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'JOIDES resolution' opens doors to new explorations
Oceanographic research in India has taken one more turn in the recent past. An American drill ship 'JOIDES Resolution' did drilling and coring operations in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of India - opening doors to new areas in the field of microbiology, geochemistry and sedimentology of gas hydrate bearing sediments. This ship was flagged off by Shri Murli Deora, Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas, on 30 April 2006 from Mumbai port when it started its mission of gas hydrate exploration in Indian EEZ. To a question, "What is so important about this ship when we have so many research vessels in India"? Dr Aninda Mazumdar, a Scientist at the National Institute of Oceanography, who recently returned after participating in two of its legs indicated " We have vessels that can do coring to the depth of maximum 24 meters. Whereas, JOIDES is capable of coring down to a depth of more than 1500m below the sea floor - the data we would never get otherwise. This 143 m long research vessel can operate over a water depth range of 37.5 to 5980m. Above all, owing to the availability of a large range of state of the art instrumentation, complete on-board characterization of sediment cores (~9m long) is possible which is vital for a successful exploration". As part of the ongoing drilling program of NGHP, the ship has so far collected cores from the west coast of India and is presently working in the Krishna-Godavari Basin. It will also collect cores from the Mahanadi and Andaman Basins. The cores collected in the Krishna-Godavari Basin have given indications of an over 128 m thick gas hydrate layer that could serve as an energy resource in upcoming years for India. Aninda, seen fully charged with enthusiasm after his return from the ship, said that the methane is available in the form of solid crystalline structures in the organic rich sediments. The methane hydrate structure is composed of methane and water molecules in a cage (clathrate) like pattern. The hydrate structure which is otherwise stable within the insitu temperature-pressure conditions rapidly destabilizes into methane gas and fresh water by the time it is brought on-board. This results in poor core recovery - he added. Aninda, showed some photos of partially hollow cores and attributed it to possible evaporation of hydrate when the cores were brought to the water column having higher temperature and lower pressure! So the resource exists but we cannot harvest it unless we develop suitable technology! - a challenge for mankind. Of course, the ship used different pressure coring techniques like PCS, FPC etc. to bring the undisturbed hydrate core samples (~1m) to the vessel. The pressure coring techniques help in quantification of methane gas volume by controlled degassing and in unraveling the shape and distribution of the hydrate layers by x-ray imaging technique. Detail estimation of the hydrate reserve will involve integration of chemical and geophysical data which include downhole logging and seismic imaging- Aninda said. While the gas, once available for use, would help in resolving the energy requirements of the country, the hydrate samples will help us in analyzing the types of gas hydrate crystal structure, its degassing properties and whether the methane is of biogenic or thermogenic origin, - all of great interest to science. Apart from the gas hydrates, the long cores will serve as source material for other scientific studies in microbiology, sedimentology, interstitial water chemistry, solid phase chemistry, stable isotopic studies, etc. One half of each core will be stored at ONGC, Panvel and would help the scientific community in India to sample the same for different studies in future. When asked how NIO benefited by participation in this expedition, Aninda said, to be on board 'JOIDES Resolution' itself is an unique experience. There are very few research vessels that can drill and core to such depths. He also added that the NIO participants learnt a lot while working on this ship with American experts about handling various activities related to cores that are brought to the laboratory on board. Processing, sampling, storing the large cores, reading infra-red camera, etc., are all very important techniques when the coring is done. The development of tools used for contamination free sampling, cutting the core vertically and horizontally, the squeezers, sub sampling itself becomes an area that one can contribute to. All these experiences would be used for the coring facility in NIO's upcoming research vessel - though it would have the capacity to collect only about 20-25 meters long core. Apart from learning the tools and techniques, NIO is getting sub-samples in very large quantity from these cores and these would open challenging opportunities in understanding the Nature - he added. Aninda is one of the scientists on the 'JIODIES Resolution' from NIO. It is, in fact, a large team - headed by Dr M.V. Ramana and other participants - D. V. Borole, P.A. Loka Bharathi, M. Judith, P. Dewangan, G P. Naik, B. R. Rao, K. Muralidhar, P. Aditya, T. Ramprasad, Firoz. K. Badesab, M. Desa, Christabell Fernandes and P. Rane, etc., who are all either deeply involved in further analysis after return from the vessel or preparing themselves for joining the subsequent legs of JOIDES with eager anticipation.
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