Updated: May 14, 2022 7:25:10 am
Last year, the Ministry of Earth Sciences launched a Rs 4,000 crore Deep Ocean Mission to explore the ocean, expand climate change studies, understand the marine biodiversity along with mineral richness and more focused research. Under this mission, Goa-based National Centre for Polar and Ocean Research will conduct ocean surveys to trace hydrothermal minerals.
John Kurian, senior NCPOR scientist, speaks to Anjali Marar about the planned experiments.
What are the aims of undertaking hydrothermal mineralisation experiments?
Exploration of hydrothermal minerals in the deep-ocean realms is one of the major sub-components of the Deep Ocean Mission. It aims at exploring, locating and identifying the precious mineral deposits in the mid-ocean ridge region formed by the hydrothermal circulation process. Being the nodal agency for the implementation of the programme, NCPOR is responsible to take up high-end geophysical exploration to delineate the mineralisation zones.
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What are the responsibilities of NCPOR as the nodal agency?
NCPOR plans to undertake high-resolution near-seabed geophysical surveys and precise geological sampling in the prospecting locations in parts of Central and South-West Indian ridges. This includes deployment of Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) and Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV), Seabed sampling using TV-guided grabs and optical and acoustic imaging by Seafloor Observation system and others. NCPOR is also entrusted with the responsibility of construction of an all-weather new research vessel, equipped with state-of-the art scientific and exploration gadgets under this mission.
Even though hydrothermal mineralisation experiments began in the 1980s, how will Deep Ocean Mission steadfast research?
The very first discovery of the metal-bearing hydrothermal vents on the seafloor was located over the Galapagos Rift in 1977 (Corliss et al., 1979), before which, very little was known to the scientific community about such precious mineral deposits in the deep-sea domain. The advancement of technology and scientific knowledge facilitates the exploration of more areas in a more efficient way. Advanced technologies such as deep-water AUVs and ROVs are capable of diving up to 6,000 metres deep. They are equipped with high-resolution sensors that shall be deployed in our exploration campaign for hydrothermal deposits.
Will climate change and the warming oceans have any effect on the mineralisation of elements?
Hydrothermal circulation and mineralisation result from deep-crustal or mantle processes. Climate change and global warming do not have any profound impact on the mineralisation process.
Can you share about past experiments and any preparatory work ahead of the Deep Ocean Mission?
NCPOR had initiated exploratory activities for hydrothermal mineralisation in parts of Central and South-West Indian ridges during 2012 – 2013. The preliminary objective of the exploration surveys was to assess the potential of hydrothermal activity in the region as not many explorations were carried out in this area in the past compared to other ridges like mid-Atlantic or Pacific ridges.
The preliminary exploration provided significant clues about hydrothermal venting and mineralisation processes at many locations along these ridges. We obtained promising results from the preliminary surveys and further extensive geoscientific exploration activities were undertaken in the region. During the comprehensive geoscientific surveys carried out during later years, we could identify more than a dozen number of promising locations for the possible occurrence of hydrothermal deposits.
What are the experiments finalised under the Deep Ocean Mission?
A comprehensive plan for undertaking high-resolution near-seabed surveys utilising advanced technologies of AUV and ROV is planned at these locations. The component under Deep Ocean Mission, which aims to precisely locate and identify the hydrothermal mineral deposits, is planned for a duration of five years. The total cost expected over a period of five years is nearly Rs 300 crore.
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