Director's review in latest annual report
The reporting year 2013-2014 was very eventful for CSIR-National Institute of Oceanography and as well for me, both professionally and personally. It was during this year that the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research put me at the helm to steer this grand ship called CSIR-NIO on which I have been sailing and evolving as a scientist for more than four decades. It is a matter of great honour and privilege for me to lead this esteemed organization.
To be successful, any organization needs good staff as well as good programmes. Research projects of the Institute in the XII Plan had been finalized after prolonged planning and discussions, both within the Institute and beyond with other sister laboratories in the Physical Sciences cluster of CSIR. Although these projects were initiated in 2012-2013, the work gathered full steam only in 2013-2014. In almost all these cases, the funding constraints forced slight scaling down of the originally approved work plans without making major compromises in the objectives. Some changes in the work plan and strategy were inevitable during the implementation of these projects, but by and large the projects are on schedule and meeting the stated objectives. If anything, a few additional investigations/work components have been added to the originally approved projects that are still well within the scope and objectives of the approved programmes. One such area is the coral reef ecosystem that had not attracted as much attention as it deserves. These ecosystems are facing threats due to global warming (bleaching), sea level rise, ocean acidification, local pollution and other human activities. CSIR-NIO has drawn up a comprehensive multi-disciplinary proposal for research on coral reefs, which has been endorsed by the Research Council. While efforts are underway to secure external funding for this programme, the Institute has on its own initiated studies on a modest level to work on three different types of coral reef ecosystems: a shallow, offshore submerged reef (the Angria Bank), a coastal reef that is subjected to extreme changes in physico-chemical conditions (around the Grande Island off the Goa coast), and the better-known fringing reef along the southeast coast of India. The highlights and achievements of each of these ongoing projects are provided in this report.
As for the staff, CSIR-NIO is currently facing a sort of middle-age crisis. A large number of its researchers recruited in the 1980s, during the period of rapid growth of marine sciences in the country, are on the verge of retirement. Recruitment of fresh staff has not kept pace with retirements as a result of which about one-third of the sanctioned vacancies remain unfilled. The age distribution among the scientists is, therefore, quite skewed. There is an urgent need to recruit young researchers to sustain programmes on emerging issues over the next few decades. . In this reporting year, we took initiative and filled up 13 scientific positions in various disciplines. Fortunately, CSIR-NIO has sufficient (around 300) temporary staff (project assistants, research fellows, research associates, etc.), over a third of whom are working for their Ph.Ds. They continue to make invaluable contribution to the Institute’s research outputs. Many of the youngsters trained by CSIR-NIO have found placement in research and academic institutes engaged in oceanographic and allied research. Thus, CSIR-NIO has been playing a key role in the development of marine sciences in the country. The establishment of the Academy of Scientific & Innovative Research (AcSIR) has enabled the Institute to formally offer courses to PhD students. During 2013-2014, CSIR-NIO selected 10 students belonging to various disciplines under this programme.
In addition to its headquarters in Goa, CSIR-NIO has regional centres in Mumbai, Kochi, and Visakhapatnam. Apart from participating in the Institute’s framework programmes, these three regional centres work on local and regional problems helping various public and private sector organizations in addressing the environmental problems and issues related to coastal development. In order to define their responsibilities more precisely, the RCs have been asked to prepare long-term vision plans. This activity has already been completed this year for RCs at Kochi and Visakhapatnam, leading to identification of important thrust areas that these units must take up immediately. In the case of RC Visakhapatnam, for example, oceanography of the Andaman Sea has been identified as one of the thrust areas of research. For RC Kochi, biogeochemistry and ecology of the upwelling dominated Southeastern Arabian Sea is the focal area of research. This includes mechanisms of formation and processes of the enigmatic mud-banks of Kerala. RC Kochi had organized a brainstorming session on “Mudbanks of Kerala: the known and the unknown” on 20-21 January 2014 in which 75 researchers and students from 17 different organizations took part. Based on the problems identified at the Workshop, a systematic multi-disciplinary study of Alleppey Mudbanks has been initiated. The Institute has also started time series measurements off Mumbai and Kochi in addition to those already going on at the CATS site off Goa. This also includes observations on fisheries in collaboration with the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (CMFRI), Kochi. This marks the beginning of integrating research at the lower trophic levels carried out at CSIR-NIO with the ongoing work on higher trophic levels at CMFRI. This is essential for a more effective and sustainable management of our marine living resources.
The most important event of 2013-2014 for CSIR-NIO was the acquisition of R.V. Sindhu Sadhana that had been under construction at ABG Shipyard since 2009. The Institute took possession of the vessel on 30th November 2013. The vessel was first brought to Goa for additional work at the Western India Shipyard followed by the mounting on hull of geophysical equipment at Cochin Shipyard. The vessel has since been made fully functional and is now being used for regular cruises. The acquisition of the vessel has fulfilled the long-cherished dream of CSIR-NIO to plan and sustain large scale research programmes that can come only from owning and operating a modern, multi-oceanographic research vessel capable of longer endurances and deeper access. R.V. Sadhana is the first brand new vessel acquired by CSIR-NIO. The Institute had previously owned three other vessels (R.V. Gaveshani, C.R.V. Sagar Sukti, and the R.V. Sindhu Sankalp), the last of which is still in use. These small vessels were, however, not meant for research use originally and had to be converted for oceanographic purpose on acquisition resulting in compromises on space, endurance and capabilities. The historic acquisition of Sindhu Sadhana will facilitate full implementation of CSIR-NIO’s research programmes.
The administrative sections of CSIR-NIO were shifted to a new building. Another major infrastructural development was completion of the second phase of laboratory building at RC Mumbai. This has led to additional ~3200 square meters floor space to the previously existing 1000 square meters area. A high performance computing facility, consisting of 32 nodes (512 cores) with approximate 20TB storage was installed at the headquarters during this year. This system will greatly augment the computational facilities related to modeling of oceanic processes.
CSIR-NIO continued to maintain high research output during 2013-2014: a total of 246 research papers were published with the total impact factor reaching an all time high of 422.8 with an impressive average IF per publication of 1.72. During the period the Institute filed 1 patent while three patents filed previously were granted.
CSIR-NIO undertook 22 grant-in-aid projects supported by various central and state government organizations. Besides the R&D activities, CSIR-NIO also carried out 38 sponsored projects for private and public sector agencies. The total external cash flow generated on account of these sponsored projects work was Rs. 33.6 crore, which is approximately a quarter of its annual budget.
A number of important events were hosted by CSIR-NIO during 2013-2014. These included (a) the 8th National Conference on Marine Archaeology; (b) 30th Anniversary of the Third Indian Scientific Expedition to Antarctica in which CSIR-NIO had played a key role; (c) 83rd Annual Session of the National Academy of Sciences of India jointly organized with Goa University; (d) Fifth Indian National Conference on Harbour and Ocean Engineering; and (e) a Seminar on Coastal Environment and Health. The CSIR Foundation Day lecture on 26th September 2013 was delivered by Dr. B.N. Goswami, Director, IITM, Pune on “The Indian Summer Monsoon in a Changing Climate: A Declining Present and an Uncertain Future!”. The eminent micropaleontologist, Prof. Ashok Sahini, delivered a public talk on “Biominerals and the Science of Building Skeletons“ on the occasion of CSIR-NIO Foundation Day on 1st January 2014.
CSIR-NIO took numerous initiatives concerning human resource development both on national and regional levels. It included two training prgrammes organized for the SAARC and Indian Ocean Rim countries on multidisciplinary observations for coastal zone management, a course on marine robotics, and a faculty training and motivation programme for high school science teachers from Goa.
CSIR-NIO took part in a number of outreach activities such as the Second Science Expo, Aqua Goa Mega Fish Fest 2014 and Science Fiesta 2014. The Institute was kept open for public on the CSIR and NIO Foundation Days and the National Science Day when thousands of people, particularly school children visited the Institute to learn about its activities.
The excellent work being carried out by CSIR-NIO is also reflected in the large number of awards received by its employees. The Institute itself received the 3rd prize among 60 Central Government offices located in North Goa for its commendable performance in implementing the Official Language Policy of the Government during the year 2012-13. I wish to congratulate all those in the teams who brought honours and recognition to the organization through their achievements.