Want to work in Antarctica? Here's a guide for Indians

Gentoo penguin
Group of gentoo penguin (Pygoscelis papua) at the Greenwich Island in the South Shetland Islands, Antarctica. Photo: Shutterstock/ANDRE DIB

Antarctica, the frigid continent at Earth's South Pole, attracts numerous researchers from various countries despite its 99-percent ice coverage and lack of permanent residents. Among these nations, India maintains a significant presence, with researchers including Keralites actively contributing to scientific studies. This guide outlines the opportunities and processes for Indian researchers eager to explore Antarctica.

India's Antarctic research is spearheaded by the National Centre for Polar and Ocean Research (NCPOR) under the Ministry of Earth Sciences. The Indian Scientific Expedition to Antarctica (ISEA), initiated in 1981, has been ongoing for 43 years. Research activities are predominantly conducted during the five-month Antarctic summer starting in October. Applications to join these research missions are invited annually in February-March, along with announcements of the year's research topics. Scholars must submit projects aligned with these topics, which are then presented at an NCPOR-organized workshop. Selected projects are reviewed and approved by a panel of experts led by the Secretary of Earth Sciences.

Dr. Thamban Melath, director of NCPOR, Goa, emphasized that project selection is based on scientific importance, practical value, and priority areas. “Everyone associated with science – from research students to senior scientists – can join the initiative. Indian researchers travel to Antarctica with special permission from the government under the India Antarctic Act of 2022,” he stated.

Antartica Cruisie
Quark Expeditions Sea Spirit Cruise Ship sailing among the icebergs as part of an Antarctica Wildlife Expedition on January 19, 2014. Photo: Shutterstock/Ion Mes

Annually, 80-100 researchers are granted permission to participate in the expedition, contingent upon holding a permanent post in a leading institution and possessing expertise in a relevant field. All participants must undergo rigorous physical and mental evaluations at the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi, to ensure they are fit for the challenging environment.

Training and logistics
Selected researchers undergo a 20-day training at the Mountaineering and Skiing Institute of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police in Auli, Uttarakhand, to prepare for Antarctica's harsh conditions. Successful candidates travel to Antarctica between October and December, receiving a daily allowance and a grant of Rs 20,000-30,000 for essential gear.

India’s research stations
India operates two Antarctic research stations – Maitri and Bharati – located 3,098 km apart. Maitri can accommodate 25 persons in winter and 40-60 in summer, while Bharati has space for 47 residents. Bharati offers high-speed internet and WhatsApp access, while Maitri relies on satellite phones for communication. Both stations are equipped with necessary laboratory instruments.

Travel route
Researchers travel from India to Cape Town, South Africa, and then take a chartered flight to Novo Airfield in Antarctica. Those heading to Maitri remain near Novo Airfield, while those bound for Bharati take a smaller aircraft to a nearby airfield. On the continent, helicopters, snow scooters, and other vehicles facilitate travel, and heavy goods are transported by ship.

Gentoo penguins at the Port Lockroy Antarctic Base
Gentoo penguins at the Port Lockroy Antarctic Base. Photo: Shutterstock/Anton Rodionov

Support personnel
In addition to researchers, Antarctica hosts carpenters, welders, mechanics, doctors, and cooks, who assist the scientific teams. Initially recruited from the Army, these support personnel are now directly appointed by NCPOR on 15-month contracts.

For Indian researchers, Antarctica presents a unique opportunity to contribute to significant scientific discoveries in one of the most extreme environments on Earth.

The comments posted here/below/in the given space are not on behalf of Onmanorama. The person posting the comment will be in sole ownership of its responsibility. According to the central government's IT rules, obscene or offensive statement made against a person, religion, community or nation is a punishable offense, and legal action would be taken against people who indulge in such activities.