India to deploy ice class ship for Antarctica exploration: Dr.Thampan Melath

Thampan Melath, Director of the National Centre for Polar and Ocean Research (NCPOR). Photo: Arun Sreedhar/Manorama

India is set to purchase an 'ice-class ship' capable of cutting through ice caps to boost its expedition programme in Antarctica. Thampan Melath, Director of the National Centre for Polar and Ocean Research (NCPOR), who is leading the Indian delegation at the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM) in Kochi, holds that this move will significantly expand the scope of ongoing research programmes in Antarctica.

Although the country currently has two research centres in Antarctica, it relies on a chartered ship for travel to and from those locations. Instead, an ice-class ship with state-of-the-art facilities will be purchased. Ice-class ships have a reinforced bottom to navigate through ice layers.
In an interview with Malayala Manorama, Dr. Thampan Melath shares insights into the country’s research expedition in the polar region:

As many as 350 participants from 40 countries are attending the 46th Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting being held at Lulu Bolgatty Convention Centre, Kochi. Photo: Arun Sreedhar/Manorama

What is the relevance of the Antarctic Treaty Consultation Meeting in the context of Kerala?
Any change in polar regions will affect Kerala, which has a long coastline. Sea levels are rising due to melting ice, and unpredictable extreme rainfall and flooding are linked to changes in the polar regions. This conference is crucial for controlling unwarranted international interference in Antarctica.

The main agenda of this year's conference is to form a tourism structure related to Antarctica. How far can ATCM go in that direction?
The Kochi Conference on the Conservation of Antarctica is notable for its formulation of the Tourism Framework. Currently, tourists enter Antarctica with few restrictions. India's position is that tourism to the continent should be allowed only with proper regulations. The introduction of the tourism framework will be a significant step forward in conserving Antarctica.

People often ask, 'Why should we bother if the ice in Antarctica melts?' What exactly is the answer to this?
If Antarctica's ice melts, water levels will rise along our coast, presenting a clear challenge. Climate changes in any part of the world will affect our lives, weather, and even food. Rising sea temperatures will affect marine resources. For instance, some penguin species in Antarctica have already started to decline. The presence of microplastics in Antarctic seawater is gradually increasing and contains a fraction of the plastic we throw away.

As India is preparing to establish a new research centre 'Maitri 2' in Antarctica, how helpful will it be in Antarctic exploration?
'Maitri 2' is intended to be a research centre with advanced facilities for future possibilities. We are learning about the melting of the Antarctic ice sheet, the nature of the snowfall, the biological diversity of the lakes there, among several other things. Information from Antarctica can also be used to predict the behaviour of our monsoon rains in the future.

What is the reason for choosing Kochi as the venue for such an important conference on Antarctica?
This is primarily due to the facilities available in Kochi, including technical systems. Delhi, Mumbai, and Hyderabad were also considered for the conference. However, Kochi was eventually chosen as it is a small city with better facilities and not too much traffic.

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