India's ocean floor treasure to boost industries

C P Surendran
Filed on July 17, 2017 | Last updated on July 17, 2017 at 06.28 pm

The materials and minerals will boost various sectors in India which is slated for explosive economic growth in the next 20 years.

After three years of exploration, Geological Survey of India (GSI) has generated 181,025 square kilometers of high-resolution seabed morphological data.

And they have found millions of tonnes of precious minerals and metals in the area mapped around peninsular India, according to a report in the Times of India.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg, the scientists say. That the marine resources were present and in massive quantities especially off  Mangaluru, Chennai, Mannar Basin, Andaman and Nicobar Islands and around Lakshadweep was discovered in 2014, during initial exploratory exercises.

The minerals, lime mud, phosphate-rich and calcareous sediments, hydrocarbons, ferrous deposits and micro-nodules of iron that the geologists came across then was indicative of more of the same if a more extensive exploration could be held.

Subsequently, GSI has generated 181,025 square kilometers of high-resolution seabed metal and minerals map. And they now know for sure the occurrence of more than 10,000 million tonnes of lime mud within the coastal Exclusive Economic Zones of India.

They have confirmed the presence of phosphate sediment off Karwar, Mangaluru and Chennai coasts, gas hydrates off Mannar Basin in Tamil Nadu, cobalt-bearing ferro-manganese crusts from the Andaman Sea and micro manganese nodules around Lakshadweep Sea.

There will be more of such operations. The GSI survey was possible because of the hi-tech research ships like Samudra Ratnakar, Samudra Kaustabh and Samudra Saudikama. Seabed mapping is a highly complicated task and demands extreme care in the co-ordination of the massive amount of data gathered.

The materials and minerals will boost various sectors in India which is slated for explosive economic growth in the next 20 years. Ashish Nath, superintendent geologist at GSI, was quoted as saying:  "Our main objectives were to identify potential zones of favourable mineralization and evaluate marine mineral resources to benefit all stakeholders in the field of mining and geology, specifically industries based on cement, paint, fertilizer, construction and rare earth elements."

The data and its conclusions have been delivered to the ministry of mines. The ministry would counter-check the data and process approval for further action.

Already the ministry has given permission to GSI to induct another exploratory ship. This one specializes in shallow water drilling. By 2019, she is expected to be ready for operation and to undertake mineral investigations for 3D modelling of mineral resources.

The GSI operations are gaining importance because the mineral and metal reserves under the surface of the solid earth are facing depletion. And the demands of a growing industrial India cannot be solely dependent on already exploited areas. The alternative is to import; but this would jack up the import bills in a cost-prohibitive manner.

Till date, only 5 per cent of the deep-sea floor, which covers about 60% of the earth's surface, has been properly explored. Proportionately, then, India has explored only a fraction of its seabed.

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