Sea change in India's plans for ocean sciences
Thursday, 22 January 2004, 08:00 Hrs
CHENNAI: There is a sea change in the government's plans for ocean sciences with a multibillion rupee budget for developing technologies to tap ocean power. The Department of Ocean Development (DOD) Thursday announced major programmes, including a new research ship, to shift the technology balance in ocean sciences in favour of India. DOD secretary Harsh K. Gupta said there had been a "sea change" in the kind of money the government was prepared to allocate to research and development - aimed at making India one of the half-a-dozen nations "where ocean research is at a very advanced stage". As much as 12.5 billion was being spent in this plan period on developing ocean sciences and technology, he said. Gupta was speaking on the sidelines of a seminar on 'New frontiers in marine biosciences research' at the National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT) in Pallikarani near here. On January 15, the cabinet committee on economic affairs met and approved the building of a new research ship at a cost of 1.55 billion, the secretary said. The DOD is also focusing on a 800 million gas-hydrate exploration project in collaboration with Russia. In six months, the NIOT will have a fully equipped centre for gas hydrate studies. Explaining, Gupta said methane hydrates -- deposits in which methane gas is trapped in almost 98 percent pure form -- are found in large quantities along India's 7,500 km coast, at depths of two km. "This methane hydrate reserve is estimated to be twice as much as the country's oil and natural gas reserve," Gupta said. The National Geophysical Research Institute in Hyderabad has identified nine areas, where Russians will partner nine Indian research units in February to chalk out exploration strategies. Usually, drills are inserted from the ocean surface. However, NIOT will use advanced engineering equipment to drill from the floor of the sea, saving energy and ensuring a greater chance of success. The project will take at least five years to become operational "but this is a long-term programme", Gupta said. The new research vessel, to be readied in the next two years, will also have new technology. The Indian vessel will have a 48 sq mt deck, mounted with equipment that can be lowered under water. Both the research ship as well as the gas hydrate project will use the coastal ocean monitoring and prediction system and the national data buoy programme. The third major programme, the ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) scheme in Tuticorin harbour, 800 km south of Chennai, is also near completion. The OTEC one-megawatt plant is the world's first floating power plant. Gupta said the one-kilometre-deep underwater pipeline is complete. The barge is ready "and the DOD technical team is only waiting for a fair weather window" to connect the line to the barge, Gupta said. The DOD has three premier research institutions under it - in Goa, Hyderabad and Pallikarani.