New Delhi, May 24 (IANS) India's status as an observer at the eight-nation Arctic Council will give it a chance to understand the ice cap's climate, which impacts the Indian monsoon, along with the possibility of exploring the mineral-rich North Pole and shorter shipping routes for future business, a senior official said.
"At the momment our interest is mainly from the science (of the region). But later, we could explore business prospects too," Shailesh Nayak, secretary in the Ministry of Earth Sciences, told IANS.
"The science of the region is important as whatever happens in the Arctic climate effects the Indian subcontinent, especially the Indian monsoon which is most critical for us as it has a significant impact on our economy," he said.
By studying the Arctic climate, India hopes to understand the impact of melting of ice on overall weather and monsoon conditions in the coming years.
India also has a research station in the Arctic, Himadri. Operated by the National Centre for Antarctic and Ocean Research, it was set up in 2008.
India and China were accorded observer status May 15. The eight Arctic Council members are the US, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia and Sweden.
Besides scientific interests, India also has business interests related to mineral resources, fisheries and shorter sea routes in the planet's far north, Nayak said.
"Once the Arctic is free from ice, fisheries will naturally emerge as a major resource. We will have other things like it could open up for shipping. So we also need to understand how situation would change from ice to ocean and its impact," he said.
Nayak, who is a scientist, feels that any business activity that India wants to do in the future in the region will need the support of science.
"Like if we want a ship route we also need to know how the ocean currents are going at the bottom, how waves are going to behave, what is going to be the sea surface temperature. So, scientific support is needed automatically to do any business in the area," Nayak said.
At present, the ministry of earth sciences provides navigation support to ships in the Indian Ocean.
Explaining the benefits of being part of the multi-country council, Nayak said: "This is an issue of understanding science and it is now very difficult for an agency or a single country do everything alone, so we need to work in close collaboration with other countries."
"This (observer status) allows us to attend council meetings, give our views and know what's happening in the council. We may not have a vote but atleast our views would be heard," he said.
Membership to the Arctic Council has become increasingly attractive due to the fast-melting Arctic ice, which has opened up the region's waterways to commercial shipping.
It has also made accessible the region's abundant quantities of oil, gas and minerals as well as for commercial fishing.
China has been active in the polar region, which according to official estimates holds 13 percent of the world's undiscovered oil reserves and 30 percent of undiscovered gas deposits.
(Richa Sharma can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
--Indo-Asian New Service