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New Indian research station at the Arctic

P. Sunderarajan

NEW DELHI: India now has its own research station at the Arctic. Union Science and Technology Minister Kapil Sibal inaugurated ‘Himadri’ on Tuesday. India has a station in Antarctica.

Equipped with state-of-the-art facilities for year-round scientific work, the station is at Ny-Alesund in Norway, which is the northern-most permanent human settlement, 1,200 km from the North Pole. Ny-Alesund is the playground for scientists interested in Arctic research.

With Himadri, India has become the 11th country to have established a full-fledged research station here. The others are Britain, Germany, France, Italy, China, Japan, South Korea, The Netherlands, Sweden and Norway.

India began its Arctic research programme in August 2007 with five scientists. The National Centre for Antarctic and Ocean Research, an autonomous institution under the Ministry of Earth Sciences, will manage Himadri. Based in Goa, NCAOR has been coordinating India’s polar research.

Mr. Sibal visited the Svalbard Global Seed Vault and deposited five varieties of Indian seeds — two of rice (IR-36 and IR –64) and three of wheat (Lerma Rojo, Sonoro-64, and ridley).

Called the Doomsday Vault, the facility has been set up under a tripartite agreement between the Norwegian government, the Global Crop Diversity Trust and the Nordic Genetic Resource Centre. It is meant as a safety net against any loss of seed diversity in traditional gene banks due to accidents, equipment failures, natural disasters, mismanagement or funding cuts. The site is free of tectonic activity and has permafrost, which will aid in the preservation of seeds. It is 130 m above sea level.

The Norwegian government has met the $9-million cost of building the vault, and will meet the upkeep costs, too. It will meet part of the operational costs, along with the Global Crop Diversity Trust. The primary funders of the trust are the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the U.K., Norway, Australia, Switzerland and Sweden. India, Brazil, Ethiopia and Columbia have also contributed to the Trust.

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