Making interactions with our Mother Earth

As the name suggests… it is all about Mother Earth. The apex ministry that deals with all complex interactions across various components of the Earth, comprising the atmosphere, oceans,  cryosphere, geosphere and biosphere is aptly named the Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES). The endeavour is to build a desired synergy between earth and the life on it, for improving the quality of services in order to effectively minimize loss of life and includes providing weather, climate, ocean and seismological services to the nation, exploring polar regions, and discovery and exploitation of marine living and non-living resources.

Achievements, no doubt, are many and are increasing gradually as India excels more and more as a technological powerhouse, on its journey to become a global power. This gives enough reason for Dr. M. Rajeevan, the Secretary in the Ministry to feel elated, who sees last two to three years as particularly eventful with major achievements in weather, climate, ocean and seismological services and enhancement of technical capability by the Ministry of Earth Sciences.

Dr.Rajeevan describes the MoES mandate in these words: “The national agenda includes promotion of discovery to provide new perspective on earth systems; better understanding of earth processes and application of this knowledge for sustainability of the Earth and its natural resources along with strengthening all associated services for enhancing the societal benefits. The policies and programmes of the Ministry are largely being pursued through mission mode projects jointly implemented through its institutions like India Meteorological Department; National Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasting; Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology; National Centre for Antarctica and Ocean Research; National Institute of Ocean Technology; Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services; Centre for Earth Science Studies; National Centre for Seismology; Centre for Marine Living Resources and Ecology and Integrated Coastal and Marine Area Management.”

Dr. Harsh Vardhan, the Hon’ble Minister for Earth Sciences with the Government of India feels MoES is poised to play a leadership role in the Asia-Pacific region as India emerges as knowledge super power. This will be achieved “by way of expanding cross-linkages and extending technical support to our neighbouring countries insofar as the weather and its associated services are concerned. The demands for better and precise weather, climate, ocean state forecasting and earthquake monitoring services are increasing. There are special demands from different sectors of economy for customized support services. Other focus areas could be on generating ocean thermal energy, exploration of ocean resources and exploring polar regions.

Needless to say, the various programs being run by the Ministry of Earth Sciences include a wide variety of applications of immediate relevance to our quality of life. Several major milestones have been accomplished in the recent past under various programs and newer thrust areas have been added to the portfolio of activities in response to India’s felt needs in areas pursued by the Ministry. Moreover, leveraging India’s innate excellence in research and development has resulted in enhanced performance of detection and reporting systems.

Dr. Gopal Iyanger, Joint Secretary in the Ministry informs that our skills pertaining to weather and cyclone prediction over the region have improved remarkably in past years. This was evident in the Ministry’s predictions related to Tropical Cyclones, Phailin, and Hudhud and extreme rainfall events in Uttarakhand and Jammu and Kashmir and also the floods in Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat. Dr Iyangar tells it is due to successes in technology made during recent years that while the cyclone of 1999 resulted in deaths of thousands of people, the cyclones in recent years have resulted in deaths of less than 50 people.

“It is important to have quality observations which can monitor how the weather is developing and also provide the input in a timely and efficient manner,” adds Dr.Iyangar. This has been possible due to acquisition of fast computing resources which has improved our weather and cyclone prediction capacity, thereby bringing in a paradigm shift in numerical modelling activity for operational weather forecasting.

“Weather forecasting is also of tremendous importance to those in agri-businesses. Forecasting is no longer the concern of the upper end ‘big’ farmers now. Through the Ministry’s ‘Gramin Krishi Mausam Sewa’ we are now reaching about 128 agro-climatic zones spread all over India. Cuurently, about 21 million farmers are receiving crop specific agro-meteorological advisories through SMS in vernacular languages. Services are provided for specific crops as well. Our forecast goes twice a week and lead time is 5 days. Variables covered are maximum-minimum temperature, rainfall, wind direction and wind speed and soil moisture. Ministry has formulated a plan to have district agro-metallurgical unit in each of the about 660 districts in India. By the end of 2020, we will have these units in each of the district headquarters.”

“We have launched the Rs. 400 crore National Monsoon Mission to provide more accurate monsoon forecast to all concerned up to the block level,” informs Dr.Harshvardhan. He further said: “To make weather forecasting with higher accuracy in the mountainous North-eastern region, most modern Doppler weather radars have been installed in Cherrapunjee in Meghalaya, Mohanbari in Dibrugarh (Assam) and Agartala (Tripura).” The Ministry has now made it possible to generate reliable dynamical model predictions in all time scales, short to medium range (up to 10 days), extended range (up to 20 days) and seasonal (up to one season0. It is also possible to make accurate forecasts for summer temperatures and heat waves, winter fog and monitor the air quality.

The Minister also informed that MoES had launched a Rs. 475 crore project and set up two mega centres at Koyna in Maharashtra and Shillong in Meghalaya for the study of earthquake prediction. Experts consider the North-east the sixth major quake-prone zone in the world.

The country has made remarkable progress in earthquake monitoring through setting up of National Centre for Seismology. Real-time seismic monitoring network consisting of 82 field observations including two telemetric clusters, in NCR Delhi and the North East, have been set up to estimate earthquake parameters within shortest possible time. Significant earthquakes are being auto-located and first information is sent within 15 minutes using both Indian and global seismic stations configured in the network. A 2-station VSAT-based seismic telemetry network has been established for real time monitoring and reporting of seismic activity in the North-eastern region of India. Facilities have also been created for scanning, vector digitization and systematic archival of seismic analog charts of historical importance in electronic form.

The Ministry has also embarked on a multi-disciplinary and multi-institutional effort of microzonation of various earthquake prone cities in India. Microzonation of Guwahati, Sikkim and Bangalore has been completed on 1:25,000 scale and Delhi on 1:50,000 scale. These efforts will have direct application in disaster mitigation and management, urban development, planning, design and construction, and risk assessment to existing life and property, defence installations, heavy industry and public utilities and services, etc.

And to know more about the Mother Earth, Scientific Deep Drilling has been carried out in the Koyna Intra-Place Seismic zone in Karad, Maharashtra with an aim to measure in-situ physical properties of rocks, pore-fluid pressure, hydrological parameters, temperature and other parameters of an intra-plate, active fault zone in the nearfield of earthquakes – before, during and after their occurrence. A set of 6 cores have been drilled so far with logging and heat flow measurements. These observations will help to understand physical processes of reservoir induced earthquakes.

“These and related achievements include a wide variety of applications of immediate relevance to quality of life. India’s innate excellence in research and development has been leveraged to enhance performance of detection and reporting systems. Newer thrust areas have been added to the portfolio of activities in response to India’s felt needs in areas pursued by the MoES,” tells YS Chowdary, the Minister of State in the MoES.

Dr. Harsh Vardhan elaborates on the reasons further: “All this would not have been possible without appropriate investments in augmentation of observational network, enhancing computing resources and intensifying research in modelling. By using our timely and improved services, farmers and fishermen have received substantial economic benefits. We need to further improve the dissemination strategy to increase the outreach and also to ensure the benefits of it accrue to many more farmers and fishermen.”

All this is important because life matters the most. And life matters only because our Mother Earth matters!

Aziz Haider

(Article exclusively done for Outlook Magazine)

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