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Oceanographic research benefits symbiotic relationship with fishermen
About 25% of India's population resides in the coastal zone. The activities of these people vary from traditional fishing to high-tech oil and gas exploration in the 2 million sq. km. of Indian EEZ. These communities, irrespective of their level of technology, would like to know 'how it is going to be out there when they are at sea'. Providing such information to this heterogeneous community demands the existence of a coastal environmental prediction system that would routinely provide forecasts on 'how it is going to be out there when they are at sea'. Such a forecast system requires a mathematical model (or, more correctly, a modelling system) that mimics the actual conditions at sea on a day-to-day basis. As a pre-condition, such a model should first mimic the observed currents, waves, etc.
At present, we do not have sufficient data to document the changes on time scales shorter than a few months (called intra-seasonal frequencies) along the Indian coast. Absence of data leads to absence of hypotheses, which, in turn, implies that we do not have the means today to make predictions of 'the conditions at sea' on a day-to-day basis. Building such a prediction system requires two things: a system for making relevant observations and the insight that generalises these observations to yield theories (science) that enables predictions.
Building the science underlying a prediction system for the Indian coastal ocean is the objective of the National Institute of Oceanography's (NIO) supra-institutional project (SIP) ) being funded by The Council of Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR). This SIP project 'Observing and modelling the interaction between Indian Ocean, atmosphere and coastal seas (OMICS)' compliments another project, which makes long-term measurements along the Indian coast and is funded by the Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS), an institution under the Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES). This programme funded by INCOIS is called "Enabling a forecasting system for the Indian seas: Observational component (EnFoSIS-O)".
As stated above, these projects involve making observations in the seas around India and these observations will then have to be simulated using numerical models. The objective is two fold: simulate the observations as accurately as possible with state-of-the-art general circulation models, and use a suite of models to decipher the dynamics that leads to the observed variability.
The Oceanographic Mooring Group at NIO works in tandem with the research scientists in deploying the subsurface moorings, recovering the data, and redeploying the instrumented moorings at sea to maintain continuity of collecting the time-series data. Presently there are 14 locations along the Indian coast where these subsurface buoys have been deployed.
On 16 September 2009, information was received at NIO via satellite that one of the subsurface Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler (ADCP) moored off Mumbai coast may have surfaced from 100m deep waters, but the exact location could not be determined. The Coast Guard was alerted and pictures of the moored ADCP buoy were faxed and emailed to them. The scientist-in-charge of the NIO regional centre at Mumbai was also informed, and he, in turn, alerted the fisheries department.
Based on previous experience of recovery of a similar mooring, newspaper advertisements were placed in the local Gujarati and Marathi dailies. Over the weekend and holidays that followed, an amazing number of calls were received from the fishing community and people who had spotted some floating objects in the sea off Gujarat. On 22 September, well after office hours, a call was received at the office of the NIO director about an orange coloured 1m diameter buoy being located and this information was immediately passed on to the concerned scientists.
Telephone contact established the same night that the buoy in question was most likely the same one that had been lost. The caller, Mr Gohel Tulsi Keshav from Veraval, Gujarat was responding to the newspaper advertisement, which carried a photograph of the ADCP buoy, and his description left no doubt about the validity of his claim. Any lingering doubts were laid to rest when he mailed a photograph. Apparently, the ADCP buoy had got entangled in the fishing net of a trawler owned by Mr. Gohel's relative.
An officer from NIO was deputed to go to Veraval and bring back the system containing the valuable data of nearly 11 months. This buoy had been deployed in the water on 21 October 2008, one day before the Chandrayaan launch. The scientists are now looking forward to analyse the data recorded by this buoy.
Incidentally, in the past two years, this is the third time a coastal ADCP buoy has been entangled in the fishing nets. The earlier 2 occasions were off Malpe, Karnataka and off Kollam in Kerala state, and on those occasions too, we were successful in recovering the buoy with data intact. We have found the fishermen to be cooperative in all our interactions with them as they too realize that they are the beneficiaries of the research that is being done by NIO and INCOIS.
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