Tech to churn oceans wealth

Updated: Nov 14 2005, 05:30am hrs
India has begun a humble start in churning oceans wealth. A number of initiatives are on anvil to boost studies in oceanology and oceanography. Given the countrys advancement in IT, miniaturisation of sensors, aerospace science, semi-conductor and communications industry, several experts feel that India has the potential to exploit its 7,500 km-long coastline which houses over 500,000 species.

Ocean instrumentation holds the key to the success, feels Dr Ehrlich Desa of the National Institute of Oceanography, Dona Paula, Goa. Most of the oceanographic instruments used by researchers in the country are imported from US, Japan, Norway, France and UK. Norway produces a range of sophisticated autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) for seabed survey, low-cost acoustic doppler current profilers (ADCPs) and acoustic current meters.

Generally, marine instrumentation is a low-volume, high-cost industry. Its market is limited to relevant researchers and as such, private sector in the country has not shown much interest. However, Dr Desa says that there are a number of institutes in the country which are proficient in manufacturing these sophisticated instruments and equipment, provided there is a proper science programme in place and a strong inter-disciplinary bond between relevant institutes is fostered.

Keeping in view the countrys inherent technological strengths, Dr Desa suggests three broad areas for developing marine instrumentation. These are novel micro-miniature sensors, observational platforms and submersible and mining technology. However, there are some encouraging examples. A number of research institutes in the country are engaged in developing some marine technologies. According to Dr Desa, these organisations are taking the first steps in propogating their developed technologies on acoustic and pressure-based tide gauges and weather stations. There is a large body of usage of weather stations on research vessels and for many industrial surveys. The tidal gauges are used in several industrial projects and are gradually phasing out traditional chart recorders of the Survey of India. Both these types of instruments are being donated through aid programmes to countries like Vietnam, Myanmar and Ghana. These instruments have also been patented.

Acoustic transducers are another area where Indian designs may stand global scrutiny, says Dr Desa. A few drifting buoys have been assembled and deployed, though their lifetime needs greater improvement. Many other technologies are presently being developed such as AUVs, remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) and ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) plants. Efforts are also underway to manufacture, through technology transfer protocols, some items which are presently imported like moored data buoys and deep-drifting ALACE floats or its variants.

Specialised oceanographic equipment is an area where Indian instrumentation can create a niche, says Dr Desa. Proof-of-concepts have been demonstrated on the electromagnetic technique of current measurement, upward pointing acoustic beams to determine surface waves, an ultra-high scanning radiometer and most recently a remotely operated surface skimmer, he says.

The growth of computational power, telemetry systems, miniaturisation of sensors and systems, profiling floats, gliders, AUVs and the use of these systems in inter-disciplinary science programmes at global level are providing opportunities and challenges for modern observational oceanography. The way forward: technology transfers from related scientific disciplines, marine technology exhibitions for exchange of ideas and global science programmes for development of more sophisticated marine instruments.