Dr Jitendra Singh, Union Minister of State for Science & Tech and Earth Sciences (Ind. Charge), introduced the Indian Antartic Bill 2022 in the Lok Sabha on 1st of April 2022. The Bill seeks to give effect to the Antarctic Treaty, the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, and the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty.

The provisions of the Bill will apply to any person, vessel or aircraft that is a part of an Indian expedition to Antarctica under a permit issued under the Bill.

The central government will establish a Committee to

 (i) granting permits for various activities,

(ii) implementing and ensuring compliance of relevant international laws for protection of Antarctic environment,

(iii) obtaining and reviewing relevant information provided by parties to the Treaty, Convention, and Protocol, and

(iv) negotiating fees/charges with other parties for activities in Antarctica.

About Antartica

Antarctica, the Earth’s southern most continent, is the seventh continent of the earth and is known to be the stormiest, windiest, coldest and the most inaccesible of all the other continents. It has an area of approximately 14,200,000 square kilometers, most of which is covered with ice. The thickness of the ice cover varies from a maximum of 4.5 km to a minimum of 800 m (average thickness 1.6 km). It has about 512,000 square kilometres of landmass which is free from ice. If the Antarctic ice cover were to melt, the world oceans would rise by about 50 to 60 metres.

It has the highest average elevation.
The Antarctic continent is 990 km away from Cape Horn — the southernmost tip of Argentina, which is the nearest land area to Antarctica. Antarctica’s highest point (Vinson Massif) is 5140 m above the mean sea level.

The word Antarctica is derived from the Greek word antarktike, which means “opposite to north” i.e., opposite to the Arctic. The word is derived from French  antarctique  and Latin antarcticus.

The world’s largest ocean current, the Antarctic circumpolar current circumvents the Antarctic continent. Of the 14 million-sq.km area, 98% is covered with thick ice sheets that formed ­­­25 million years ago and holds 75% of the earth’s fresh water. The remaining 2% ice-free areas dote Antarctica where major research stations have been established. Currently Antarctica is host to more than 50 research stations spread over the entire continent.

While the land mass is barren of life, the Antarctic Sea is the most productive of all the biological areas of the world.

The Blue Marble: The View From Apollo 17
Image Credit: NASA

The weather in Antarctica varies between extremely cold (winter) to cold (summer). The lowest temperature recorded on earth is -89⁰C in Vostok station of Antarctica was on 21 July 1983 (78°27′50″S 106°50′15″E). Typical minimum temperature during winter range between -80ºC to -90ºC in the interior and the maximum temperatures in summer range from 5ºC to 15ºC along the coast. Antarctica is a cold desert because its average precipitation is about 10 cm per year, only 4 times higher than that of the annual precipitation in Sahara Desert. Precipitation is mostly in the form of snowfall. Some exceptional phenomena’s such as Aurora Australis (natural light display in the sky formed due to the collision of solar wind and magnetospheric charged particles), sundog (it is bright light spot on either side of the sun like a halo) and diamond dust (it is a ground level cloud consisting of small ice crystals) are observed in Antarctica which are unique to this region.

Antarctican hair grass and Antarctican pearl wort are the two flowering plants occurring in the South Orkney Island, the South Shetland Islands along the Western Antarctic Peninsula. Some Antarctic islands are habitat to moths, flies and midges. Penguins, Skua, Snow petrels, Albatross are the birds which habitat Antarctica which can survive extreme coldness.

James Cook
By Nathaniel Dance-Holland – from the National Maritime Museum, United Kingdom, Public Domain

As early as 350 B.C.E., Aristotle has presumed in his book Metarologica that there must be “a region bearing the same relation to the southern pole as the place we live in bears to our pole”. In 1773, James cook discovered Antarctica when he was crossing the Antarctic Circle. It is not evident if the crew along with James Cook have really entered into the continent, but Cook concluded that there was a continent, the southernmost one, that is covered with ice and is completely inaccesible.

On 27 January 1820, a Russian expedition led by Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen and Mikhail Lazarev went further south than James Cook and looked towards solid ice that was likely an ice shelf attached to Antarctic land now known as Queen Maud Land.

Australians were the first to reach the South Magnetic Pole and the
summit of Mount Erebus, the active volcano in Antartica and the southernmost active volcano on Earth. .

The Antarctic Treaty was signed in Washington on 1 December 1959 by the twelve countries whose scientists had been active in and around Antarctica during the International Geophysical Year (IGY) of 1957-58. It entered into force in 1961 and has since been acceded to by many other nations. The total number of Parties to the Treaty is now 54.

India became a party to the Atlantic treaty on 12 September 1983. Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty , known as Madrid Protocol, was adopted in Madrid in 1991 and came into force in 1998.

History of Indian Expeditions in Antartica

The Department of Ocean Development (DOD), Government of India organised the first expedition to Antartica in November 1981. The expedition code named `Operation Gangotri’. The team headed by Dr. S Z Qasim, Secretary at Department of Environrment landed in Antartica on 9 January 1982 after a 33 day long voyage. The first Indian scientific expedition in the antarctica concluded its work successfully and placed solar batteries and an automatic system for collecting scientific data on the Antarctic Continent.


Prime Minister of India Indira Gandhi
After the Indian team landed in Antartica

The second expedition team which landed in Antarctica on 28 December spent 50 days conducting scientific studies on the ice shelf, lakes and the rocky “wholthat” mountains, 3,000 metres above sea land.

Orvin Mountains
Image By Wilfried Bauer

The second expedition started from Goa on 1st December, 1982 on board the Norwegian ship MV
“Polar Circle” chartered for this purpose. It was the same ship used for the first expedition in 1981 . The team was led by Mr. V.K. Raina, a director in the Geological Survey of India. The team consisted
of 28 members including l2 scientists from various government organizations. The major aim of the second expedition was to select a site for setting up a permanent station that can be serviced by aircraft.

Approximately ₹3 Crores was spent for the second expedition

Dakshin Gangotri is the first manned scientific base station of India situated in Antarctica, part of the Indian Antarctic Programme. It is located at a distance of 2,500 kilometres from the South Pole. It was around 100 kilometers from the base camp of the second expedition.

The load of station is borne by a raft foundation to effect even distribution of the load and
avoid possible sinking. The station consists of two double storey blocks linked by a narrow passage.

The entire solar powered Indian weather station at Dakshin Gangotri, and its data recording computer cassettes are made in India. An Indian Post Office was also set up at Dakshin Gangotri

The first Indian woman to visit Antartica is Meher Heroyce Moos
Image By U.S. Navy

In the year 1989 a new permanent station Maitri was commissioned. Maitri lies at the Schirmacher Region' of east Antarctica at the 70 45'58"S Lat. and 1143'56"E Long. The area of Schirmacher oasis is around 35 sq.km. Dakshin Gangotri was abandoned in the year 1990-91. Maitri is surrounded by one of the biggest lakes in the area (0.75 Sq km) called Zublake or Priyadarshni lake. The Maitri Station is reinforced with iron bars to withstand high wind speed (upto 320 km/hr) and the walls are thermally insulated for protection against low temperature. The energy is supplied by generatorsin the station. The station is kept warm ( ~ 25 C) by circulating hot water from the boilers. The Maitri Station represent a microclimate where all the activities are carried out, it is totally in contrast to the ambient environment. There are also several insulated huts for the summer team, which are used as laboratory during winter. A lake known as `Priyadrashani Lake’ provides palatable water and is totally frozen upto 20ft during winter. Most of this Schirmacher Region is uncovered by ice round the year.

To be continued.
This article is a featured article.

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