity change (also known as the halosteric effect), change in interactions between the terrestrial water storage and oceans and sediment transport. Even though it is relatively easy to observe the sea level change, it is highly difficult to quantify the role of aforementioned processes owing to the uncertainty associated with them. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports, global mean sea level has been increasing over the last century at the rate of 1.8 mm per year owing to thermal expansion and ice melting and believes that the sea level will continue to rise in the coming century posing a grave threat to coastal population and maritime driven economy across the globe. This will affect the coastal population in those states and makes it necessary to relocate the affected population in the near future. Sundarban being
a poorly developed area needs
more attention.
G’nY. What innovative scientific ideas are being forged in relation to ocean technologies?MoES is embarking on a prestigious Deep Ocean Mission encompassing all aspects—climate change, ocean technology, ocean exploration, fisheries etc. Almost 95 per cent of the deep ocean is still unexplored. Though some of our national goals are overlapping with the goals set by UN, we have to prioritise our efforts in ocean science and technology to achieve the national goal of transforming the 6th largest economy in the world (2.6 trillion dollar) to 3rd largest (a 10 trillion dollar economy) by 2030. In addition, the developments in ocean science and technology also need to be tuned to facilitate the informed decision making capability of the Indian government and in making policies and regulatory laws to deal with the varied interests in the oceans and coasts. The developments in ocean science and technology need to be further channelled to support and fuel the marine and allied industries that will boost the Blue Economy in the days to come. The mission will harness the already available expertise in the country, supplement their gaps, resolve the shortcomings and lead them to achieve larger goals on an accelerated pace. The projects under this mission will be inter-institutional, inter-ministerial and will need policy makers, industry, academia, and research organisations, all contributing their individual strengths towards meaningful larger deliverables.
G’nY. What innovations of NIOT do you think will significantly help India’s coastal population?
Five major areas are identified under the ‘Deep Ocean Mission’. A series of brainstorming meetings involving a wide range of marine science and technology community in the country were conducted to prioritise the problems. The five major themes thus identified are:

  1. Development of technologies for Deep sea mining, underwater vehicles and underwater robotics.
  2. Development of ocean climate change advisory services,
  3. Technological innovations for exploration and conservation of deep sea biodiversity.
  4. Deep ocean survey and exploration and.
  5. Energy and freshwater from the ocean.

Upon implementing these, it is expected that the living conditions of the coastal population will take an upward leap and help in fulfilling the Sustainable Development Goal 14 (SDG-14) that advocates conservation and sustainable use of oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.

G’nY. What is the current status of India’s ocean mineral exploration?
India has entered into a contract with the International Seabed Authority (ISBA) for pursuing developmental activities for exploration and mining of polymetallic nodules and hydro thermal sulphides in the allocated area in the Central Indian Ocean Basin (CIOB). The progression of exploration and other scientific activities have reached a critical stage with the identification of a Test Mine Site (TMS) in the allocated area. During the period of the contract, it is proposed to develop, test and demonstrate the mining technology for harvesting of polymetallic nodules from the TMS. The Integrated Mining System will be put to demonstrate the pilot mining of polymetallic nodules from a depth of 6,000 m (at the TMS/CIOB). Based on the experience gained, commercial mining systems for large scale mining operation at sea will be developed. India also has an agreement with ISBA, United Nations for the exploration of massive suphides in the southern Indian Ocean at a depth of about 2,500 m. The mining system will be modified for exploration and test mining of massive sulphides cobalt crusts. Though the basic concept is same associated mining tools and protocols need to be developed for these deposits.

However, to utilise ocean resources, especially ocean energy and fresh water apart from minerals from deep sea, required the development of many technologies—next generation submersibles like remotely operated vehicles, underwater swarm robots, manned submersibles for shallow depths, hybrid underwater vehicles will give high resolution sea floor assessment of resources for quantitative estimation
and economics.

Further Reading:

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Effort in Combating Ocean Acidification

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