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Marine water quality nowcast and advisory system for Indian coasts launched

Indigenously designed by Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS), Hyderabad, the buoy-based automated coastal observatory scripted history by becoming the first floating wet lab for water quality tests in the Indian Ocean.

The coastal observatory off Cochin coast / Courtesy : INCOIS

India recently sent afloat a laboratory capable of automatically monitoring marine water quality in real time 10 kilometres off Cochin coast. The facility is also capable of providing water quality advisories to maritime users.

Indigenously designed by Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS), Hyderabad, the buoy-based automated coastal observatory scripted history by becoming the first floating wet lab for water quality tests in the Indian Ocean.

It was launched last month on the 16th foundation day of the Ministry of Earth Sciences, New Delhi.

“Due to climate change, there has been an increase in ocean acidification, the concentration of oxygen in seawater is on a decline, phytoplankton now thrive during algal blooms and also reduce the oxygen levels during its decay stage, which is harmful to the marine fisheries,” Balakrishnan Nair T M, Group Director, Operational Ocean Services and Applied Research (OSAS) at INCOIS, told The Indian Express.

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Flanked by the Bay of Bengal, the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean over three sides offering a vast coastline measuring over 7,517 kms, coastal residents of nine Indian states and two islands are directly ocean-dependent. As much as 95 per cent of India’s trade is handled via these seas which also contribute to oil spill incidents. This makes it imperative to have a better monitoring, understanding and forecasting capabilities of the oceans, its changing composition in the wake of climate change as the country embarks on its ambitious Blue Economy policy in the coming years.

“We plan to issue advisory and short-term forecast about the water quality along the Indian coasts. We also want to provide advisory services to our user communities on the impacts of water quality variations on some of the ocean-supported livelihoods like fisheries and the overall blue economy,” said Nair, who said that the idea of this floating lab was conceived nearly a decade ago.

“The challenge is to carry out real time measurements, especially for nutrients and greenhouse gases pH. The technology to simultaneously measure both the biological and chemical parameters has been developed only recently,” he said.

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The buoy-based coastal observatory, which costs Rs 4 crore, has a range of chemicals onboard and automatically performs chemical tests of the water samples. It can measure 19 parameters ranging from dissolved oxygen and carbon dioxide levels, methane, various phytoplankton pigments, Ph of water, which is a measure of its acidification, nutrients such as nitrite, silicate, phosphate and Ammonia, as well as hydrocarbons.

Once every three hours, the buoy collects water samples and performs tests. In addition, it also measures the water’s temperature, salinity, chlorophyll levels using the optically measuring instruments onboard.

“Combining the observations obtained from the satellite and automated buoy-based coastal observatory, we will run the numerical models. If there is any particular harmful trend emerging from the observation, be it to the fish or local communities, or regulating agencies, we can send out alerts,” said the senior INCOIS scientist.

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The INCOIS team has conducted several tests for over five months prior to making the system operational.

Scientists said that the real-time water quality results will be highly beneficial for agencies such as the Coast Guard, the shipping and tourism industries, the fishermen communities and state authorities.

“The data will act as a long-term data repository. We will be able to perform a number of studies – for tracking the pH or nutrient variations, fish migration, roles of river water and more,” Nair said.

INCOIS plans to deploy similar floating labs off Vishakhapatnam, Veraval, Digha and Goa coasts in future.

First published on: 16-08-2022 at 10:55:40 pm
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