Nearly 28 years after it set up the first permanent research station in the South Polar region, India is all set to commission and occupy a third such station in Antarctica by March next year.
After the station named ‘Bharti’ becomes operational, India will join the league of select nations that have multiple operation stations in the region.
Director of the National Centre for Antarctic and Ocean Research (NCAOR) Rasik Ravindra said that the new station is located almost 3,000 km away from the existing ‘Maitri’ station which is serving the nation since its inception in 1988-89.
“The construction of the new station is going on at a hectic speed. The current Indian Antarctic Expedition that sailed off from Cape Town on October 26 under the leadership of Rajesh Asthana will complete the project in this Antarctic summer itself, hopefully by March 2012,” Mr. Ravindra told PTI.
“We will occupy it soon thereafter,” he said.
The scientists associated with NCAOR had earlier carried out a comprehensive environmental evaluation (CEE) of the project for the new station at Grovnes promontory in the Larsemann Hills on the eastern part of the South Pole.
Indian scientists will undertake cutting-edge research on geological structures and tectonics at the centre from the next year, he said.
‘Bharati’ station is a self-contained double-storey structure on stilts and is designed to have a life span of 25 years. It will accommodate 25 people during summer and 15 people during winter.
The setting up of this station was taken up in two phases. Phase I materialised during summer of 2010-11 and Phase II in the successive summer.
As per the CEE, minor and transitory impacts on the Antarctic environment are likely due to construction of the ambitious project.
Although ‘more than minor and transitory impacts on the Antarctic environment’ are expected due to construction, the impacts are expected to be minimised with measures like use of combined heat and power concept for heating and renewable energy sources, low sulphur fossil fuel, optimisation of vehicle movement, efficient treatment of effluents, bringing back hazardous and sanitary wastes to mainland for disposal and others, Mr. Ravindra said quoting the CEE study.
The proposed location is of interest on account of scientific and logistic reasons, ice—free terrain and easy access from the sea.
“This area, including the islands and promontories, offer an excellent scope for extensive studies on geological structures and tectonics with special reference to Gondwanaland, palaeoclimatology, solid earth geophysics, space-weather and meteorology, oceanography, marine biology, microbiology, environmental science,” Javed Beg, a senior NCAOR scientist said.
“To facilitate the planned scientific studies, including environmental monitoring, the station will have state—of-the-art laboratory facilities,” he said.
The station is designed to withstand extreme environmental conditions prevailing at Larsemann Hills and is compliant with the environmental standards under the Madrid Protocol, Mr. Ravindra said.
The Larsemann Hills area is marked by persistent, strong katabatic winds that blow from east to southeast during austral summer. Extreme minimum temperature recorded in the region so for is -40 C, though the daytime mean monthly temperatures during summer drop to around 0 degree C.
India had in the past established Dakshin Gangotri (1983) and Maitri (1988-89) stations in Antarctica. The former has since been decommissioned after it got buried under ice and has been marked as an historic site.