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India to launch deep sea mission in 3-4 months: Ministry of Earth Sciences

  • India will soon launch an ambitious ‘Deep Ocean Mission’ that envisages exploration of minerals, energy and marine diversity of the underwater world, a vast part of which still remains unexplored, a top official of the Ministry of Earth Sciences said.
  • The ministry’s secretary, M Rajeevan, said required approvals are being obtained for the “futuristic and game-changing” mission, and it is likely to be launched in the next 3-4 months.
  • The mission, which is expected to cost over Rs 4,000 crore, will give a boost to efforts to explore India’s vast Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf, another senior official of the MoES said.
  • Rajeevan said the mission will also involve developing technologies for different deep ocean initiatives.
  • The multi-disciplinary work will be piloted by the MoES and other government departments like the Defence Research and Development Organisation, Department of Biotechnology, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) will be stakeholders in this mission, Rajeevan added.
  • Some of the technologies involved will be developed by organisations such as the ISRO and DRDO.
  • “One of the main aspects of the mission will be design, development and demonstration of human submersibles,” the MoES official said.
  • Another aspect is exploring the possibility of deep-sea mining and developing necessary technologies, the official added.
  • The official said the move strategically significant as it will enhance India’s presence in the Indian Ocean where other players like China, Korea and Germany are active.
  • Last week, China live-streamed footage of its new manned submersible parked at the bottom of the Mariana Trench. This was part of its mission into the deepest underwater valley on the planet.
  • India has been ear-marked nearly 1.5 lakh square kilometres of area in the central Indian Ocean for exploration.
  • In September 2016, India signed a 15-year contract with the International Seabed Authority (ISA) for exploration of Poly-Metallic Sulphides (PMS) in the Indian Ocean.
  • The ISA is an institution set up under the Convention on Law of the Sea to which India is a Party.
  • The 15-year contract formalised India’s exclusive rights for exploration of PMS in the allotted area in the Indian Ocean.
  • The ISA earlier approved 10,000 sq. km for India with a 15-year PMS exploration plan along the Central Indian Ridge (CIR) and Southwest Indian Ridge (SWIR) region of the Indian Ocean.
  • Poly-Metallic Sulphides (PMS), which contain iron, copper, zinc, silver, gold, platinum in variable constitutions, are precipitates of hot fluids from upwelling hot magma from the deep interior of the oceanic crust, discharged through mineralized chimneys.
  • PMS in the Ocean Ridges have attracted worldwide attention for their long term commercial as well as strategic values.
  • “The aim is to be prepared when rules are formalised in this area. The deep oceans frontier is yet to be explored. We have been working on it on a piecemeal basis but the thrust is to carry out work on mission mode,” the official added.
  • The mission will also involve the procurement of more advanced deep-sea vessels for explorations. The existing vessel Sagar Kanya is nearly three-and-half decades old.

Mission to Explore Ocean Deeps

A submarine mission called “Five Deeps” will explore the bottom of each of the world’s oceans.

  • The Five Deeps Expedition is thefirst manned expedition to the deepest points in each of the world’s five oceans.
  • Deep Oceans remain uncharted territory for humans, while hundreds of people have ventured into space, only three people have touched down on the deepest known places in oceans.
  • The expedition provides the unprecedented opportunity to sample life across a gradient of depths, temperatures, salinity, food supply, latitude and in places around the world that were formed, split, or united millions of years ago by the shifting of the Earth’s tectonic plates.
  • Five spots in oceans where expedition will go are:
    • Puerto Rico Trench(Atlantic Ocean)
    • South Sandwich Trench(Southern Ocean)
    • Java Trench(Indian Ocean)
    • Challenger Deep(Pacific Ocean)
    • Molloy Deep(Arctic Ocean)

DSV Limiting Factor

  • The expedition crew will use Deep Submergence Vehicle (DSV) Limiting Factor submarine for exploring the ocean deeps.
  • Limiting Factor is the only human-occupied vessel that can visit any place in oceans, at any depth, and from any properly-equipped ship.

Goals of the Mission

  • To collect samples which will be used in research involving effects of undersea seismic activity
  • Find deep-sea features and habitats using high-resolution multibeam sonar and learn about lives in those habitats
  • Discover how organisms survive in Hadalpelagic zones
  • Determine the organism’s’ role in each given ecosystem
  • Connect the Five Deeps through genetic differentiation of species found on the dives

Zones in the Ocean

  • Scientists have divided the ocean into five main layers. These layers, known as “zones”, extend from the surface to the most extreme depths.

Epipelagic Zone –

  • The surface layer of the ocean is known as the epipelagic zone.
  • It extends from the surface to 200 meters (656 feet).
  • It is also known as the sunlight zone because this is where most of the visible light exists.

Mesopelagic Zone 

  • Below the epipelagic zone is the mesopelagic zone, extending from 200 meters (656 feet) to 1,000 meters (3,281 feet).
  • The mesopelagic zone is sometimes referred to as the twilight zone or the midwater zone.
  • The light that penetrates to this depth is extremely faint.
  • Bioluminescent creatures (visible light produced by the creatures themselves) starts appearing in this zone.

Bathypelagic Zone 

  • This zone extends from 1,000 meters (3,281 feet) down to 4,000 meters (13,124 feet).
  • It is sometimes referred to as the midnight zone or the dark zone.

Abyssopelagic Zone –

  • It is also known as the abyssal zone or simply as the abyss.
  • It extends from 4,000 meters (13,124 feet) to 6,000 meters (19,686 feet).
  • The water temperature is near freezing, and there is no light at all.

Hadalpelagic Zone –

  • This layer extends from 6,000 meters (19,686 feet) to the bottom of the deepest parts of the ocean.
  • These areas are mostly found in deep water trenches and canyons.
  • The deepest point in the ocean is located in the Mariana Trench off the coast of Japan at 35,797 feet (10,911 meters).
  • The temperature of the water is just above freezing, and the pressure is 800 times as that on the surface.
  • In spite of the pressure and temperature, life can still be found here.

India’s Deep Ocean Mission

  • Union Ministry of Earth Sciences, Government of India has also launched a ‘Deep Ocean Mission’ for exploration of polymetallic nodules in Central Indian Ocean Basin.
  • Polymetallic nodules contain multiple metals like copper, nickel, cobalt, manganese, iron, lead, zinc, aluminum, silver, gold, and platinum etc. in variable constitutions and are precipitate of hot fluids from upwelling hot magma from the deep interior of the oceanic crust.
  • Of these, cobalt, copper, and nickel are of much importance and in great demand in India as cobalt is used extensively in medical treatment and nickel in batteries.
  • It will reduce India’s dependence on imports of cobalt and other rare earth metals.

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