World Oceans Day: A voyage across the ‘Roaring Forties’

Just earlier than the COVID-19 pandemic triggered a lockdown in numerous components of the world, a bunch of Indian scientists, analysis students and academicians had been in a unique type of lockdown. From January 6 to March 8, this group of 39 — 32 males and 7 ladies — sailed round the Southern Ocean (SO), the roughest in the world, conducting experiments and research of coastal Antarctica from the MV SA Aghulas. The individuals had been chosen by the National Centre for Polar and Ocean Research beneath the Ministry of Earth Sciences. All members of the group agree that, although the principal goal was scientific analysis and knowledge assortment, the voyage was a once-in-a-lifetime expertise.

Sumit Mandal, Asst Professor of Zoology, Presidency College, Kolkata aboard the SA Aghulas on the Souther Ocean Expedition 11 (SOE11)

The group set sail from Mauritius on January 6, crossing the infamous southern hemisphere geographical coordinates — the Roaring Forties, Furious Fifties and the Screaming Sixties — reducing by way of ice fields and negotiating repeated storms. As the area (68 diploma South and 57 diploma East) experiences daylight for a lot of the day, many skilled a disorientation. Conducting experiments in temperatures beneath minus 5 levels and at instances engaged on a tilted deck and shifting with the roll and pitch of the waves was each difficult and thrilling.

Maiden expertise

For most individuals, it was their maiden expertise and one which redefined what the ocean had hitherto meant to them. “Due to extreme rolling and pitching, the SO is a challenge for every oceanographer,” says Sumit Mandal, Assistant Professor of Zoology at Presidency College, Kolkata, who was on his maiden SO journey. “As a marine biologist, I don’t fall sea sick. But some other members had a terrible time.” He added that the fixed daylight “disrupted our biological clock. We also saw the midnight sun at Antarctica.” They noticed albatross, petrel-like sea birds, penguins, geese, water fowl, south polar skua, seals and whales. Sumit’s undertaking was to gather sediment samples to review life organisms in them. He collected samples from practically 10 stations of roughly 2,000 metres depth and was amazed to see the number of life.

A sample of benthic diversity in sediment from the SO

A pattern of benthic variety in sediment from the SO

“There are polychaete worms, crabs, starfish, beetle, sponges and soft corals. This is the first time that Southern Ocean’s benthic diversity is being studied by India,” he says. He recollects the biting chilly at Prydz Bay that penetrated by way of his garments, getting frostbitten by way of washing the sediments together with his naked arms.

Princy M John, a analysis scholar from Kochi, performed research on marine life like the krill and the salp. She collected water samples from as deep as 2.5 kilometres beneath the icy floor and recollects waves that have been as a lot as eight metres excessive. “The scenery was stark and heavy. We covered nearly 40 stations to conduct our research,” says Princy.

World Oceans Day: A voyage across the ‘Roaring Forties’

Team chief Anoop Mahajan, an Earth Scientist at IITM, explains the significance of the SO. “All the oceans of the world are connected through the SO. What happens there is conveyed to all other oceans. We need to understand the SO to understand the climate system of the world. From the Indian perspective, the South Indian Ocean is part of it and the monsoon is developed around these.”

Tough setting

He provides that the area must be studied by way of the yr however SO is out of bounds in winter. But plans are afoot to review the area then. India has two bases: Bharati at 69 levels S and Maitri, which is inland. “As of now we conduct winter studies using automated instruments like Argo floats,” says Anoop for whom this was the third journey. “It is not an easy environment. On some days, there is sunshine and the perfect glassy sea is serene.”

Anoop says that usually they needed to work for as much as 18 hours a day on station days. “On non-station days, we analysed the samples and did related work.” The large success, says Anoop, was the assortment of numerous sediment cores, however above all “we saw the power of unity and also the diversity of our country. The crew was South African and we all worked well together.”

When they reached India in early March, it felt like they have been out from, as one in every of them put it, “the Big Boss house”.

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