India's Antarctica station at par with world: Geologist Sudipta Sengupta (Interview)
Thirty years after she first set foot on Antarctica, celebrated geologist Sudipta Sengupta - one of the first Indian women to visit Earth's southernmost continent in 1983 - said improved technology has brought Indian stations on the ice at par with the world.
Describing her experience in the 'continent of science', as "once in a lifetime chance", she highlighted how easy communication from the stations to any part of the world has become in the 21st century.
Sengupta and marine biologist Aditi Pant were part of the Third Indian Expedition to Antarctica that ran from Dec 3, 1983, to March 25, 1984. Her pioneering work in the Schirmacher Hills of East Antarctica -- a line of low coastal hills -- boosted further study in the area.
"There is a tremendous difference in the technology in the stations...when we went and now... now it is at par with the stations put up by other countries," Sengupta told IANS on the sidelines of the Presidency University Lecture Series.
"We used much more cruder instruments back then," said Sengupta, recipient of the Antarctic Award.
She explained: "When we went there, we were totally isolated from the rest of the world. There were satellite phones on the ship and they were established on the station also, but it was so expensive that we were only allowed three minutes of talk-time per month. Now talking is no problem...communicating is no problem."
One of the major achievements of the 81-member team of the third Indian expedition was setting up of the maiden Indian station - the 'Dakshin Gangotri'. The first expedition was flagged off in 1981 that signalled the commencement of the Indian Antarctic Programme.
'Dakshin Gangotri' was replaced in 1988 by the indigenously-designed second permanent station 'Maitri', shortly before the first station was buried in ice and abandoned in 1990-91.
In 2012, 'Bharati', became India's third state-of-the-art research base in Antarctica.
Sengupta, now a member of the research advisory committee to Antarctica, returned to the region with the ninth expedition in 1989.
One of the reasons for polar research being sought after by the world, including India, according to Sengupta, is the continent's geological history.
Antarctica was once a part of the pre-historic supercontinent called Gondwanaland that also comprised present-day South America, Africa, Arabia, Madagascar, India and Australia.
Now a professor at Jadavpur University, Sengupta explained the importance of polar research in Antarctica: "It being the only polar continent, glaciological studies are extremely important. Also biological, geological studies are necessary as Antarctica was a key piece of Gondwanaland. It is also the area for upper atmospheric studies like that of the ozone hole and meteorological effects (that affect world weather)."
However, she argued that results of the studies in the region cannot be demarcated for a specific country.
"The research is not country specific...the studies affect the entire world," she said, referring to the discovery of the ozone hole whose effects resonated across the globe.
India is one of the 50 signatories to the Antarctic Treaty that entails 'free exchange of information and personnel in cooperation with the United Nations and other international agencies'.
Comparing the Indian research in the last three decades, 1946-born Sengupta pointed out that despite the substantial increase in volume, there isn't much of a progress in terms of standard.
"I think there isn't a big difference in terms of standard of research, but in terms of volume it has advanced. When a group of scientists go, you can't expect all of them to be top class... certain percentage is always top class and they availed of whatever facilities they got and produced top class research. It's the same now also...though the quality of research has definitely improved."
She hopes those who get an opportunity to explore the "colourless" continent should get the best out of their visit, the physical hardships notwithstanding.
"It (the expedition) is a combination of adventure, science and knowledge. Those who go must utilise it to fullest extent despite the obstacles, the hardships. It will be tough out there, but get whatever you can get out of it," said the expert mountaineer, a trait that helped her through the expedition.
(Sahana Ghosh can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
(Posted on 22-12-2013)