POLAR SCIENCE AND CRYOSPHERE RESEARCH (PACER)
The Polar Regions are important for multiple reasons such as they amass massive reserves of water (in the form of snow and ice), they significantly affect global climate and are in turn also acutely affected by the ongoing climate changes. They are the natural laboratories where extreme environments and geographically unique settings enable research on fundamental phenomena and processes not feasible or possible elsewhere. The atmospheric and ocean studies being undertaken in the Polar Regions have relevance to a better understanding the teleconnections between Poles and Tropics, especially the Indian monsoon. Therefore, the Antarctic, Arctic, Himalaya (Third Pole) and Southern Ocean are vital elements of the Earth’s climate. Hence, studying the Polar Regions is key to unlocking the past, better understanding the present and predicting the future. Despite these facts, our knowledge about the functioning of the Polar Regions within the global climate system and its spatio-temporal complexity is relatively scarce.
Considering the inter-related role of the Antarctic, Arctic, Himalaya and the Southern Ocean, and the similarity of approach called for in the scientific studies in all these domains, all the scientific and logistic programs in multiple polar domains were amalgamated as a Central Sector umbrella scheme named “Polar Science and Cryosphere Research (PACER)”. The PACER scheme is being implemented by Ministry of Earth Sciences through its autonomous institute – National Centre for Polar and Ocean Research (NCPOR), Goa. It has four sub- schemes under it, namely, the Antarctic Program, Indian Arctic Program, Indian Southern Ocean Program and Cryosphere and Climate Program. Major objectives of the scheme are enumerated below:
- To ensure the country’s strategic and scientific interests in the Polar Region and the surrounding oceans.
- To continue the long-term frontline scientific programmes in Antarctica, Arctic, Himalaya and Southern Ocean, which are pertinent to the national needs and having potential societal, strategic and global relevance.
- Planning, coordination and implementation of the annual Indian Antarctic, Arctic, Himalayan, Southern Ocean expeditions.
- Maintenance of Indian Research bases at Antarctica, Arctic and Himalaya.
- Establishment of a state-of-the-art polar research and logistic facilities in the country.
I.Indian Antarctic Programme
The Indian Antarctic Programme was conceived in 1981 to provide a platform for scientific research to the Indian scientific community. Indian Antarctic Programme was initiated under the Department of Ocean Development (DOD) attached to Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). Over four decades with changes in its affiliation and mode of operations, it has evolved to its present format wherein its managed and operated by National Centre for Polar & Ocean Research an autonomous institution under Ministry of Earth Sciences. During this journey of 41 years, three permanent Indian research bases, “Dakshin Gangotri-1983”, “Maitri-1988” and “Bharati-2012” have been built. Keeping in view the strategic interest of the nation and scientific needs the Antarctic programme has evolved into its present form with following objectives:
- Planning, coordination and implementation of the Indian Antarctic Program
- Launching of the Indian Scientific Expeditions to Antarctica
- Maintenance of Indian Research bases at Antarctica
- Initiation/continuation of the scientific programs in Antarctica in the fields of atmospheric sciences, climate change, earth science & glaciology, Human physiology & medicine, polar biology and environmental science.
- Studies on past climate and ocean variability with focus on (a) Past Polar Climate and Monsoon, (b) Climatic teleconnections between polar regions and Tropics with special emphasis on Indian monsoon, (c) Late quaternary reconstructions using microfossils and nannofossils – bipolar approach,
- Geology & Glaciology - to address SCAR horizon questions
- Environmental monitoring and health of Indian Antarctic stations in pursuit of the Antarctic Treaty System and its Governance
- Hydrodynamics of the Indian Sector of Coastal Antarctica.
- Need to execute various Science projects with various expertise available in the country and also abroad.
- Establishment and maintenance of National Polar Data Centre
Over the years, several institute and universities from all over the country have been actively participating in the Indian Scientific Expedition to Antarctica (ISEA) and have benefited with the operational support provided by NCPOR. A wide gamut of research fields has been attempted and executed successfully over the years and the same have been contributing to the world of science in a very significant way.
The foundation of the Indian Arctic endeavours was laid in 2007, when the Government of India decided to explore the feasibility of dovetailing the country’s scientific agenda in the Antarctic region with significant major long-term scientific initiatives. India is one of the most recent countries to commence Arctic research as it established its Arctic research station (named ‘Himadri’) in 2008. India’s Arctic research includes atmospheric, biological, marine and glaciological studies. The atmospheric research encompasses investigations into aerosols and precursor gases with respect to their radiative, physical-chemical and optical properties and studies on the effects of space weather on auroral ionosphere.
Since 2007, thirteen successful Indian Arctic expeditions have been undertaken benefitting over 400 researchers from around 25 academic and research institutes. The specific objectives of this program can be enumerated as:
- Planning, co-ordination and execution or scientific and logistics tasks related to Indian scientific studies in the Arctic.
- Long term monitoring of the physicochemical and biogeochemical aspects of Arctic fjords and adjoining ocean for climate change studies.
- Research on the dynamics and mass budget of Arctic glaciers with major emphasis on the effect of glaciers on sea-level change and on the fresh water discharge.
- To carry out a comprehensive assessment of the flora and fauna of the Arctic vis-á-vis their response to anthropogenic activities.
- Comparative study of the life forms under extreme environment from the Polar Regions.
- Expand Arctic observations and Science, to other regions of Arctic.
Southern Ocean (SO) is a unique region which tend to have a global scientific relevance in terms of its role in climate change, its distinct physical, chemical properties and related biological processes. In the light of the biogeochemical perspective, the SO in general and the Indian sector of the SO (ISSO) in particular, is still an understudied region. The SO plays a major role in the global carbon sequestration and cycling and strongly influences global climate patterns. This program was initiated by the Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES) to pursue multi-disciplinary, multi-institutional research activities addressing various key scientific components including air-sea interactions, lower atmospheric processes, hydrodynamics, biogeochemistry, biodiversity (bacteria, plankton and higher marine organisms) etc.
Major objectives of the ISESO are outlined below:
- Inter relationship between physical, chemical and biological elements across Antarctic Circumpolar Current and their role in carbon sequestration, biogeochemistry and climate change
- To investigate the air-sea-ice interaction and to understand the role of anthropogenic aerosols over Southern Ocean and its effect on climate variability.
- To understand the implication of thermohaline variations in the Southern Ocean and the repercussion of heat and mass exchange between tropics and polar regions on Indian monsoon, biogeochemistry and climate.
- Reconstruction of the paleo-environmental conditions for selected time slices during the last glacial-interglacial cycles to provide perspectives on future climate change.
- Generate relevant/critical sea truth and atmospheric data for contributing to global climate data sets for prediction of climate models to mitigate/regulate climate change.
- Develop and implement Sea-ice modelling
Cryosphere is a vital component of the Earth System Science with important linkages and feedbacks generated through its influence on surface energy and moisture fluxes, clouds, precipitation, hydrology, atmospheric and oceanic circulation. The past climate changes buried in deep-ice also provides critical context for our understanding of recent anthropogenic forcing of the climate, as well as baseline information about Earth’s natural climate variability. Cryospheric regions are the least studied component of the earth system due to the paucity of observations, remoteness, extremely challenging field conditions and limited time window in a year. The spatio-temporal characteristics of Antarctic climate variability in the past few millennia remains poorly understood, especially in coastal Dronning Maud Land (DML). Several studies have revealed that annually resolved climatic records from coast DML are only few centuries old and don’t provide information on the low frequency variability beyond the anthropogenic influences. The “Cryosphere and Climate” initiated by MoES during 12th five-year plan have enhanced our understanding of the Antarctic cryosphere and the climate variability.
The Himalayas, widely known as the Third Pole, are losing their ice mass significantly in the recent decades. Changes in glaciers are one of the clearest indicators of alterations in regional climate; however, our knowledge of the functioning of the Himalayan cryosphere within the climate system is relatively less known. To understand the complex behavior that controls the observed and future changes, systematic long-term scientific investigations of Himalayan glaciers have been carried out under Himalayan glaciological programme. Further to enhance the scientific outcome and extend the study area to entire Himalaya, a nationally coordinated multi-institutional initiative named Himalayan Cryospheric Observation and Modeling (HiCOM) has been initiated.
Considering the above, the specific objectives of this program are as follows:
- To reconstruct the evolution of Antarctic climate and ice dynamics during the late Holocene and its linkages to the tropical and/or extra tropical climate systems.
- To understand the biogeochemical cycling within the snow, ice and other supraglacial systems in response to cryosphere changes.
- To study the mass balance and dynamics of benchmark/representative glaciers in Himalaya and understand the differential glacier responses within the region.
- To study the response of Himalayan cryosphere to the changing climate and its hydrological impacts.
- To understand the hydrological cycle within the cryospheric regions through isotope hydrology.