U R Rao on measures to save the Antarctic

The two-week long 30th Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting concluded on May 11 in New Delhi. Among other resolutions, India's proposal to set up its third base station was accepted. U R Rao, chairman of the meeting, talks to Archita Bhatta on the resolutions and measures agreed upon to save Antarctica's ecology

By Archita Bhatta
Published: Saturday 30 June 2007

Down to EarthMeet's outcome The Antarctic Specially Managed Area agreement, which entails management of designated areas so that they do not get polluted, exploited or threatened. The issue was debated in the meeting held in Edinburgh in 2006. Now, there is some consensus on strict regulations to see that flora and fauna of Antarctica is not over-exploited.

tourism Problems regarding regulation of tourism have been identified and a framework has been laid down. But there are still several complications. It is not possible to stop tourism.What authority can India or the group of countries bound by the treaty, possibly have to stop tourism. There is no sovereignty on the Antarctic. So policing is not possible. We are trying to regulate the number of tourists though there is still no limit to the total number of tourists. We are preventing large ships. At present, the us sends the largest number of tourists, followed by Argentina.

regulatory problem Antarctica does not belong to any one country. (Seven countries--Argentina, Australia, the UK, Chile, France, Norway and New Zealand--have formal claims on the continent). If someone breaks regulations then the nation concerned should take action. But if it does not, there is no system of penalty. Then there are issues of liability for failure. For example, cruise operators are all private. So, will liability rest on the company or on the country to which it belongs? All this is not clear.

'exclusively peaceful' use The treaty says that the continent will be used exclusively for peaceful purposes. But the definition of the word has not been fixed. 'Exclusively' is a very nice word and its presence should ensure that no military activity takes place. But the absence of a definition means weapons are produced to deter war. That is how anti-satellite weapons were produced.

legal affair The meeting constituted mostly of lawyers. The basic objective was to work out the rules, regulations and agreements. There was one lecture on climate change but not much of scientific discussion.

new indian base station India has listed out its requirements for its new scientific base in the Larsemann Hills, and the ways it will prevent pollution at the base. It has been decided these are consistent with the regulations and other requirements of the treaty.

the need for one The research station will help India to step up its research in the Southern Ocean and adjoining Indian Ocean. These oceans have a strong influence on our weather systems and global climate changes. The location of the base station will help carry out intensive studies in the southern Indian Ocean, which is less studied, compared to Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Also, this was most probably the place where India was connected to Gondwanaland. It will contribute to geological studies.

focus of existing station
Down to Earth Ozone hole and chloroflurocarbon records

Down to Earth Global warming. Study of its effect and overexploitation of certain species very endemic to this region

Down to Earth Tracing history of Gondwanaland and evidence of east coast of India being connected to Antarctica

Down to Earth Study of intensity of greenhouse gases and cosmic rays in the ice cores over 1,000 years and their comparison with present levels

Down to Earth Study of low energy particles like cosmic rays, some low energy solar rays, which can be found only in the poles

Down to Earth Geological explorations, receding ice sheets and ozone monitoring

Down to Earth Study of extreme weather events

shortcomings India does not have the best of equipment for boring into the Antarctic ice core. Indian research can score much more with such equipment.

reason for concern With more number of people and more tourism, concerns about more methods of exploitation of resources emerge. Regulations need to be formulated. Usually, when regulations are formulated there are debates before an agreement is reached. Right now, while there is some thought on tackling exploitation of flora and fauna, other biological material of the continent like bacteria are not being thought about.

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