India to launch scientific expedition to South Pole

An eight-member team of scientists will embark on the treacherous journey to the South Pole from 'Maitri', India's research station in the Antarctic region.

During their five-day journey, the scientists will conduct experiments, gather atmospheric data and collect ice cores from the frozen continent in their bid to understand the changes in the environment over past 1,000 years.

"The journey from Maitri to the South Pole, approximately about 3,000 kms, will also help understand climate change over the years," Shailesh Nayak, Secretary, Ministry of Earth Sciences said.

Experiments involving geomorphology -- the study of landforms and geophysics -- which includes movements of tectonic plates are being planned.

These studies are expected to add to the knowledge of how the ancient landmass, once fused with other continents in a super-continent before being separated 200 million years ago, has evolved, he said.

While Amundsen reached the South Pole on December 14, 1911 in dog-drawn sledges, Indian scientists will use special sport utility vehicles (SUV) for their journey.

The government is planning to acquire one SUV at an estimated cost of Rs 90 lakh, another three would be hired for the expedition.

The challenging effort, even with the aid of navigational equipment and modern ice-traversing vehicles, is seen as part of India's bid to enhance its presence on the South Pole.

India is also in the advanced stages of building its third research station named 'Bharti' in the Larsemann Hills region in the eastern part of the frozen continent.

Apart from studying climate change, the station will play a key role in oceanographic research.

Much of the construction material was transported to the site last summer and work is due to begin once the current winter conditions in Antarctica ease.

"We get about 60 days to carry out construction activities every year. Weather permitting, we hope to built the first phase of the research station from this November," Nayak said.

The station is expected to be functional by 2012. As part of its studies, it will undertake experiments on how life forms like lichens and algae adopt and survive, knowledge of which is of value in developing new drugs.

India's first research station in the Antarctic region -- Dakshin Gangotri-- was established in 1983-84. It was abandoned in 1990 after it sunk in the snow partially.

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