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India launches scientific expedition to Antarctica

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The Indian contingent at Novo runway in Antarctica (Image courtesy: National Centre for Polar and Ocean Research)

A 23-member contingent of scientists and support staff has reached the Indian Antarctic station Maitri, thus successfully launching the country's 41st Scientific Expedition to Antarctica.  

Four more batches will be landing in the southern white continent by air using the Dronning Maud Land Air Network Project (DROMLAN) facility and on-board chartered ice-class vessel MV Vasiliy Golovnin by mid-January 2022.

India's latest expedition has two major programmes with the first one encompassing geological exploration of the Amery ice shelf at Bharati station. This will help explore the link between India and Antarctica in the past.

The second involves reconnaissance surveys and preparatory work for drilling of 500 meters of ice core near Maitri. It will help in improving the understanding of Antarctic climate, westerly winds, sea-ice and greenhouse gases from a single climate archive for the past 10,000 years.  

The ice core drilling will be done in collaboration with the British Antarctic Survey and the Norwegian Polar Institute. In addition to accomplishing scientific programmes, it will replenish the annual supplies of food, fuel, provisions, and spares for operations and maintenance of life support systems at Maitri and Bharati.

The Indian Antarctic programme, which began in 1981, has completed 40 scientific expeditions, and built three permanent research base stations in Antarctica, named Dakshin Gangotri (1983), Maitri (1988) and Bharati (2012). As of today, Maitri and Bharati are fully operational. The National Centre for Polar and Ocean Research (NCPOR), Goa — an autonomous institute under the Ministry of Earth Sciences — manages the entire Indian Antarctic programme.

The Indian contingent reached Antarctica following a strict medical examination at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi; training for snow-ice acclimatization and survival at the Mountaineering and Skiing Institute, ITBP Auli, Uttarakhand; and a stringent sanitary protocol including a 14-day quarantine at Cape Town, South Africa.

The crew is expected to return to Cape Town in late March/early April of 2022, leaving a team of 48 members for the winter. It will also bring back the winter team of the preceding 40th expedition. The 41st expedition is being led by Shailendra Saini, Scientist National Centre for Polar & Ocean Research (Voyage Leader), metrologist Huidrom Nageshwar Singh (leader, Maitri station) and Anoop Kalayil Soman, a scientist from the Indian Institute of Geomagnetism (leader, Bharati Station).

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