National Institute of Oceanography, India
|Motto||"To continuously improve our understanding of the seas around us and to translate this knowledge to benefit all"|
|Established||January 1, 1966|
|Research type||Advanced science/technology|
|Location||Dona Paula, Goa|
The National Institute of Oceanography (NIO) is one of 37 constituent laboratories of the CSIR - Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, an autonomous research organization in India. The institute has its headquarters in the coastal state of Goa, and regional centres in Kochi, Mumbai and Vizag. The Institute was established on 1 January 1966. At the end of over 40 years it has grown today into a large oceanographic laboratory of international repute mainly focusing on the understanding of special oceanographic features of the Northern Indian Ocean.
By the 1950s the community of oceanographers around the world had realized that while progress had been made in describing and in understanding the observed features of the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans, the Indian Ocean had remained relatively unexplored. It was important to address the fundamental oceanographic problems linked to monsoonal cycles experienced by the northern Indian Ocean; chemical characteristics of the water column; abundance and distribution of food resources like fish productivity and to understand the geology of the Indian Ocean through sea bed mapping and sampling.
Areas such as these are important not only to the global community of researchers, but also to the large population that lives in the countries around the Indian Ocean in general and the North Indian Ocean in particular. As a consequence, the global community of oceanographers organized the International Indian Ocean Expedition (IIOE) during 1959-65 to describe and understand the basic features of the Indian Ocean. The Government of India was an enthusiastic participant in this expedition. As the IIOE approached its concluding phase, the government decided that the Indians who participated in the expedition needed to have an institution where they could build on the oceanographic research skills they picked up during the expedition. It is out of such considerations that the National Institute of Oceanography (NIO) came into being.
Evolution of NIO
From humble beginnings, NIO has grown in size. Today, the institute is home to about 170 scientists (sanctioned strength is 200) of whom about 120 are Ph.D. holders, about 210 technical and supporting staff, and close to 120 administrative staff. The staff is spread across four campuses. The main campus is at Dona Paula, Goa. About 80% of the staff work here. NIO has three Regional Centres, which are located in Mumbai, Kochi and Visakhapatnam. About 20% of NIO staff is located at these centres.
An example of the dual role is a project on polymetallic nodules that has been sponsored by the Government of India at the institute for well over 25 years. By the late 1970s the government had decided that the country needed to enhance its resources of minerals of strategic interest. NIO was given the responsibility of exploring the oceans for this purpose. On 26 January 1981, NIO hauled up polymetallic nodules from a depth of 4,800 m in the western Indian Ocean using its first research vessel, RV Gaveshani, which was acquired in 1976.
Subsequently, work by NIO researchers helped India to gain the status of “Pioneer Investor” from the International Sea Bed Authority. While this research was aimed at placing the country in a strategically enhanced position, it also provided the Institute an opportunity to study the marine geology and geophysics of the Indian Ocean. Some of the issues they addressed are the following: Evolution of the Indian tectonic plates and its implications; determination of the time when the Himalayas started rising leading to monsoonal climate of the Indian subcontinent; nature of mid-ocean ridges (where new crusts form); characteristics of marine sedimentary facies; the role of rivers on the Indian subcontinent in marine sediment budget and paleoclimatic evolution as archived in the sediment cores.
During the first decade and a half of its founding, besides developing its main campus at Goa, a major project taken up by the Institute was organizing the first Indian Expedition to Antarctica in 1981. This project, together with exploration for polymetallic nodules, established close ties between NIO and the then Department of Ocean Development and subsequently the Ministry of Earth Sciences, Government of India. These ties helped the institute to grow while the government expanded the infrastructure for ocean research, technology and services in the country.
Since the early 1980s, an important theme for basic research in the Institute has been, and continues to be, understanding oceanographic implications of the special characteristics of the North Indian basin, which has some unique features: the basin is strictly tropical, with the Asian landmass restricting it south of about 25 degrees N; it is a relatively small basin when compared to the North/South Atlantic/Pacific and even the South Indian Ocean and, of course, there is the seasonality imposed by the monsoons. In the figure above red areas represent areas with elevation of a few kilometers. The presence of the Tibetan Plateau and the Himalayas influences the monsoons.
NIO's scientists have made handsome contributions to understanding the implications of these special features through observations and analyses. The former have included ship-based observations, time-series data collected with moored instruments and satellite data. ORV Sagar Kanya, which was acquired by the Government of India for use by oceanographic research institutions in India, has been playing a major role in these observations.
As noted earlier, an important theme of research at NIO has been understanding the oceanography of the North Indian Ocean – a tropical and small basin driven by strongly seasonal winds. The uppermost 200 m (oceans are on average about 4000 m deep) form the most active portion of the ocean. Here, major currents are forced by winds, and primary producers (microscopic plants that drift with currents) set the stage for intricate interactions that go across the traditional boundaries between disciplines, leading to a new discipline, biogeochemistry of the oceans. Some of NIO's most cited research contributions have been about two aspects of the upper layer: its circulation and biogeochemistry. Currents in this layer are driven by winds. As these are periodic over the North Indian Ocean, so are the currents, in striking contrast to other tropical regions of the world. The link between the winds and currents, however, is rather intricate. NIO researchers played a leading role in defining the nature of seasonality in the currents over the basin in general, and along the coast of India in particular. Subsequent analysis and model studies showed that the circulation of the North Indian Ocean needs to be looked at holistically across the basin because the winds at a location influence not only the local current, but have an impact on the current at remote locations at a later time owing to the propagation of large scale waves. For example, it is now known that the winds along the Indian east coast have a major impact on the seasonal cycle of the current off the Indian west coast.
By restricting the North Indian Ocean to south of 25o N, the Asian landmass prevents the basin from having access to the sub-tropical convergence zone, a region that usually occurs at a latitude of about 40o and is an important supplier of oxygen to the ocean. Not having access to such a regime, the North Indian Ocean is starved of oxygen. Another reason why oxygen is low is the consequence of high concentration of the primary producers of the region. When these plants and zooplankton that feed on them die and sink they get microbially degraded, thus consuming oxygen. NIO researchers have played a major role in answering critical questions concerning the processes that go on in this basin with lower than normal oxygen levels. Some of the questions that have been addressed are the following: Does the monsoon cycle lead to other seasonal cycles, such as that of biological production and flux of sinking particles? What are the special features of biogeochemistry of the ocean regime with low oxygen? How do the biogeochemical processes (denitrification, for example) that characterize this system work? What are the physical processes that sustain high productivity in the region? How does the monsoon cycle influence temporal evolution of ecosystems in the region?
The research contributions (journal publications, reports, books, etc.) from the Institute that provide details about the contributions mentioned above are available from the NIO website, www.nio.org. NIO's journal publications have shown a robust growth during the last few years.
NIO holds about 50 patents (see www.nio.org for the list), 60% of which has come from marine biotechnology studies. It has now been realized that organisms living in the marine environment carry a variety of molecules that could prove beneficial in developing new drugs and other products for healthcare. This is a new area of research that NIO's researchers are pursuing. Their studies have yielded not only research publications, but intellectual property for the institute. Another area of research that has generated patents for the institute is marine instrumentation. Some recent technologies developed by the institute include one for an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV).
Wearing the other hat – putting knowledge to use – NIO researchers have undertaken a number of projects in service of the industry in India. One of the first projects taken up by NIO on acquiring its research vessel RV Gaveshani was demarcation of a pipeline for carrying oil from India's first offshore oil field at Bombay High. This project was undertaken at the request of India's public sector organization, the Oil and Natural Gas Commission (ONGC). Since then, NIO has carried out a number of projects for India's public sector undertakings and private enterprises. The list of NIO's clientele includes major petroleum companies and ports. NIO's services have been used in the development of coastal areas by Bharuch Eco-Aqua Infrastructure Ltd., Ankleshwar, and Coastal Marine Construction & Engineering Ltd., Mumbai. NIO's services have also been sought by central and state governments. Sponsored and consultancy projects taken up by NIO include Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), Coastal Zone Management, Resource Surveys, Biofouling & Corrosion studies, and development of marine instruments.
A problem that has been worrying governments around the world during recent years is the transfer of organisms from one port to another located far away owing to transfer of water used by ships for ballast. Such transfer has been shown to lead sometimes to uncontrolled growth of organisms alien to the local ecology, which can then wipe out local fisheries. NIO scientists have played a major role in spreading awareness of the problem in India. In recognition of their efforts, the Directorate General of Shipping, Government of India, has sought NIO's help to develop plans for ballast water management in major Indian ports.
Facilities for research
The NIO Data Centre acquires, processes, formats and stores data generated by the Institute (from about 1000 cruises during 1973 to 2009) in a database for easy and efficient retrieval and supply to end users. Information about data held by NIO can be accessed from www.nio.org.
The library of the Institute has a collection of over 35,000 books and bound volumes of journals is almost certainly the largest such collection in the country in the field of oceanography. Besides the print collection, the library has on-line access to over 3,000 journals either by direct subscription or as a part of a consortium. Participation of the library in international programmes has made this library a source of information about Indian oceanographic studies for the rest of the world and also to network with other, larger libraries to access documents not available in its holdings.
Research at the institute is supported by a large number of well-equipped laboratories on its campuses and by the seagoing capability offered by its ships. To support its multi-disciplinary ocean research programmes, the institute plans to maintain a fleet of three research vessels. The smallest of these is the 23 m long coastal research vessel CRV Sagar Sukti. The recently acquired 56.5 m long RV Sindhu Sankalp serves primarily on the continental margins, but it is capable of open-sea voyages. NIO's 80 m long research vessel RV Sindhu Sadhana, which will be capable of full open-sea studies, is under construction at the ABG Shipyard, Surat. It is expected to join the institute during 2011-12.
The institute has, over time, developed the capability of deploying and retrieving instruments hoisted over moorings in depths from 5 to 5,000 m. These instruments record time-series data during the period of deployment, which can be as long as two years.
Opportunities to pursue research and doctoral studies
To support its varied activities, NIO uses the services of limited-tenure staff, including doctoral students, project assistants and post-doctoral fellows. Their numbers have grown significantly with the growth in research programmes. The largest increase has been in the number of project assistants since CSIR introduced the “Project Assistant Scheme” to tap the services of fresh graduates for enhancing the productivity of its institutions. Hired regularly through walk-in interviews, the fresh graduates are permitted by this scheme to gain hands-on exposure to oceanographic research. The graduates also have the option of becoming doctoral students through the Senior Research Fellow scheme of the Human Resource Development Group (HRDG) of CSIR. A number of universities have recognized NIO as a centre for doctoral research and about 50 scientists from amongst its staff are at present recognized by these universities as doctoral research guides. With the establishment of the Academy for Scientific and Innovative Research (AcSIR), CSIR's institutions are poised to take major initiatives in advanced education in the country. NIO's Research Council has recommended that the institute take steps to start a school of oceanography as early as possible to address the problem of shortage of advanced manpower in ocean sciences in the country. The number of Junior Research Fellows, qualified through NET (i.e., the National Eligibility Test, conducted by CSIR), Senior Research Fellows (selected by HRDG, CSIR) and Project Assistants who are enrolled for Ph.D. in the Institute is now 80. Accommodation to doctoral students is usually provided on the Institute's residential campus.
- NIO's official website
- Digital Repository Service NIO
- Biosearch: Marine biodiversity database of India