Explained: Why India is sending a new expedition to the Arctic
India launched its first winter scientific expedition to the Arctic on December 18, 2023, enabling unique observations during polar nights with almost 24 hours of darkness and sub-zero temperatures. The initiative, aimed at expanding understanding of the Arctic, encompasses climate change, space weather, sea-ice dynamics, and more.
India marked a historic milestone as it launched its first winter scientific expedition to the Arctic on December 18, 2023. This endeavour is set to enable unique scientific observations during the Arctic winter, characterized by polar nights with almost 24 hours of darkness and sub-zero temperatures plunging as low as -15 degrees Celsius. Conducting scientific research during the winter months, from November to March, will provide invaluable insights into various aspects of the Arctic, including climate change, space weather, sea-ice and ocean circulation dynamics, and ecosystem adaptations. These factors play a crucial role in influencing weather and climate patterns in the tropics, including phenomena like monsoons.
India has been actively involved in Arctic research since 2008, operating the Himadri research base. Historically, this base primarily hosted scientists during the summer months (April to October). However, the decision to extend scientific expeditions to the Arctic winter was made following an in-person review by Union Minister for Earth Sciences, Kiren Rijiju, at the Himadri base in Ny-Ålesund, Svalbard, Norway, in June 2023.
Union Minister Kiren Rijiju emphasized the government's commitment to expanding India's scientific activities and international cooperation. He stated, "Arctic is an area of scientific, climatic, and strategic importance; hence, our scientists will have to play a vital role in addressing areas that affect life and survival on this planet."
Before their departure from New Delhi on December 19, 2023, the minister interacted with and encouraged members of India's Arctic expedition, extending his wishes for a safe and productive stay. The first batch of researchers for this groundbreaking Arctic winter expedition includes participants from the National Centre for Polar and Ocean Research (NCPOR), Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Mandi, Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM) Pune, and Raman Research Institute, Bengaluru.
Dr M Ravichandran, Secretary of the Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES), stated, "The launch of winter expeditions marks an important milestone for India’s Arctic endeavours, which opens more avenues for us to expand our scientific capabilities in Earth’s poles."
India now joins the league of select nations conducting extended in-time operations in the Arctic. The priority research areas for the expedition encompass atmospheric, biological, marine, and space sciences, environmental chemistry, and studies on the cryosphere, terrestrial ecosystems, and astrophysics. To facilitate these Arctic expeditions, the NCPOR reviews research proposals through an open call for applications, with 15 shortlisted out of the 41 received this year, following a thorough peer review and expert selection committee process, according to Dr. Meloth, Director of NCPOR.