Deep Ocean Mission

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    In News

    • The Finance Minister has allocated Rs 650 crore to India’s deep ocean expedition, which aims to investigate huge marine life and non-living resources.

    About the Mission

    • The development of the mission has been going on since 2018.
    • Aim: To study biodiversity, the impact of climate change, and establish an offshore marine station to explore sources of thermal energy.
    • Recently, India has been allotted a site of 75,000 square kilometers in the Central Indian Ocean Basin (CIOB) by the International Seabed Authority (ISA) for the exploitation of Polymetallic Nodules (PMN).
      • The Ministry of Earth Sciences is carrying out exploration activities for Poly-metallic Nodules (PMN) in the CIOB and for Poly-metallic Sulfides (PMS) in parts of Central and South-West Indian ridges.
        • India was the first country to receive the status of a ‘Pioneer Investor’ in 1987 and was given an area of about 1.5 lakh sq km in the CIOB for nodule exploration.
        • In 2002, India signed a contract with the ISA and after complete resource analysis of the seabed 50 per cent was surrendered and the country retained an area of 75,000 sq km.
    • Private institutions will be included in the development of technologies for this mission to explore the possibilities of mining, biodiversity, energy, freshwater etc. in the deep ocean and to support the ‘blue economy’.

    Six Components:

    • Manned Submersible and Integrated Mining System:
      • Under it , a manned submersible will be developed to carry three people to a depth of 6,000 meters in the ocean with a suite of scientific sensors and tools.
        • If this works, India would be among a handful of countries able to launch an underwater mission at such depths.
        • Currently, such technology and expertise are now available in countries namely, the US, Russia, France, Japan and China.
      • An Integrated Mining System will be also developed for mining PMN at those depths in the central Indian Ocean.
    • Ocean Climate Change Advisory Services:
      • It involves developing Ocean Climate Change Advisory Services, which entails developing a suite of observations and models to understand and provide future projections of important climate variables on seasonal to decadal time scales.
    • Deep-Sea Flora and Fauna:
      • It is searching for deep-sea flora and fauna, including microbes and studying ways to sustainably utilize them.
    • Sources of Hydrothermal Minerals: 
      • It aims to explore and identify potential sources of hydrothermal minerals that are sources of precious metals formed from the earth’s crust along the Indian Ocean mid-oceanic ridges.
    • OTEC Powered Desalination Plants:
      • It involves studying and preparing detailed engineering designs for offshore Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) powered desalination plants.
    • Ocean Biology and Engineering Experts:
      • It is aimed at grooming experts in the field of ocean biology and engineering. This component aims to translate research into industrial applications and product development through on-site business incubator facilities.

    Significance

    • It will pave the way for further studies and research into deep-sea biodiversity.
    • As the ocean will be monitored continuously, every slight change in climate will be noted, leading to better data collections and hence improved actions.
    • The exploration studies of minerals will pave the way for commercial exploitation in the near future, as and when commercial exploitation code is evolved by the ISA.
    • It is envisaged that 10 percent of recovery of that large reserve can meet the energy requirement of India for the next 100 years.
    • It has been estimated that 380 million metric tonnes of PMN are available at the bottom of the seas in the Central Indian Ocean. 

    Concerns 

    • Disruption for ecological balance: 
      • The deep ocean is home to unique species that have adapted themselves to conditions such as less oxygen, poor or no sunlight, high pressure and extremely low temperatures
        • Mining in the deep ocean can lead to a disrupted ecological balance for these species or even extinction if done unregulated.
    • Threats of oil and chemical spills:
      • There are threats of oil and chemical spills from the vessels operating at the site and also the water, sound and light pollution hampering the natural life of the deep-sea fauna.
    • Difficulty in carrying out the Environmental Impact Assessment 
      • Since the biodiversity of the deep sea remains partially or completely unknown and very less understood, it is difficult to carry out the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and frame appropriate guidelines.
    • Concerns regarding the sediment plumes:
      • There have been concerns regarding the sediment plumes that will be generated as the suspended particles can rise to the surface harming the filter feeders in the upper ocean layers.

    Suggestions

    • Although strict guidelines have been framed, they need better and stricter enforcement.  A new set of exploitation guidelines are being worked out and discussions are on with the ISA.
    • More research and development in the area is needed to understand how the technology can be scaled up and used efficiently.

    Polymetallic Nodules

    • PMN (also known as manganese nodules) are potato-shaped, largely porous nodules found in abundance carpeting the seafloor of world oceans in the deep sea.
    • Composition: Besides manganese and iron, they contain nickel, copper, cobalt, lead, molybdenum, cadmium, vanadium, titanium, of which nickel, cobalt and copper are considered to be of economic and strategic importance.
    • They lie scattered on the Indian Ocean floor at depths of about 6,000 m and the size can vary from a few millimeters to centimeters.
    • Metals can be extracted and used in electronic devices, smartphones, batteries and even for solar panels.
    • Apart from the CIOB, PMNs have been identified from the central Pacific Ocean, in the area known as the Clarion-Clipperton Zone. s

    Source: ET