India is set to defy international opposition to set up its third permanent base in east Antarctica in a proposed protected zone in the world’s driest, coldest and most fragile continent.
As the rocky site, dotted with freshwater lakes, at Larsemann Hills, East Antarctica, is in the middle of a proposed Antarctica Specially Managed Area (ASMA) — planned since 2000 by several nations (but not India) to reduce environmental impact — global groups are urging India to share Australia’s existing Mawson station.
India’s argument against shifting the site: pre-history. “The Godavari would have flowed there about 130 million years ago when the continent was part of the Gondwana landmass,’’ says Ocean Development secretary PS Goel.
So while Australia would “welcome any interest to share facilities”, India is not too keen. “We are willing to share facilities with Australia, but the geology at the proposed site suits us because it is specific to Indian research interests,’’ said Goel.
India’s proposed site, 600 km from its Maitri station, is also suitable because it’s near the ocean. That means construction is easy — relatively.
Director R Ravindra from Goa’s National Centre for Antarctic and Oceanic Research is in Hobart, Australia, this week, to report on the planned base to the Scientific Committee on Antarctica Research.
Goel emphasised that India’s presence there would be 15-20 scientists for some months annually, compared to the nearly 30,000 tourists who visit Antarctica every year. “We’ll ensure there will be no significant environmental impact,’’ he said.
In June, India’s plan was discussed at the Antarctica Treaty Consultative Meeting in Edinburgh, Scotland, where an Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition (ASOC) case study suggested that India consider whether it could share an existing facility.
“This proposal of India is not, in our opinion, the best option,’’ James Barnes, ASOC executive director told HT from France. “That the proposed station would be in the middle of a virtually final ASMA plan does not help India’s case.’’