Ny Alesund Science Plan

Arctic Ocean and the surrounding regions are one of the most important areas that not only govern the earth’s climate but also faithfully record its past climatic history. The region is also an excellent harbinger of future change, because the signals or clues that signify climate change are so much stronger in the Arctic than elsewhere on the planet. The thermohaline circulation that originates in the northern Atlantic and southern Arctic is the major force that drives not only the oceanic circulation but also regulate the global climate. Possible changes in this global circulation can pose a threat to Arctic region and thereby the global climate. Any change in extreme Northern hemisphere (Arctic region) can affect the global climate, sea level, biodiversity etc. The region is also of special significance to the Indian subcontinent as several studies have shown that there exist a teleconnection between the northern polar region and Indian monsoon intensity, which forms the backbone of Indian economy. The exact mechanism by which this teleconnection exists is still open to debate and is a topic of ongoing research (Knutti et al. 2006). However, till date no major systematic study or long-term experiments have been carried out by the Indian scientific community in the Arctic. This becomes more glaring given the fact that India was one of the original signatories of the Svalbard Treaty of February 1920 whereby it gets right to use the Arctic islands of Svalbard (under the governorship of the Kingdom of Norway) for “business activities”. In the present-day context this would mean that the country can carry out various scientific activities of global relevance at Svalbard.


India already has a strong presence in Antarctica for the past 25-odd years. In view of the scientific and logistic expertise gained over the years in the Southern Hemisphere, India is now in a position to play an active role in a bi-hemispherical approach to Polar Sciences. Taking this into account, during 2007 the Government of India decided to explore the feasibility of dovetailing the country’s scientific agenda in the Antarctic region with some major long-term scientific initiatives in the Svalbard area as well. The National Centre for Antarctic and Ocean Research (NCAOR), an R&D Wing of the Ministry of Earth Sciences, Government of India was also designated as the nodal agency to plan, formulate, co-ordinate and implement the Programme as a multi-institutional national endeavor.


Following the above, during March 2007, NCAOR invited proposals from scientists from various Indian institutions with a sustained interest in studies of the polar realm. A total of 14 proposals were received in the fields of microbiology, atmospheric sciences, glaciology, geology, paleoclimatology and remote sensing. These proposals were peer-reviewed in terms of both their scientific content and logistic feasibility. Concurrently, discussions were also held with the Executive Director, Norwegian Polar Institute (NPI) as well as with other scientists engaged in Arctic studies so as to concretise the proposals. A five-member scientific team visited the International Arctic Research facilities at Ny-Alesund during August-September 2007 and initiated the first-ever scientific studies by India in the Arctic realm. Utilising the facilities available at the International Arctic Research Base at Ny-Ålesund, these scientists carried out data acquisition relating to four scientific projects in the fields of Atmospheric Sciences, Microbiology, Earth Sciences and Glaciology.


Following the encouraging results of the scientific studies carried out during the summer of 2007, three more batches of scientists travelled to Ny-Alesund during the late winter/early spring of 2008, and again during the summer months of 2008, to initiate new projects in the fields of space physics, atmospheric science, biology, micropaleontology & paleoclimatology. In addition, the studies carried out during the summer of 2007 were also resumed.


Considering (i) the sustained interest shown by Indian scientists in pursuing scientific

studies in the Arctic, (ii) the extensive field and laboratory support required for pursuing these activities in the Arctic, and (iii) the availability of the requisite facilities at the International Arctic Research base at Ny-Ålesund, NCAOR initiated a series of discussions with the officials of the Kings Bay AS exploring the feasibility of obtaining on lease one of the buildings available at Ny-Alesund which could be refurbished and converted to serve as India’s Research Station.


Based on the discussions and after obtaining the mandatory clearances from the Indian Government, a building measuring approximately 220 m2 was taken on lease by NCAOR for a five year period from 1st Jan 2008. This building christened “HIMADRI” (“the abode of snow”) with adequate living and work space for 8 scientists was formally declared open by H E Kapil Sibal,India’s Minister of Science & Technology and Earth Science on the Ist july 2008 in the distinguished presence of H E Ms. Tora Aasland,Minister of Research and Higher Education(Norway),Dr. Anette Schavan,Minister of Science(Germany) and several scientists and policy makers from Norway and elsewhere involved in the Ny-Alesund activities.In order to catalyse the ongoing scientific activities, NCAOR also entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the NPI signaling the beginning of scientific co-operation and collaborative research in the following fields of scientific research.


  1. Geological mapping and allied earth science studies
  2. Biogeochemistry of sea-ice ecosystems
  3. Atmospherics Physics and Chemistry
  4. Glaciological Studies
  5. Paleoclimatology