India has joined an elite league of nations like US, Japan and China in deep sea mining with the successful completion of the Remotely Operable Submersible with 6000-m depth capacity vehicle (ROSUB 6000) expedition at the Central Indian Ocean Basin from onboard ocean research vessel Sagar Nidhi on April 17.
The Remotely Operable Vehicle (ROV) also returned with rock nodules of manganese, much to the delight of the scientists working on the project. An Indian flag was also dropped down into the seabed at a depth of 5,289 m, using Sagar Nidhi.
"India has deep sea mining rights in 75,000 sq km of area in the Central Indian, Ocean about 2,500 km from the tip of Kanyakumari.
The ROV reached a depth of 5,289 m below sea at a pressure of 600 times more than the normal atmospheric pressure and successfully completed its expedition," Union Minister of State for Earth Sciences Prithviraj Chavan told reporters at the National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT) at suburban Pallikarani.
After preliminary preparations, the expedition left Mangalore on April 1 and reached the polymetallic nodule site in the Central Indian Ocean Basin on April 12.
"The ROV was retrieved after some electrical problems were detected during the first trial on April 14. It was redeployed on April 17 at the same location and reached a depth of 5,289 m," Mr Chavan said.
"India now joins US, Japan and China as some of the few nations in the world to have achieved such a deep sea mapping objective," he added.
Mr Chavan said: "We have to analyse the data collected from this expedition. This is a very futuristic programme and can go a long way in mitigating shortage of natural resources like manganese, cobalt, nickel and natural gases." He said the main objective of the expedition was to map the sea bed through a remote process. "We can now carry out more such expeditions with the help of the reusable ROV."
With deep sea mining being a relatively new area of scientific exploration of resources in the seabed, other countries do not share data or information.
In this context, the Indian expedition was planned and executed indigenously.
"Only the ROV was developed by NIOT in association with Russia's Experimental Design Bureau and Oceanological Engineering (EDBOE).
The research and development based on the success of the ROV expedition can assist in a vast spectrum of activities, including studying climate change and discovering new drugs," the Minister informed.
The NIOT-EDBOE team took four years to evolve the reusable ROV that could penetrate the depths of deep sea and was capable of reaching down to 6,000 m.
The ROV used multi-beam sonar to study the depths of the sea.
"Plants survive under adverse conditions with the help of certain bio-compounds. If we can separate the bio-compounds from deep sea plant life, we can perhaps look out for medicines to cure cancer and diabetes, akin to preparing medicines from snake poison," Secretary in the ministry of Earth Sciences Shailesh Nayak, who was also present, said.
The scientists also conducted an experiment of dropping a paper cup at that depth. Due to the intense pressure of the deep sea, the paper cup was compressed to nearly one-fifth of its original size.
The ongoing deep sea project has been taken up at a cost of Rs 25 to Rs 30 crore.
"However, once we harvest the fruits of our hard work in deep sea mining, the costs will be reduced," Mr Nayak added.