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‘We have one of the best Tsunami warning systems in the world’

What are the major activities that are under taken by the Ministry of Earth Sciences at present?

Three major activities are undertaken by the Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES) at the moment. These are related to prediction of weather, exploration of the oceanic resources and investigation of the core crust of Earth. The various units under the Ministry are India Mete  orological Department (IMD), National Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasting (NCMRWF), Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM) Pune, and Earthquake Risk Evaluation Centre (EREC) under the Atmospheric Sciences and Seismology sector; National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT) Chennai, National Centre for Antarctic and Ocean Research (NCAOR) Goa, Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS) Hyderabad, Integrated Coastal and Marine Area Management Project Directorate (ICMAM-PD) Chennai, and Centre for Marine Living Resources and Ecology (CMLRE) Kochi under the Ocean Science and Technology sector.

MoES aims to create a framework for understanding complex interactions among key elements of the Earth, namely ocean, atmosphere and solid earth, by encompassing national programmes in ocean science, meteorology, climate, environment and seismology.


How many scientists are presently working under the Earth  Sciences Ministry?

We have about 800 scientists and the total employee strength is about 7,000 spread under various departments.


Have there been any new resources discovered in oceanic studies?


Yes, we have recently found a resource called Myctophids or lanternfishes as they are commonly known. There are more than 10 million tonnes of Myctophids present in the ocean. Myctophids are distributed throughout the world, the largest concentration being reported in the Indian Ocean. Myctophids, however, are largely non-edible fishes so we are yet to find out how to process it and make it consumer friendly. Other than that, we constantly work on technologies such as cage culture, ornamental fishery and pearl culture. Our marine scientists are also working on how to use Algae as bio-fuel in future.


Millennium Post recently carried a story which reported that while Delhi is touching temperatures like 2.7 degrees, Australia on the other hand is touching 50 degrees. What kind of affect has global warming had on the areas adjoining the Indian Ocean?

There are two things that are clear as far as global warming is concerned; one that the air temperature has increased by 0.5/0.7 degrees globally. Secondly, that the sea level and carbon dioxide levels have gone up too. These observations have been made after a careful study. The study has been conducted for a long period of time, therefore there can be no uncertainty about it. But when it comes to commenting on the impact of global warming on the vagaries of climate it isn’t very clear because of two reasons. Firstly, this has not happened for the first time and secondly you need a minimum data of at least 30 years to make a definite stance and the event has to be unusual but that has not been the case. What we are seeing today is a part of climate variability which has been witnessed across the globe. So while the change is certain, its impact on other aspects such as rainfall is uncertain. Hence we are a little cautious to link certain climatic changes to global warming.


Where do you think we stand globally in this field of study?

As far as the observational aspect is concerned, India has one of the largest and the oldest record which is at least 130 years old, which is extremely good at the global level. However, we mainly lack in our modelling aspects. This is because we never had high computing systems, but we have been using them for the past two years and have recently started working on our modelling capability to find out data such as predicting temperature 10 years from now. So we are not the best at the moment.


And which countries are the best in these aspects?


Europe, United Kingdom, the USA, Australia and Japan are far ahead in their study and researches. India is also catching up.


What kind of technology do we have to send alerts to coastal area residents in case of a possible Tsunami?

We have one of the best Tsunami warning systems which are well-equipped to get the seismic and sea-level data from across the world. Using this our systems are able to generate first advisory warnings within six to seven minutes of an earthquake taking place in any part of the world and this we have been doing for the past five years consistently. These systems are run unmanned and are entirely automated. It runs in such a way that when an earthquake occurs, alerts are sent out to the concerned people who can reach our centre within 10 minutes and the second bulletin is used within 30 minutes which provides information such as where the Tsunami is going to occur, at what time and the height of the Tsunami wave.  


How long does it take for a Tsunami to hit shores after an earthquake has occurred in the sea?

The minimum time for a Tsunami to hit the mainland is at least two-and-a-half hours. Andamans are an exception as it takes about 30 minutes for a Tsunami to hit the shores there. However, they get warning within six minutes of an earthquake, so they have no option but to evacuate. Mainland coastal residents on the other hand wait for our confirmation to reach higher grounds.


Do you think something more needs to be done from the perspective of the policy planning to keep pace with global development?

We need to get a sound model in place so that we can give probable predictions for future decades and this has already been initiated. For example, let’s predict that rainfall in the coming decade is going to increase, which will result in more floods, so how do we handle it? The answer is that we need systems in place to expand our capabilities in order to deal with future climatic changes or scenarios such as droughts, floods etc.
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