RN Singh, INSA senior scientist, CSIR-National Geophysical Research Institute, Hyderabad sheds light on research in earth sciences in India.
Is India prepared to withstand a Nepal-like earthquake?
Such big earthquakes have not occurred within the interior of the Indian continental region in recorded history, so such an event would be very rare. There is no doubt that the whole Indian landmass is being compressed due to the ongoing evolution of the Himalayas and this has generated many intraplate earthquakes. So, one can expect occurrences of earthquakes of relatively lesser magnitude. Earthquakes do not kill people, badly planned buildings do. If buildings are properly designed and well constructed, it won’t be a problem to withstand natural calamities. We should scientifically continuously assess the risks on active faults and use this knowledge in the construction industry. This would involve multi-skills of not only scientists, but social scientists as well.
Is India at par with other countries when it comes to research in the field of earth sciences?
There is a gap between what we have achieved and what the Western countries have done, both in numbers and quality of contents. This started in the 18th and 19th century and we have not yet succeeded in closing this gap, especially in hard science areas. This gap is also reflected in the quality of our earth science research. Though establishment of various research institutions has improved the situation in few areas of earth sciences, more needs to be done. Model centric thinking, a significant trait of Western science (whether mechanistic or data driven) should pervade in all our endeavours to bridge this gap. Government initiatives like Digital India and Make in India will raise technological base of the country which will impact positively in our research activities.
Is there a need for more experts in this field? This is an era of ‘team science’ and due to Internet it has become possible to work with the best scientists in India and all over the world. If impediments like digital accessibility (availability of cheap internet service) are removed, there will be avenues for collaboration. We need more experts in the field of near-surface earth system science and deep earth science studies.
A career in earth sciences is for those who...
Earth science has physical, chemical, biological and social aspects; it can be useful when all these aspects are integrated. It requires field work for observations and data assimilation with models for prediction which is highly computation intensive, so students from related disciplines such as physics, mathematics, biology and also engineering can pursue a career in earth science. They will have full support from government for doing meaningful research. It is a highly creative field so the best should join.