India has successfully launched the 41st scientific expedition to Antarctica with the arrival of the first batch of its contingent at the southern white continent.
The first batch comprising 23 scientists and support staff reached the Indian Antarctic station, Maitri, last week, the Ministry of Earth Sciences said in a statement.
Four more batches will reach Antarctica by air and chartered ice-class vessel MV Vasiliy Golovnin by mid-January 2022.
The 41st expedition has two major programmes — the first encompasses geological exploration of the Amery ice shelf at the Bharati station. This will help explore the link between India and Antarctica in the past.
The second programme involves reconnaissance surveys and preparatory work for the drilling of 500 metres of ice core near Maitri. It will help improve the understanding of the Antarctic climate, westerly winds, sea-ice and greenhouse gases from a single climate archive for the last 10,000 years, the statement said.
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 the operations and maintenance of life support systems at Maitri and Bharati.
The 41st expedition is being led by Shailendra Saini, a scientist at the National Centre for Polar and Ocean Research (Voyage Leader), Huidrom Nageshwar Singh, a meteorologist at the India Meteorological Department (Leader, Maitri Station), and Anoop Kalayil Soman, a scientist at the Indian Institute of Geomagnetism (Leader, Bharati Station).
The crew is expected to return to Cape Town in South Africa in late March or early April of 2022, leaving a team of 48 members for over winter.
It will also bring back the over winter team of the preceding 40th expedition.
The Indian Antarctic programme, which began in 1981, has completed 40 scientific expeditions and built three permanent research base stations in Antarctica —Dakshin Gangotri (1983), Maitri (1988) and Bharati (2012).
Currently, Maitri and Bharati are fully operational.
The National Centre for Polar and Ocean Research (NCPOR) in Goa — an autonomous institute under the Ministry of Earth Sciences —manages the entire Indian Antarctic programme.
As India is committed to maintaining the continent of Antarctica free of COVID-19 and the highest standards of safety, the contingent has reached Antarctica following a strict medical examination at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in New Delhi, training for snow-ice acclimatisation and survival at the Mountaineering and Skiing Institute of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) in Uttarakhand's Auli and a stringent sanitary protocol, including a 14-day quarantine at Cape Town.