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India Gears Up To Display Its Might In International Waters Deep Sea Exploration

Updated: July 28, 2012 3:20 pm

After withdrawing from the South China Sea, India has strategically planned to explore international waters in search of rare earth, food, drugs and source for ocean thermal energy.

India had entered into a 15-year agreement with the International Seabed Authority way back in 2002 for exploration of deep sea minerals in the Indian Ocean on lines similar to its contracts with other countries including China.

Consequently, India has undertaken exploration in 75000 sq km. in the Central Indian Ocean Basins made available to it. But nothing substantial progress has been made in the exploration.

Recently ONGC Videsh Ltd (OVL), the overseas arm of the public sector, withdrew from exploration in a choppy oil block off the coast of Vietnam in the South China Sea. China had raised sovereignty concerns over India’s oil exploration in the region. In reply to China’s protest India had said that such disputes should be settled among parties concerned in accordance with the international norms.

However, citing reasons for the OVL’s withdrawal a government statement said that OVL efforts to drill were not successful due to logistic constraints in anchoring the rig on a hard sea bottom.

But OVL continues its operations at block 6.1 in the same region, from where it got 2 billion cubic metres (BCM) of gas in 2011-12 for its 45 per cent participating interest. OVL had already relinquished the block 127 after it failed to find any hydrocarbons there. OVL had acquired two offshore exploration blocks, 127 and 128, in Vietnam in June 2006 as an operator with 100 per cent stake.

India is positioning itself when there are top global players like China, the US, Japan, South Korea, Russia and France.

India has 6,000-metre deep-sea-mining capability, while China’s manned deep-sea submersible Jiaolong has now reached depths of more than 7,000 metres below sea level. The automatically controlled submersibles of the United States, Japan, France, and Russia can reach depths of less than 6,500 metres.

Also according to Chinese experts, Jiaolong’s “hovering and locating ability” are much better than those of its foreign counterparts. The operations of the Jiaolong enable China to conduct scientific surveys in over 99.8 per cent of the world’s seabed areas. The R&D on the Jiaolong and other facilities for exploring and mining natural gas and oil in the ocean floor actually signals China’s potential for acquiring these natural resources.

As none of the Southeast Asian countries has the technology for deep-sea exploitation, India can pose a challenge to Chinese presence in the region if it can increase its capability and strike agreements with countries in the region.

Recently Japanese researchers have discovered significant amounts of rare earth deposits on the bottom of the ocean about 1,243 miles southeast of Tokyo.

However, India has woken up from its deep slumber and now has the ambition to explore deposits of rare earth like titanium, platinum, manganese, copper, cobalt, nickel, drugs and food in the rich seabed.

The 13th Five Year Plan will have plans to increase India’s capability in seabed mining. Rapid enhancement of Human Resource and skills in this area is envisaged. Plans have been drawn up for pooling of existing resources with agencies like National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT), National Institute of Oceanography (NIO), Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), Geological Survey of India (GSI) and Ministry of Mines.

So far a humble amount of Rs 750 crore has been allotted for upgradation programme. “Funds will not be a constraint. We will provide more funds,” said the Union Minister of State for Planning, Science and Technology and Earth Sciences, Dr Ashwani Kumar, who recently presided over a meeting of top scientists, officials and planners to discuss future roadmap for key initiatives in the frontier areas of science in critical sectors.

India’s Sagar Nidhi vessel has acquired the capability of mining 6000 metres below the sea surface. A new vessel will be handed over to NIOT on July 31, 2012, for assisting exploration of minerals. Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) is also getting a vessel manufactured at Surat at a cost of Rs 200 crore. The GSI is acquiring a vessel at the cost of Rs. 550 crore from a Korean shipyard which is likely to be inducted for operations by September 2013.

Apart from this supercomputing and high-speed computing have been planned to aid marine research also. It is envisaged to inducting 500-600 tera flops in the systems which will make it more accurate in weather forecasting, climate change and ocean studies.

It is planned to develop advanced scientific systems and capabilities for storage of data, development of parallel processors and a programme of hardware acquisition and indigenous development. Bhaba Atomic Research Centre (BARC) will acquire by 2014 peta flop capability through a cluster approach connected by a fibre optic switch. This will enable modelling and simulation of high-speed nuclear process including radiation modelling coupled with atmospheric changes.

The CSIR will acquire and operationalise by 2013 a 360 tera flop/16 terabytes shared memory processing system comparable to the best processors in the world. The acquisition would gradually build up a peta flop capabilities in the country.

Structures and processors would be put in place to intensify indigenous research for creating domestic capability for production of high-speed switch, thermal control and power control technologies.

These decisions will collectively contribute to the development of indigenous supercomputing capability at low power consumption which could have a direct bearing on space, atomic energy, missile development applications.

The other applications include: climate and atmospheric sciences, Monsoon Mission, discovery of new life-saving drugs, cancer bioinformatics, genome sequencing, discovery and extraction of new energy sources like oil and natural gas, CFD simulations for design, disaster management, national electronic health record framework, computational structural mechanics, earthquake engineering, astronomy and astrophysics, material science and geological.

About 200 scientists and 2000 researchers would identify date intensive discovery, creating an ecosystem where 25 per cent of the eco-system of the country would be connected by supercomputer activity and for establishing 200 centres across the country connected over the National Knowledge Network.

Big ideas for the future like the Super Microscope, Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), Ocean Acidification and Interstellar Chemistry are also likely to be taken up. Thus India has planned a vision to be a big player in deep-sea mining. The future will decide India’s success in its endeavour.

 By Ashok B Sharma

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