The Three Poles!

Polar research is often related to global issues like climate change and the environment, and thereby concerns all life on Earth. It is widely accepted that studying the polar regions is key to unlocking the past, better understanding the present and predicting the future. Scientific assessments of environmental change in the Polar regions may also apply to other parts of the planet. By analysing ice cores or sediment cores scientists can show how the Earth’s climate has changed throughout history and make predictions about the climate in the future.

A correlation between Arctic ice-melt and the Indian Monsoons has been established, but the exact effect remains undiscovered. It is believed that melting Arctic ice and the consequent increase of freshwater in the region prevents heat from escaping, leading warmer waters to the Indian Ocean, which in turn alters Indian monsoons. The effects of this would be detrimental, specifically on agriculture that remains critical to India’s economy and growing population. Sea level rise would be accompanied by a devastating situation for India’s coastal inhabitants and ecosystems. Climate change will also have a severe impact on water resources and the availability of drinking water in many parts of India.  

India is quite a distance away from the Earth’s poles, but its Polar programme is over 30 years old and has resulted in the establishment of three research stations in Antarctica, and one in the Arctic. The Hindu Kush-Himalayan region is the storehouse of the third largest body of snow and ice on our planet after the Antarctic and the Arctic. In 2016, the Indian Government built a high-altitude research base ‘Himansh’ in the Himalayas. Because of similarities between the Antarctic, Arctic and Himalaya, scientists are now describing these three regions as the ‘Three Poles’ with the Himalayan system as the Third Pole.

The Third Pole concept has gained increasing relevance in India as the interest in integrated polar research and international collaboration has increased. To meet the growing interest in scientific explorations in the Arctic and Antarctic, it has become important for India to acquire polar research vehicles that can cut through ice sheets and glaciers. India is therefore steering ahead to strengthen its Polar programme and is planning to acquire two new oceanography research vessels for carrying out polar research and mineral exploration activities.

Because of the complex dynamics of the climate system it is imperative to look at all three polar regions rather than concentrate on a single pole. A collective international effort will help us to understand climate variation in a better way, and will definitely help us to take careful steps to sustain the future of mankind. For this reason, it makes a lot of sense to forge ahead with joint collaborations in this area to be able to provide the best scientific evidence for effective policy making.

India and Sweden are both signatories to the Antarctic Treaty and the Protocol to the Antarctic Treaty on Environmental Protection. Sweden, as one of the eight “Arctic States”, is a member state in the Arctic Council whereas India has observer status in the grouping. The nodal ministry in India responsible for Polar research is the Ministry of Earth Sciences, and the National Centre for Polar and Ocean Research(NCPOR) is India’s premier R&D institution responsible for the country’s polar research activities.

During the Swedish state visit to India in December, OSI-India facilitated the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding on cooperation in Polar Science between the Ministry of Earth Sciences, India, and Ministry of Education and Research, Sweden. India and Sweden share mutual strategic priorities in funding Polar research and by signing the MoU India and Sweden have agreed to jointly developing a close working relationship in order to achieve the following aims:

  • Cooperate in the study of polar sciences by coordinating and sharing resources and data.
  • Coordinate and integrate mutual intellectual activities to enable more efficient operations and better utilization of resources.
  • Explore opportunities for cooperation and possible collaboration in polar activities related to both joint research projects and logistics.

“As India and Sweden both have a vigorous scientific program in the Polar Regions, both in the Arctic and Antarctic, the MoU signed between India and Sweden for collaboration in polar science will enable scientists in both countries to share their expertise gained over the years working in polar environments”, says Dr. Vijay Kumar at the Ministry of Earth Sciences

President and King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia of Sweden witness the Exchange of Agreements in New Delhi, December 02, 2019.

India has made significant strides in polar sciences, for example in areas such as cryosphere research, ice core drilling, ice sheet dynamics, crustal evolution, reconstruction and split of Gondwana super continent, polar geomorphology, remote sensing and polar climatology. We look forward to supporting the research communities in both Sweden and India to share knowledge, exchange best practice and collaborate in this exciting area!  If we succeed, we will not only ensure the prosperity and well-being of millions of people who depend on polar resources – we will also contribute to a safer, more stable and more sustainable world.