Deep Ocean Mission UPSC NOTES (Prelims and Mains)

Deep Ocean Mission – UPSC NOTES (Prelims and Mains)

Deep Ocean Mission: The aim of the ‘Deep Ocean Exploration’ mission of the PM-STIAC is to scientifically explore the deep oceans towards improving our understanding of the blue frontier. The information from this mission will address issues arising from long-term changes in the ocean due to climate change.Deep Ocean MissionThe aim of the ‘Deep Ocean Exploration’ mission of the PM-STIAC is to scientifically explore the deep oceans towards improving our understanding of the blue frontier. The information from this mission will address issues arising from long-term changes in the ocean due to climate change.

The focus areas cover the development of technologies for deep-sea exploration and exploitation of living (biodiversity) and non-living (minerals) resources; development of underwater vehicles and underwater robotics; development of ocean climate change advisory services; technological innovations and conservational methods for sustainable utilisation of marine bio-resources; offshore based desalination techniques; and renewable energy generation

About the Deep Ocean Mission

  • The mission has been laid on similar terms as the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) performs space research
  • However, India’s Deep Ocean Mission will solely focus on studying and exploring the deepwater bodies in our country for undiscovered minerals, stones, living or non-living entities
  • Both, man force and robotic machines will be used for the mission
  • Tasks like deep-sea mining, energy exploration, survey of the objects found, and off-shore desalination will be taken up rigorously
  • The technological developments done for the Deep Ocean Mission will be funded by the Government scheme “Ocean Services, Technology, Observations, Resources Modelling and Science (O-SMART)”
  • Study and research on the climatic changes in the Ocean and other advisory services will be done through this mission
  • The focus will also be given on underwater technologies for convenient research
  • Two key projects have been included in the Deep Ocean Mission
  • A Desalination Plant
  • Submersible Vehicle, which can explore upto 6000 metres in depth
  • The parts of the ocean which are yet to be explored and are hidden and undiscovered will all be covered through this mission.
  • It is a central sector scheme.
  • The major objectives of the Deep Ocean Mission are as follows:
    • Development of technologies for deep sea mining, underwater vehicles and underwater robotics;
    • Development of ocean climate change advisory services;
    • Technological innovations for exploration and conservation of deepsea biodiversity;
    • Deep ocean survey and exploration;
    • Proof of concept studies on energy and freshwater from the ocean; and
    • Establishing advanced marine station for ocean biology

Significance of Deep Ocean Mission

  • The Deep Ocean Mission plan will enable India to develop capabilities to exploit resources in the Central Indian Ocean Basin (CIOB).
  • One of the major objectives of this project is to mine and extract polymetallic nodules (PMN). The UN International SeaBed Authority has allotted India 75000 sq. kilometers in CIOB for the exploration of these polymetallic nodules. 

What are Polymetallic Nodules (PMN)?

  • Polymetallic nodules are Fe-Mn oxide deposits
  • They are potato shaped and porous
  • Appearance wise, they are of a black earthy color
  • Size ranges from 2 to 10 cm in diameter
  • PMN is considered as the precipitate of hot fluids from upwelling hot magma from the deep interior of the oceanic crust, discharged through mineralized paths
  • These Rare earth minerals are considered as a great source of valuable minerals such as gold, silver, and zinc

Nodal Agency: Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES)

  • The mission proposes to explore the deep ocean similar to the space exploration started by ISRO.
  • Underwater robotics and ‘manned’ submersibles are key components of the Mission which will help India harness various living and non-living (water, mineral and energy) resources from the seabed and deep water.
  • The tasks that will be undertaken over this period include deep-sea mining, survey, energy exploration and the offshore-based desalination.
  • These technological developments are funded under an umbrella scheme of the government – called Ocean Services, Technology, Observations, Resources Modelling and Science (O-SMART).

 Mining PMN

  • One of the main aims of the mission is to explore and extract polymetallic nodules (PMN).
  • These are small potato-like rounded accretions composed of minerals such as manganese, nickel, cobalt, copper and iron hydroxide.
  • They lie scattered on the Indian Ocean floor at depths of about 6,000 m and the size can vary from a few millimetres to centimetres.
  • These metals can be extracted and used in electronic devices, smartphones, batteries and even for solar panels.

Where will the team mine?

  • The International Seabed Authority (ISA), an autonomous international organisation established under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, allots the ‘area’ for deep-sea mining.
  • India was the first country to receive the status of a ‘Pioneer Investor ‘ in 1987 and was given an area of about 1.5 lakh sq km in the Central Indian Ocean Basin (CIOB) for nodule exploration.
  • In 2002, India signed a contract with the ISA and after complete resource analysis of the seabed 50% was surrendered and the country retained an area of 75,000 sq km.

Which are the other countries that are in the race to mine the deep sea?

  • Apart from the CIOB, polymetallic nodules have been identified from the central Pacific Ocean. It is known as the Clarion-Clipperton Zone.
  • According to the ISA’s website, it has entered into 15-year contracts for exploration for polymetallic nodules, polymetallic sulphides and cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts in the deep seabed with 29 contractors.
  • Later it was extended for five more years till 2022.
  • China, France, Germany, Japan, South Korea, Russia and also some small islands such as the Cook Islands, Kiribati have joined the race for deep-sea mining.
  • Most of the countries have tested their technologies in shallow waters and are yet to start deep-sea extraction.

India’s preparedness

  • India’s mining site is at about a depth of 5,500 metres, where there is a high pressure and extremely low temperature.
  • We have also deployed Remotely Operated Vehicle and In-situ Soil Tester in the depth of 6,000 metres and have a thorough understanding of the mining area at the Central Indian Ocean Basin.
  • The mining machine newly developed for 6000 metres depth was able to move about 900 metres and will be deployed soon at 5,500 metres.
  • Weather conditions and the availability of ships also play a role.
  • More tests are being conducted to understand how to bring the nodules up to the surface. A riser system comprising an umbilical cable or electromechanical cable and a hose is being developed.

What will be the environmental impact?

  • According to the IUCN, these deep remote locations can be home to unique species that have adapted themselves to conditions such as poor oxygen and sunlight, high pressure and extremely low temperatures.
  • Such mining expeditions can make them go extinct even before they are known to science.
  • The deep sea’s biodiversity and ecology remain poorly understood, making it difficult to assess the environmental impact and frame adequate guidelines.
  • Though strict guidelines have been framed, they are only exploration guidelines. A new set of exploitation guidelines are being worked out and discussions are on with the ISA.
  • Environmentalists are also worried about the sediment plumes that will be generated as the suspended particles can rise to the surface harming the filter feeders in the upper ocean layers.
  • Additional concerns have been raised about the noise and light pollution from the mining vehicles and oil spills from the operating vessels.

Is deep-sea mining economically viable?

  • The latest estimate from the ISA says it will be commercially viable only if about three million tonnes are mined per year.
  • More studies are being carried out to understand how the technology can be scaled up and used efficiently.

The Deep Ocean Mission consists of the following six major components:

  • Development of Technologies for Deep Sea Mining, and Manned Submersible: A manned submersible will be developed to carry three people to a depth of 6000 metres in the ocean with suite of scientific sensors and tools. Only a very few countries have acquired this capability.
  •  An Integrated Mining System will be also developed for mining Polymetallic Nodules from 6000 m depth in the central Indian Ocean. The exploration studies of minerals will pave way for the commercial exploitation in the near future, as and when commercial exploitation code is evolved by the International Seabed Authority, an UN organization.
  • This component will help the Blue Economy priority area of exploring and harnessing of deep sea minerals and energy.
  • Development of Ocean Climate Change Advisory Services: A suite of observations and models will be developed to understand and provide future projections of important climate variables on seasonal to decadal time scales under this proof of concept component. This component will support the Blue Economy priority area of coastal tourism.
  • Technological innovations for exploration and conservation of deep-sea biodiversity: Bio-prospecting of deep sea flora and fauna including microbes and studies on sustainable utilization of deep sea bio-resources will be the main focus. This component will support the Blue Economy priority area of Marine Fisheries and allied services.
  • Deep Ocean Survey and Exploration: The primary objective of this component is to explore and identify potential sites of multi-metal Hydrothermal Sulphides mineralization along the Indian Ocean mid-oceanic ridges. This component will additionally support the Blue Economy priority area of deep sea exploration of ocean resources.
  • Energy and freshwater from the Ocean: Studies and detailed engineering design for offshore Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) powered desalination plant are envisaged in this proof of concept proposal. This component will support the Blue Economy priority area of off-shore energy development.
  • Advanced Marine Station for Ocean Biology. This component is aimed as development of human capacity and enterprise in ocean biology and engineering.
  • This component will translate research into industrial application and product development through on-site business incubator facilities. This component will support the Blue Economy priority area of Marine Biology, Blue trade and Blue manufacturing.
  • The technologies required for deep sea mining have strategic implications and are not commercially available.
  • Hence, attempts will be made to indigenise technologies by collaborating with leading institutes and private industries.
  • A research vessel for deep ocean exploration would be built in an Indian shipyard which would create employment opportunities.
  • This mission is also directed towards capacity development in Marine Biology, which will provide job opportunities in Indian industries. In addition, design, development and fabrication of specialised equipment, ships and setting up of required infrastructure are expected to spur the growth of the Indian industry, especially the MSME and Start-ups.
  • Oceans, which cover 70 per cent of the globe, remain a key part of our life. About 95 percent of Deep Ocean remains unexplored.
  • For India, with its three sides surrounded by the oceans and around 30 per cent of the country’s population living in coastal areas, ocean is a major economic factor supporting fisheries and aquaculture, tourism, livelihoods and blue trade.
  • Oceans are also storehouse of food, energy, minerals, medicines, modulator of weather and climate and underpin life on Earth. Considering importance of the oceans on sustainability, the United Nations (UN) has declared the decade, 2021-2030 as the Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development.

Impact of Deep Ocean Mission on the Environment

  • A major concern has been shown by Environmentalists for the Ocean mining that is being conducted in various countries. The biggest concern is that since this field is unexplored, the repercussions cannot be assumed. 
  • Another cause of concern is the sediment plumes that may have formed after the mining practice and the oil spills which may be caused.
  • However, India seems to be positive with their research as major revelations can be done once the mission takes off and the research is started. One of the most important of which is the fact that since the temperature at deep depths of the ocean is very low, a lot of species will be discovered which are capable of surviving in extreme weather conditions. 
  • All the activities which shall be performed under the Deep Ocean Mission will be as per the rules prescribed by ISA, ensuring no harm is caused to the biodiversity. 

India’s Preparedness for Ocean Mining

  • India’s mining site is at about a depth of 5,500 meters, where there is high pressure and extremely low temperature.
  • We have also deployed Remotely Operated Vehicle and In-situ Soil Tester in the depth of 6,000 meters and have a thorough understanding of the mining area at the Central Indian Ocean Basin.
  • The mining machine newly developed for 6000 meters depth was able to move about 900 meters and will be deployed soon at 5,500 meters.
  • Weather conditions and the availability of ships also play a role.
  • More tests are being conducted to understand how to bring the nodules up to the surface. A riser system comprising an umbilical cable or electromechanical cable and a hose is being developed.

 India has a unique maritime position. Its 7517 km long coastline is home to nine coastal states and 1382 islands. The Government of India’s Vision of New India by 2030 enunciated in February 2019 highlighted the Blue Economy as one of the ten core dimensions of growth./Deep Ocean Exploration/

Major Components:

Development of Technologies for Deep Sea Mining, and Manned Submersible:

  • manned submersible will be developed to carry three people to a depth of 6,000 metres in the ocean with a suite of scientific sensors and tools.
  • An Integrated Mining System will be also developed for mining polymetallic nodules at those depths in the central Indian Ocean.

  • Polymetallic nodules are rocks scattered on the seabed containing iron, manganese, nickel and cobalt.
  • The exploration studies of minerals will pave the way for commercial exploitation in the near future, as and when commercial exploitation code is evolved by the International Seabed Authority, an United Nations (UN) organisation.
  • Development of Ocean Climate Change Advisory Services:

  • It entails developing a suite of observations and models to understand and provide future projections of important climate variables on seasonal to decadal time scales.
  • Technological Innovations for Exploration and Conservation of Deep-sea Biodiversity:

  • Bio-prospecting of deep sea flora and fauna including microbes and studies on sustainable utilization of deep sea bio-resources will be the main focus.
  • Deep Ocean Survey and Exploration:

  • It will explore and identify potential sites of multi-metal Hydrothermal Sulphides mineralization along the Indian Ocean mid-oceanic ridges.

Energy and Freshwater from the Ocean:

Studies and detailed engineering design for offshore Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) powered desalination plants are envisaged in this proof of concept proposal.

OTEC is a technology which uses ocean temperature differences from the surface to depths lower than 1,000 meters, to extract energy.

Advanced Marine Station for Ocean Biology:

  • It is aimed at the development of human capacity and enterprise in ocean biology and engineering.
  • It will translate research into industrial application and product development through on-site business incubator facilities.

Other Blue Economy Initiatives:

India-Norway Task Force on Blue Economy for Sustainable Development :

It was inaugurated jointly by both the countries in 2020 to develop and follow up joint initiatives between the two countries.

Sagarmala Project:

The Sagarmala project is the strategic initiative for port-led development through the extensive use of IT enabled services for modernization of ports.

O-SMART:

India has an umbrella scheme by the name of O-SMART which aims at regulated use of oceans, marine resources for sustainable development.

Integrated Coastal Zone Management:

It focuses on conservation of coastal and marine resources, and improving livelihood opportunities for coastal communities etc.

National Fisheries Policy :

India has a National Fisheries policy for promoting ‘Blue Growth Initiative’ which focuses on sustainable utilization of fisheries wealth from marine and other aquatic resources.

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