About 70 per cent of the Earth's surface is covered by the ocean and it has held immense fascination for man. The National Institute of Oceanography is a premier research organisation studying land-sea interaction and the benefits the waters hide in their depths.

We have serious concern about the depletion of natural resources available on land. The day may not be far off when our eyes will focus more seriously on the treasures in the oceans. Even today our lives are intertwined with the oceans. The studies on oceans gain more and more importance, as we go forward.

Oceanography is the science of the sea. It deals with the physical, chemical, biological, and geological aspects of oceans. Exploration and exploitation of resources are a part of oceanography. In certain contexts, the terms oceanology or marine science are used synonymously.

Since we get food from the ocean, we are interested in the sea, just as the farmer is interested in the field. We use the oceans for transport. The merchant navy has a vital part to play in national and international trade. We use the ocean for recreation, such as swimming, diving, and boating.

We are concerned about the waves, winds, ocean currents, and temperature changes. The weather, wind, and rainfall on land are dependent on the oceans. We know how the coastal climate differs from the continental climate. Storms, hurricanes, typhoons, tsunami, and even droughts depend on the influence of the oceans. The study of the oceans is a great voyage of discovery.

For the sake of convenience, oceanography is usually divided into different segments.

Physical oceanography: Study of the motions of seawater, particularly waves, currents, and tides. Some of the topics studied are the following. Temperature, salinity and density; influence of the physical state of the oceans on the Earth's climate; ocean warming slowing of ocean circulation; Anthropogenic and biologically active tracers; air-Sea interaction; turbulent and radiative heat {fllig}uxes through the sea surface; phase changes of water; wind-driven circulation in the upper ocean; conservation equations; and transport processes of ocean circulation.

Chemical oceanography (marine chemistry): It is concerned with the study of the dissolved elements in seawater and the chemical and biochemical cycles in the sea. Topics of study include the chemistry of seawater; reactions between the atmosphere and hydrosphere; the origin and evolution of seawater; the origin of the sediment that covers the seafloor; water and sediment sampling; relationships among chemical constituents of seawater; and the influence of changes in geology; and biological activity.

Man-made pollution in the form of dumping of sewage, oil, fuel, agricultural chemicals, and industrial exhaust into the oceans decreases sea-water quality, particularly along the coast. Problems such as the toxic effect of human consumption of mercury-laden fish come under the domain of chemical oceanography. We have to analyse the influence of changes in seawater temperature on global weather. El Nino is a case in point. It is a shift in ocean temperatures and atmospheric conditions in the tropical Pacific that disrupts weather around the world.

Chemical oceanography may have to be subdivided for the sake of convenient study. For instance, marine chemistry is concerned with the composition of seawater. Marine geochemistry is the chemistry of the precipitated rocks and sediment found on the ocean floor. Marine biogeochemistry studies the role of organisms, especially microorganisms in the alteration or formation of geological features in the oceans.

Biological oceanography (marine biology): Study of life in the oceans, includes marine biology and ecology. It deals with the study of the plants and animals of the oceans and their ecological interaction.

Geological Oceanography: Study of the shape and geologic features of the ocean floor.

NIO

The premier research institution in the field of oceanography in India is the National Institute of Oceanography (NIO), Dona Paula, Goa - 403 004; Web: www.nio.org.

NIO, a constituent of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, was established in January 1966. It has regional centres in Mumbai, Kochi, and Vishakhapatnam. It has rich infrastructure in terms of a large oceanographic laboratory of international repute and human resource of 200 scientists, with a fine contribution of nearly 5,000 research articles. It operates a coastal research vessel CRV Sagar Sukti, equipped for multidisciplinary oceanographic observations. The institute makes use of the services of the research vessel ORV Sagar Kanya, operated by the Ministry of Earth Sciences.

The major research areas include the four traditional branches of oceanography indicated above. Further, it conducts research and some other areas such as marine instrumentation and archaeology. Several universities use the institute for carrying out doctoral research, guided by NIO scientists. The research studies carried out are not in the form of academic exercises, but they focus on practical applications. Research sponsored by industry is an integral part of the activities in NIO. Oceanographic data collection, environmental impact assessment, modelling for the prediction of environmental impact, marine environmental protection, and coastal zone regulations are being handled.

NIO gives opportunities for nearly 60 Ph.D. research fellows at a time. Also, it offers facilities for project research work for hundreds of graduate and postgraduate students. In other words, the institute is a research hub in several areas of oceanography.

Thrust areas

Some of the areas of focus are indicated below.

Application of geological and geophysical methods in marine archaeology and underwater explorations.

Applications of marine geo-scientific methods to study seabed and sub-seabed geological features.

Biogeochemical and ecosystem responses to global climate change and anthropogenic perturbations, and transfers across interfaces in the north Indian Ocean.

Biominerals from the continental margins and conditions for their formation.

Bioprospecting and biotechnology of marine microorganisms.

Coastal upwelling (upward movement of water along a coast).

Eco-bio-geography of the estuarine and coastal waters.

Engineering analysis of coastal processes for marine structures and technology development.

Environmental impact analyses of mining of marine minerals.

Equatorial Indian Ocean processes on the climate variability.

Evaluation, mechanism and control of biofilm (a thin film of bacteria that adheres to a surface) and biofouling (impairment of something, such as a ship's hull, as a result of the growth of living organisms).

Genesis and occurrence of deep-sea mineral deposits.

Habitat ecology and aquaculture of marine organisms for food and medicine and chemical synthesis of novel compounds.

Impact of natural and anthropogenic pressures on the coastal zone.

Indian climate and phytoplankton variability.

Interaction between ocean, atmosphere and coastal seas.

Marine environmental studies for sustainable development in coastal zones.

Marine pollution assessment and eco-toxicology.

Physical and biogeochemical dynamics of estuarine and coastal ecosystems.