Ocean—Services, Modelling, Application, Resources and Technology
Oceans play an essential role in almost all aspects of human existence. They also aid scientific and technological explorations and breakthroughs. For several years, oceans have been proceeding in various parts of the world due to factors such as climate change.
The Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in India—an expanse of more than 2 million sq km of the sea—holds immense potential for scientific exploration with a wide variety of living and non-living resources. This contributes to the economic development of the country in a big way yielding numerous societal benefits. Research and development of programmes on oceans in India were initiated by the Department of Ocean Development (DOD) which was set up in 1981.
The DOD was amalgamated with the Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES) in 2006 given the importance of creating synergy between ocean development, earth sciences with atmospheric sciences and geosciences. Since then, innumerable scientific developments, field installations, demonstrations, and achievements have been accomplished by MoES in this field. These developments can be categorized into the following three major areas.
- Services to society.
- Resource inventories for energy, fisheries, and minerals.
- Niche technologies or subsystems for exploring and harnessing ocean resources and establishing ocean observation systems.
Services to society include ocean observation systems, prediction of water quality, climate, and disaster management, developing coastal infrastructure, and protection of marine living resources. Niche technologies or subsystems for exploring and harnessing ocean resources include sensors, acoustic systems, and electronics, offshore systems and structures, and deep-sea systems like submersibles and mining machines.
Ever since its inception in 2006, the MoES has been tirelessly contributing to building the nation's blue economy by helping generate renewable energy from oceans, utilizing resources, and protecting them. It has helped develop several indigenous systems, devices, and techniques for implementing projects, under initiatives such as the Make in India. The Blue Economy embodies economic and trade activities that integrate the conservation and sustainable use and management of biodiversity, including maritime ecosystems, genetic resources, and activities that generate lower or no greenhouse gas emissions.
O-SMART is implemented by the following five institutes of the MoES.
- National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT), Chennai
- Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS), Hyderabad
- National Centre for Coastal Research (NCCR), Chennai
- Centre for Marine Living Resources & Ecology (CMLRE), Kochi
- National Centre for Polar and Ocean Research (NCPOR), Goa
Details of its major components are provided below.
- Centre for Marine Living Resources and Ecology—Marine Living Resources Programme
- National Centre for Coastal Research
- Ocean observation and network
- Ocean advisory and information services, computational infrastructure and communication systems
- Ocean—modelling data assimilation and process specific observations
- Ocean science and technology for islands The programme
- Harnessing ocean energy for generating freshwater
- Manned and unmanned underwater vehicles
- Marine sensors, ocean electronics and acoustics
- Operating and maintaining research vessels
- Seafront Research Facility
- Studies on Gas hydrates
- Polymetallic nodules
- Polymetallic Sulphides
- Geoscientific studies of exclusive economic zone
- Extension of the continental shelf
- Deep Ocean Mission (DOM)
1. Centre for Marine Living Resources and Ecology—Marine Living Resources Programme
The Marine Living Resources (MLR) programme aims to develop an ecosystem model for the management of the living resources in the Indian EEZ. It envisages survey, assessment and exploitation of the MLR and studies on the response of MLR to changes in the physical environment. The Fishery Oceanographic Research Vessel (FORV) Sagar Sampada is fully utilized for MLR studies.
CMLRE aims to address the following eight objectives.
- Physical processes which control the ecosystem of the eastern Arabian Sea.
- Biogeochemistry of eastern Arabian Sea in a time-series approach.
- Biological responses to varying ecosystem processes over the Arabian Sea.
- Interaction between upwelling and winter convective mixing.
- Relative influence of anthropogenic and offshore effects on shelf biogeochemistry.
- Effect of deoxygenation on nutrient cycles leading to greenhouse gas production.
- Biological response due to varying upwelling source water characteristics, in terms of changes in trophic interactions.
- Pelagic-benthic interactions in trophic food supply and exchanges.
The routine MLR surveys in the EEZ focus on the following four thrust areas.
- Deep-sea fishery.
- Harmful algal blooms.
- Bioluminescent planktons, marine mammals, environment, and productivity patterns.
These efforts are complemented through the following five allied activities under the MLR programme.
- Studies on the benthos of the continental slope area.
- Biodiversity of planktons in the Andaman sea, on the near-shore dynamics with particular reference to upwelling and mud-banks.
- Application-oriented R&D on the production of pearls from the black-lip pearl oyster.
- Development of antifouling compounds from marine organisms.
- Modelling efforts and maintenance of a Data and Referral Centre on FORV collections.
2. National Centre for Coastal Research
The National Centre for Coastal Research (NCCR), Chennai has been implementing a nationally coordinated research programme on ‘Sea Water Quality Monitoring’ erstwhile ‘Coastal Ocean Monitoring And Prediction System’ to identify the periodical changes in seawater quality. Parameters on physical, chemical, biological, and microbial characteristics of water and sediment are collected seasonally along the Indian coast, including the Lakshadweep and Andaman and the Nicobar Islands. Data generated under this program is possibly the only long-term information of the coastal water quality available in the country.
NCCR has set out standards for metals and organics in seawater. These standards are based on the toxicity bioassay experiments on marine organisms under the ‘Seawater Quality Criteria and Ecological Risk Assessment’ program. They are called Environment (Protection) Amendment Rules, 2019 for ensuring the coastal water quality uses. Coastal water quality information for recreational beaches is disseminated on a real-time basis by measuring and numerical modelling. A five days forecast of water quality for Chennai is available on a mobile app named ‘Clean Coast’.
NCCR has successfully delivered the followings services towards societal benefit.
- Cutting edge research to understand issues related to coastal erosion for effective coastal planning and development of the Indian coast.
- Systematic assessment of the vulnerability of coastal areas. For example, developing the Coastal Flood Warning System, which is a disaster preparedness web GIS based decision support system.
- Ecosystem modelling to understand biogeochemical processes to determine water quality, primary production and fishery.
- Status of coral reefs in Gulf of Mannar through underwater surveys.
- Study of microplastics and their distribution, characterization, behaviour, toxicity and fate along the Indian coast.
3. Ocean observation and network
Ocean Observation Systems provide vital data for operational forecast, scientific research and applications. Indian Ocean Observation Moored Buoy Network established in 1996 has been operating for more than two decades. It has helped the India Meteorological Department in alerting the public about impending cyclones and accurate prediction of the cyclone tracks. Tsunami buoys have tracked almost all earthquakes and tsunamis that occurred within the influence area in Indian and neighbouring international waters. Establishment of unique IndARC Mooring in the polar region has been a landmark achievement, the data of which is pivotal in guiding the researchers working on 'Climate Change'. High-Frequency Radar network has been operational 24X7 round-the-year, at five locations for providing ocean current and cyclone warnings.
4. Ocean advisory and information services, computational infrastructure and communication systems
The Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS), Hyderabad is capable of predicting the surface and subsurface parameters of the Indian Ocean with a lead time of up to seven days. It is an offshoot of the Integrated INDian Ocean FOrecasting System (INDOFOS) which was set up to provide forecasts of oceanographic parameters (both surface and subsurface) at different time scales for a broad spectrum of users ranging from fisherfolk to offshore industries. The following are some of the systems monitored by INCOIS.
- Wind waves and swell waves
- Sea surface currents
- Sea surface temperature
- Mixed layer depth
- Thermocline depth
- Astronomical tides
- Wind speed and direction
- Oilspill trajectory
INCOIS provides ocean state information to all seafaring communities like fishermen, Indian Navy, Indian Coast Guard, merchant and passenger shipping agencies, offshore oil and gas exploration agencies, research organizations, fish landing centres, small fishing harbours, commercial ports, and coastal communities. Special forecasts are available for the Arabian Sea, Bay of Bengal, Northern Indian Ocean, Southern Indian Ocean, Red Sea, Persian Gulf and the South China Sea.
5. Ocean—modelling data assimilation and process specific observations
The ‘ocean-modelling data assimilation and process specific observations’ programme aims to measure water quality parameters in the coastal waters around India in a sustained manner to understand and quantify anthropogenic perturbations on the coastal waters. It is equipped with a buoy-based automated monitoring system along the Indian coast to collect real-time data of coastal waters and assess the health of the coastal ecosystem. This will also help researchers to differentiate human-induced changes from natural variabilities. The ocean research vehicle Sagar Manjusha was used for such cruises during monsoon and post-monsoon seasons to understand the effect of the monsoon on the coastal water quality and ecosystem.
6. Ocean science and technology for islands The programme
aims to provide sustainable and environment-friendly solutions for islands, MoES has come up with innovative ways of planning and designing coastal infrastructure. This infrastructure is climate- and natural disaster- resilient. It is accepted that identifying novel molecules fromdeep-sea microbes in the Indian seas will pave the way for identifying solutions for environmental, industrial and medical applications. For example, micro and macroalgae in the Indian ocean are a potential and rich source of biochemicals. MoES plans to take up mass-scale cultivation and processing ofsuch marine algae. Moreover, coastal and offshore waters are bestowed with tremendous assimilative capabilities, allowing mariculture to produce healthy fish with a lower carbon footprint than any other production system.
7. Harnessing ocean energy for generating freshwater
A variety of different technologies are currently under development throughout the world to harness ocean renewable energy and freshwater in all its forms. MoES has developed ocean renewable energy technologies beyond the laboratory stage. The activities are focused on the on-the-ground implementation of turbines and other components for harnessing ocean energy and desalination. For example, a self-powering of the desalination plant is set up in Kavaratti, Lakshwadeep islands. Ocean energy is a green and clean source of energy. Three more such plants are operated and maintained by locals for the past 11 years in Kavaratti and seven years in Agatti and Minicoy. The plan is to set up six more desalination plants with an enhanced capacity of 1.5 lakhlitres per day by 2022.
8. Manned and unmanned underwater vehicles
To harness ocean resources, MoES has developed, demonstrated, and operated unmanned remotely operated systems such as remotely-operated work class ROV (ROSUB 6000) and Polar Remotely Operated Vehicle (PROVe) for a depth of upto six kilometres. ROSUB6000 and PROVe are deployed for scientific explorations, search and recovery operations of MoES and other organizations. These vehicles need to be refurbished and augmented for continuous usage. These vehicles require replacement to enhance capabilities to cater to the evolving needs of the ocean science community.
MoES has commenced work on anunmanned submersible. This technology will be a first for India. It will aid immediate human investigation of underwaterocean-related projects. It is in an advanced stage of the design and requires more work on realization, field trials, and assessing utility.
9. Marine sensors, ocean electronics and acoustics
Acoustics is the best tool to survey and explore the oceans. It makes it extremely useful for real-time applications. Developing acoustic sensors, acoustic imaging systems and autonomous passive acoustic measurement systems for marine applications catering to civilian as well as strategic needs has been implemented. MoES has successfully developed the following technologies.
- Wideband acoustic transmitters, hydrophone arrays and indigenous standalone buried object detection sonar, and their sea trials.
- Autonomous systems for ambient noise measurements in coastal waters and polar regions.
- Underwater acoustic communication systems and extensive data analysis.
- Geoacoustic and bioacoustics applications.
- Vector sensor array and its demonstration.
- Underwater Acoustic Test Facility accredited by National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories (NABL).
- Drifting buoys with Indian National Satellite Communication (INSAT) communication.
- Autonomous underwater profiling drifters.
Indigenous new technologies for ocean observation and electronicsare essential for carrying out marine-related projects. Work on the operation of gliders for long term observation and technologies on automatic open sea fish cage culture is in progress.
10. Operating and maintaining research vessels
Research vessels are versatile ocean observing platforms equipped with advanced scientific and mechanical handling equipment. Such equipmentis the backbone for technology demonstration and oceanic observations. Operational management and maintenance of research vessels Sagar Nidhi, Sagar Sampada, Sagar Kanya and Sagar Manjusha are in progress and will continue. Recently acquired two new coastal research vessels Sagar Tara and Sagar Anveshikaare to be operated and maintained as well. These vessels are at par with international standards. The vessels are functional round-the-year to support MoES and other Government of India funded projects. MoES is extending research vesselsas a national facility to various users under MoES and other research institutes for implementing ocean-related programmes as recommended by the Joint Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee (JSTAC).
11. Seafront Research Facility
Challenges taken up globally in Ocean Technology are at varying levels of success. In India, theymay be through capacity building, collaboration, and infrastructure development.Establishing a Seafront Research Facility (SRF) at Pamanji and aFacility for Administrative, Computational and Training (FACT) at Chittedu, Nellore is underway. MOES has acquired 97.37 acres of land through the Andhra Pradesh State Government to develop the SRF in Pamanji. An additional 56.18 acres will be accepted in Pamanji, and 58.69 acres will be taken up in Chittedu. In September 2018, the Project Review Coordination Committee has approved the master plan and detailed project report for both SRF and FACT. The construction of a compound wall and security building is complete. More field surveys and thorough investigations are required to finalize engineering designs. Establishment of a ballast water treatment test facility is also in progress.
12. Studies on Gas hydrates
Gas hydrates are naturally occurring, solid compounds containing natural gas (mainly methane) and water. A comprehensive research-oriented gas hydrates program is in progress with science and technology development for exploring and extraction feasibility. An Autonomous Coring System has been developed and operated successfully for drilling core at 101 meters below the seafloor at deep waters in the Bay of Bengal. Exploration activities have been carried out at identified sites of Krishna–Godavari Basin and the Mahanadi basin.
13. Polymetallic nodules
Polymetallic nodules found on the deep ocean floor are rich in the most needed metals like copper, cobalt, nickel, and manganese. Polymetallic nodule mining is a technological challenge considering the depth of occurrence of these nodules at 4 to 6 kilometres depth, adverse sea conditions, and environmental challenges.
Ministry of Earth Sciences is responsible for Survey & Exploration, Environmental Impact Assessment, Technology Development (Mining), and Technology Development (Extractive Metallurgy) for polymetallic nodules through various national institutes, viz. National Institute of Oceanography (NIO), Institute of Minerals and Materials Technology (IMMT), National Metallurgical Laboratory (NML), National Centre for Antarctic and Ocean Research (NCAOR), National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT) etc.
Survey and exploration at the grid size of 12 km x 12 km have been carried out and abundance, grade of target metals have been estimated. The estimates of about 365 Million metric Tonnes of polymetallic nodules have been made with around 2.3% of Cu, Ni and Co. The efforts are continuing to refine these estimates.
Regarding developmentof the mining system, in-situ soil tester has been developed and deployment was successfully undertaken in the contract area of CIOB at depths of 5400 m. Soft soil seabed locomotion trials with the mining machine were undertaken in Feb 2020 at depths of 3420 m.
Environmental baseline data has been collected in the Area and Environment Impact Statement has been prepared for the proposed test of locomotion trials proposed to be carried out at 5500 m water depth in the allocated area. Stakeholder consultation in this regard has also been completed and details presented to the ISA.
A demonstration pilot plant with a capacity to process 500 kg nodules per day was commissioned successfully for extracting copper, nickel and cobalt at Hindustan Zinc Limited, Udaipur. Dedicated campaigns have been carried out at the semi-continuous demonstration pilot plant to process 500 kg of polymetallic nodules per day to validate the process package developed for extraction of metal values viz. Copper, Nickel and Cobalt from nodules at Hindustan Zinc Limited (HZL), Udaipur . The pilot plant campaigns were carried out for validation of the flow sheet developed by Institute of Minerals and Materials Technology, (IMMT) Bhubaneswar. Another pilot plant has been commissioned at National Metallurgical Laboratory, Jamshedpur with processing capacity of 500 kg per day for production of ferro-sillico-mangamnese ore from the residue obtained from the HZL plant. The Commissioning of pilot plant and demonstration of process route developed for extracting metal values viz. Cu, Ni and Co are important landmarks in extractive metallurgy. Various R&D endeavours were carried out at the participating laboratories [Institute of Minerals & Materials Technology, Bhubaneshwar (IMMT(B) for further refinements and improving the process routes.
14. Polymetallic Sulphides
PolymetallicSulphides (PMS) is a seabed mineral. It is a potential source of precious metals such as gold and silver, and the base metals such as copper, zinc, and lead. A higher base metal content characterizes PMScompared to other seabed minerals such as polymetallic nodules and cobalt crusts. Surface data from 75 sites nearly three thousands samplessuggests that the sulphide deposits are comparable to land-based deposits of these base metals in their grade. The most gold-rich seafloor to date is found in territorial waters of Papa New Guinea at conical seamount with maximum concentration up to 230 grams per ton (g/t) with an average concentration of 26g/t. The concentration of gold in the sea bed is almost ten times the average of economically mineable gold deposits on land.
In 2016, MoES signed a 15years contract with the International Seabed Authority (ISA) forexploringPMS in the Indian Ocean. The ISA has allottedten thousand square kilometresarea with 15years plan of work for exploring PMS along the Central Indian Ridge and Southwest Indian Ridge region of the Indian Ocean.
15. Geoscientific studies of exclusive economic zone
A detailed and comprehensive bathymetric mapping of the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is required to formulate feasible plans for the development and management of EEZ, and its sustainable utilization of resources. The program on geoscientific mapping of EEZ will cater to various scientific disciplines and have a wide variety of uses such as the following.
- Oceanographic research.
- Exploring marine living and non-living resources.
- Assessing geohazard potential.
- Demarcating geohazard susceptible zones such as submarine landslides. This may have direct or indirect implications on the coastal communities and economy. Moreover, mapping, identification, and interpreting geomorphological features within the EEZ will be carried out to decipher the morphotectonic setup of the region.
- Systematic sediment sampling and analysis to understand sedimentation history and the palaeo-climatic regime of the Indian peninsula.
- Managing the geoscientific database to facilitate archival and retrieval of data of EEZ surveys.
16. Extension of the continental shelf
As per the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, coastal states have sovereign rights over the resources of the continental shelf till 200 nautical miles (M) from their baselines, which can be extended to 350 (M) if it is demonstrated that the shelf extends beyond 200 (M). For a state to be entitled, it must prove that the outer limits of the continental shelf extend beyond 200 M supported with geophysical/geological data. India submitted its first partial submission to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) for the Eastern and Western Offshore region in May 2009. This is under examination of the Sub-commission.
17. Deep Ocean Mission (DOM)
The Deep Ocean Mission (DOM) is an upcoming mission of the MoES. It has the following six major themes under its purview.
a) Development of technologies for deep-sea mining, human submersible, and underwater robotics
India has 2 conract areas in Indian Ocean for exploration of deep sea mineral resources. To harness these deep-sea resources, development of mining system capbale of operation in water depth up to 6000m to mine polymetallic nodules from the deep oceanis part of this mission. A human submersible capable of operation in water depth upto 6000m with underwater robotics would be other essential components of the development of deep sea technologies envisaged under the mission. More studies are required to make these technologies operational and industrially viable.
b) Development of ocean climate change advisory services
The coastal zones are vulnerable to climate change. The significant impacts are changes in sea-level, inundation of low-lying areas, increased flooding due to extreme weather events like storm surges, cyclones, and tsunamis, andmore significant erosion which affects beaches, deltas, and islands. Moreover, climate change can have far-reaching consequences on the marine biogeochemical cycles and hence on the life in the sea. It is pertinent, therefore, to develop a suitable approach to assess and project the future changes of the regional physical and ecological properties of the coastal areas along the Indian coastline and in the seas around us. Hence, the mission mode project titled'Development of Ocean Climate Change Advisory Services'aims to provide quantitative indicators for monitoring possible changes in the sea level, cyclone intensity and frequency, storm surges and wind waves, biogeochemistry, and changing fishery at seasonal to decadal time scales. This will help to devise a feasible plan for a sustainable and efficient marine system-driven economy and offshore or coastal installations and constructions.
c) Technological innovations for exploration and conservation of deep-sea biodiversity
The deep-sea harbours the highest biodiversity on the Earth with novel biomolecules having environmental, industrial, and biomedical importance. The exploration of deep-sea organisms, particularly bioprospecting of deep-sea microorganisms has emerged as a new frontier in drug discovery and development. Under this initiative, deep-sea biodiversity and genomic studies and bio-prospecting of deep-sea flora and fauna, including microbes for sustainable utilization of deep-sea bio-resources are some of the major areas proposed.
d) Deep ocean survey and exploration
The seabed is less mapped than the surface of the Moon or Mars due to a widespread lack of understanding of the seabed resources and their value. This increases the risk of underestimating resources and opportunities from the sea and has implications of damaging its environment. Therefore, accurate mapping of the seafloor is a prerequisite for undertaking any exploration program. It is necessary to prepare high-resolution maps of the sea bed in conjunction with the surface sediment characteristics to plan seabed explorations and mining.
The mapping of hydrothermal systems on the mid-ocean ridges is also of interest as they account for high concentrations of base metals such as Copper and Zinc and noble metals such as gold, silver, palladium, and platinum. The extensive survey is therefore necessary to identify the hydrothermal vents and locate the deposits in time bound manner. This activity also forms an important component of the mission. For this purpose a dedicated research vessel is necessary to be acquired and is envisaged under the mission.
e) Energy and freshwater from the ocean
Ocean thermal gradient promises to be a more constant form of energy compared to waves, winds, tide, and currents, especially in tropical countries where the surface temperature is warm throughout the year obeys a near-constant temperature gradient. To meet the growing demands of energy for remote islands, it is essential to develop technologies to harness the power from the seas surrounding them. Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) has been known for a long time. To harness this technology fully, the ocean's vagaries must be conquered. When this is accomplished, desalination can be built as an add-on within the OTEC cycle. This will help to take in and discharge the sea water to run the OTEC. It can be used to run Low Temperature Thermal Desalination plants which will generate freshwater for remote Indian islands. Access to freshwater will improve the quality of lives of people living in island areas of the country. Testing of proof of concept of OTEC along with few critical components is included under the mission.
f) Advanced marine station for ocean biology
The Hon'ble Prime Minister of India, Shri Narendra Modi, had announced the setting up of the Advanced Marine Station for Ocean Biology at the 103rd session of the Indian Science Congress in 2016. With a network of coastal and island research centres from India and abroad, this centre would leverage the collective and composite capacity of existing institutes, connect them across disciplines to create a manifold impact with specific reference to capacity building in marine sciences. The Indian Marine Station will harbour a comprehensive set of technological platforms and know-how, which can be used as reference and training instruments as well as for establishing a commercial incubator or accelerator.