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Special Content

Issue no 50, 12-18 March 2022

Deep Ocean Mission Harnessing The Latent Potential of The Ocean

The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs chaired by Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi in 2021 approved the proposal of the Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES) to adopt the “Deep Ocean Mission” with a view to explore the deep ocean for resources and develop deepsea technologies for sustainable use of ocean resources to support the Blue Economy initiatives of the Government of India. Deep Ocean Mission is to be implemented in a phased manner over a period of five years. The MoES is the nodal Ministry implementing this multiinstitutional ambitious mission.


(i) Development of Technologies for Deep Sea Mining, and Manned Submersible: Under the contract with the International Seabed Authority (ISA), India has been allotted 75,000 sq. km area for the exploration of Polymetallic Nodules (PMN) in the Central Indian Ocean and 10,000 sq. km for Polymetallic Hydrothermal Sulphides (PMS) in Southwest Indian Ocean. A manned submersible is being developed to carry three people to a depth of 6,000 metres in the ocean with a suite of scientific sensors and tools. Only a very few countries have acquired this capability. An Integrated Mining System will be also developed for mining in the Central Indian Ocean. Preliminary estimates indicate 380 Million Metric Tonnes (MMT) of Polymetallic Nodules worth USD 110 billion comprising copper, nickel, cobalt and manganese are available within the allocated area in the Central Indian Ocean basin. The Polymetallic Sulphides are expected to contain rare earth minerals including gold and silver. 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 International Seabed Authority, a UN organisation.

Since there are strategic implications, developing technology in-house for deep ocean exploration assumes importance. This component will help the Blue Economy priority area of exploring and harnessing deep-sea minerals and energy. This niche technology shall facilitate the MoES in carrying out deep ocean exploration of the non-living resources other than PMN (Polymetallic Nodules) such as gas hydrates, hydro-thermal sulphides and cobalt crusts, located at a depth between 1,000 and 5,500 metres.

The MoES in 2021 announced that the preliminary design of the manned sub-mersible MATSYA 6000, under the project Samudrayaan, has been completed and realisation of the vehicle has started with various organisations including ISRO, IITM, and DRDO roped-in to support the development. The National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT), an autonomous Institute under the MoES, had developed and tested a 'personnel sphere’ for a manned submersible system for 500-metre water depth rating. The sea trials of the 500-metre rated shallow water version of the manned submersible are expected to take place in the last quarter of 2022 and the MATSYA 6000, the deepwater manned submersible will be ready for trials by the second quarter of 2024.

(ii) Development of Ocean Climate Change Advisory Services: The coastal zones are vulnerable to climate change. The significant impacts are changes in sea level, inundation of low-lying areas, increased flooding due to extreme weather events like storm surges, cyclones, and tsunamis, and more significant erosion which affects beaches, deltas, and islands. Moreover, climate change can have far-reaching consequences on the marine biogeochemical cycles and hence on the life in the sea. It is pertinent, therefore, to develop a suitable approach to assess and project the future changes of the regional physical and ecological properties of the coastal areas along the Indian coastline and in the seas around us. Hence, the mission mode project titled ‘Development of Ocean Climate Change Advisory Services’ aims to provide quantitative indicators for monitoring possible changes in the sea level, cyclone intensity and frequency, storm surges and wind waves, biogeochemistry, and changing fishery at seasonal to decadal time scales. Under this, a suite of observations and models will be developed to understand and provide future projections of important climate variables under this proof of concept component. This will help to devise a feasible plan for a sustainable and efficient marine system-driven economy and offshore or coastal installations and constructions. This component will support the Blue Economy priority area of coastal tourism.

(iii) Technological Innovations for Exploration and Conservation of Deep-Sea Biodiversity: Deep-sea harbours the highest biodiversity on earth with novel bio-molecules of industrial and biomedical importance. The ever-expanding search for the sources of new chemical diversity, the exploration of deep-sea organisms, particularly micro-organisms, has emerged as a new frontier in drug discovery and development. Despite the enormous significance, Indian deep-sea environments are meagrely explored and cuttingedge technologies for harnessing the deep-sea resources are scarce. To address this challenge, “technological innovations for exploration and conservation of deep-sea biodiversity” is projected as one of the thematic areas of research under the Deep Ocean Mission with the objectives of inventorization, archival of deepsea fauna and development of a DNA bank, capacity building on deep-sea taxonomy through systematic training, isolation of deep-sea symbionts, piezotolerant and piezophilic microbes, screening for novel biomolecules using culturebased and meta-genomic approaches, and assessment of biofouling, bio-corrosion processes in the deep-sea environment and develop new antifouling technologies.

 Bio-prospecting of deep-sea flora and fauna including microbes and studies on sustainable utilization of deepsea bio-resources will be the main focus. This component will support the Blue Economy priority area of marine fisheries and allied services. This is being implemented by the Centre for Marine Living Resources in association with the National Institute of Ocean Technology and Bhabha Atomic Research Centre.

(iv) Deep Ocean Survey and Exploration: The seabed is less mapped than the surface of the Moon or Mars due to a widespread lack of understanding of the seabed resources and their value. This increases the risk of underestimating resources and opportunities from the sea and has implications of damaging its environment. Therefore, accurate mapping of the seafloor is a prerequisite for undertaking any exploration program. It is necessary to prepare highresolution maps of the sea bed in conjunction with the surface sediment characteristics to plan seabed explorations and mining.

The primary objective of this component is to explore and identify potential sites of multimetal Hydrothermal Sulphides mineralization along the Indian Ocean mid-oceanic ridges. This component will additionally support the Blue Economy priority area of deep-sea exploration of ocean resources. The mapping of hydrothermal systems on the mid-ocean ridges is also of interest as they account for high concentrations of base metals such as copper and zinc and noble metals such as gold, silver, palladium, and platinum. An extensive survey is, therefore, necessary to identify the hydrothermal vents and locate the deposits in a timebound manner. This activity also forms an important component of the mission. For this purpose, a dedicated research vessel is necessary to be acquired and is envisaged under the mission.

(v) Energy and freshwater from the Ocean: Studies and detailed engineering design for offshore Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) powered desalination plant is envisaged in this proof of concept proposal. Ocean thermal gradient promises to be a more constant form of energy compared to waves, winds, tide, and currents, especially in tropical countries where the surface temperature is warm throughout the year and obeys a near-constant temperature gradient. To meet the growing demands of energy for remote islands, it is essential to develop technologies to harness the power from the seas surrounding them. To harness the technology of OTEC fully, the ocean’s vagaries must be conquered. When this is accomplished, desalination can be built as an add-on within the OTEC cycle. This will help to take in and discharge the seawater to run the OTEC. It can be used to run Low-Temperature Thermal Desalination plants which will generate freshwater for remote Indian islands. Access to freshwater will improve the quality of life of people living in island areas of the country. There is a massive potential for deriving clean and green energy and fresh water from the oceans and the development of offshore technologies for the same. This component will support the Blue Economy priority area of offshore energy development.

(vi) Advanced Marine Station for Ocean Biology: This component is aimed at the development of human capacity and enterprise in ocean biology and engineering. It will translate research into industrial application and product development through on-site business incubator facilities. The Advanced Marine Station is envisaged as a ‘hub and spokes’ model and will help the Mission strengthen its networking with various organisations across research institutes for marine sciences within India and globally. This will allow India to be at the helm of knowledge-driven progress and innovation in ocean biology, which includes bio-prospecting. The translation of applied research into marketable products will be strongly encouraged through interactions with industries and the hosting of incubator facilities for ocean science entrepreneurs. This will support the Blue Economy priority area of Marine Biology, Blue trade and Blue manufacturing.

Compiled by: Annesha Banerjee & Anuja Bhardwajan

Source: MOES/PIB/psa.gov. in/indiascienceandtechnology. gov.in