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Deep Ocean Mission

Introduction


The Government of India has launched its ambitious Deep Ocean Mission (DOM) through the Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES) with an intention to develop technologies to harness the living and non-living resources from the deep-oceans.The deep sea has the most biodiversity on the planet, including novel bio-molecules with industrial and biomedical applications. The ever-expanding search for new sources of chemical diversity, particularly deep-sea organisms, has emerged as a new frontier in drug discovery and development. Despite their importance, Indian deep-sea environments have received little attention, and cutting-edge technologies for harnessing deep-sea resources are scarce. To address this challenge, massive deep ocean exploration mission is in pipeline.


Oceans, which cover 70% of the globe, continue to play an important role in our lives. Approximately 95% of the Deep Ocean remains unexplored. With three sides surrounded by oceans and approximately 30% of the country's population living in coastal areas, the ocean is a major economic factor supporting fisheries and aquaculture, tourism, livelihoods, and blue trade in India. Oceans are also a source of food, energy, minerals, and medicines, as well as a weather and climate regulator that supports life on Earth. The United Nations (UN) has designated the decade 2021-2030 as the Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, recognising the importance of the oceans to sustainability. India enjoys a privileged maritime position. It has nine coastal states and 1382 islands along its 7517 km long coastline.


The Deep Ocean Mission has six major components:


1) Deep Sea Mining Technologies and Manned Submersible Development:


A manned submersible will be developed to carry three people to a depth of 6000 metres in the ocean with a suite of scientific sensors and tools. Only a few countries have developed this capability. In addition, an Integrated Mining System will be developed to mine Polymetallic Nodules from depths of 6000 metres in the central Indian Ocean. Mineral exploration studies will pave the way for commercial exploitation in the near future, as and when a commercial exploitation code is developed by the International Seabed Authority, a United Nations organisation. This component will contribute to the Blue Economy priority area of deep sea mineral and energy exploration and utilisation.


2) Development of Ocean Climate Change Advisory Services:


Under this proof of concept component, a suite of observations and models will be developed to understand and provide future projections of important climate variables on seasonal to decadal time scales. This component will benefit coastal tourism, a Blue Economy priority area.


3) Technological advances for deep-sea biodiversity exploration and conservation:


The main focus will be on bio-prospecting of deep sea flora and fauna, including microbes, and studies on the sustainable utilisation of deep sea bio-resources. This component will contribute to the Blue Economy priority area of marine fisheries and related services.


4) Deep Ocean Survey and Exploration:


The primary goal of this component is to explore and identify potential multi-metal hydrothermal sulphide mineralization sites along the Indian Ocean's mid-oceanic ridges. This component will also contribute to the Blue Economy priority area of deep sea resource exploration.


5) Energy and freshwater from the ocean:


This proof of concept proposal envisions studies and detailed engineering designs for an offshore Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) powered desalination plant. This component will aid in the development of offshore energy, a Blue Economy priority.


6) Ocean Biology Advanced Marine Station


The goal of this component is to develop human capacity and enterprise in ocean biology and engineering. Through on-site business incubator facilities, this component will translate research into industrial application and product development. This component will help the Blue Economy priority areas of Marine Biology, Trade, and Manufacturing.


Significance


Deep sea mining technologies have strategic implications and are not commercially available. As a result, efforts will be made to indigenize technologies through collaboration with leading institutes and private sectors. A research vessel for deep sea exploration would be built in an Indian shipyard, creating job opportunities. This mission is also aimed at increasing capacity in marine biology, which will lead to job opportunities in Indian industries. Furthermore, the design, development, and fabrication of specialised equipment, ships, and the establishment of necessary infrastructure are expected to spur the growth of the Indian industry, particularly MSME and start-ups.


This initiative will focus on the inventorization of deep-sea fauna and flora of hotspots such as sea mounts, capacity building on deep-sea taxonomy and genomic studies, the development of a biodiversity grid, the implementation of National Biodiversity Targets, and the bio-prospecting of deep-sea biota including microbes for the sustainable utilisation of deep-sea based bio-resources.


The programme would involve the systematic sampling of deep-sea fauna and flora from seamounts in the Indian Ocean using remotely operated vehicles. The successful implementation of the programme envisions outputs leading to yet another dimension of development in modern India's scientific frontier via Blue Economy.


The implementation of this programme would result in the extraction of socially useful and commercially relevant knowledge, processes, and technologies from the sea. This would also allow the country to become a transnational and regional research hub for marine biology and biotechnology.

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