Twenty-five years after it established Dakshin Gangotri, the first permanent research station in the South Polar region, India is all set to build the third such centre in Antarctica to take up cutting-edge research in various fields. The new station, tentatively named Bharti, is scheduled to be operational by 2012, making India a member of an elite group of nine nations that have multiple stations in the region. Dakshin Gangotri, set up in 1984, was buried in ice and had to be abandoned in 1990, a year after India set up Maitri, the second station. The National Centre for Antarctic & Ocean Research (NCAOR), Goa, will set up the new station on Larsmann Hill, 3,000 km from Schirmacher Oasis, where Maitri stands. While Maitri was more than 100 km from the Antarctic Sea, Bharti will be on a promontory by the sea. “This will enable us to take up rare research on marine ecology of the polar region. Antarctica is a continent spread across 13 million sq km and we thought we shouldn’t confine ourselves to just one area,” NCAOR director Rasik Ravindran said. Bharti, like Maitri, will also conduct research on seismic activity, climate change and medicine. The station will be a compact structure of 30x50 metres, accommodating 25 scientists. While living in Antarctica, where temperatures range from -89 degrees Celsius in winter to -25 degrees Celsius in summer, can be tough, constructing a permanent structure is a huge challenge. “With wind speed crossing 40 knots, manoeuvring ships to Antartica is a challenging job. We’re also considering transportation of materials on ice that could be more than 1.5 metres thick, from the ship’s mooring point to the construction site, using special vehicles,” said Rajasekhar, head of vessel management, National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT), Chennai, which handles the logistics. NCAOR will charter a special vessel this year that can cut through ice. “Later, we’ll airlift about 160 prefabricated containers from vessels to the construction site, using helicopters. The structure will be on an elevation of special steel and an outer hull will protect it from wind, precipitation and irradiation. It’ll use wind and solar power as alternative sources of energy and leave minimum carbon footprint, while ensuring optimum heating and other facilities for scientists,” Ravindran said. Experiments in extreme cold climates as in the polar region have contributed immensely to scientific developments. India was admitted to the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR), an international body that coordinates scientific activities in the region, on Oct 1, 1984. India holds the vice-chairman’s post in the panel. Argentina, Australia, Chile, China, France, Russia, the UK and US have multiple stations in Antarctica.

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