India will soon scour the ocean bed to unravel the mysteries of the origins of life as scientists are set to travel up to 6,000 metres below the sea surface under a deep ocean mission (DOM). Initially, the Rs 4,077-crore mission will entail scientists travelling to a depth of 500 metres to test various technologies being developed for the purpose before taking a deeper dive into the unknown.
“Some of the mysteries about the origins of life still persist. There are theories that life originated in hydro-thermal vents which exist at a depth of four to five kilometres in the ocean,” M Ravichandran, Secretary, Ministry of Earth Sciences, told PTI. “It is completely dark at the depth of four to five kilometres, but there are living organisms. How is life born at that depth, how does life survive? The deep ocean mission will also help us understand this,” he said.
The DOM will also help India map the ocean bed, which is a rich source for metals and minerals, Ravichandran said, adding that the mission will help scientists identify and demarcate resource-rich areas which could be exploited later when suitable technology is available for deep sea mining. The exploration studies of minerals will pave the way for commercial exploitation in the near future as and when such a code is evolved by the International Seabed Authority, he said.
“Right now, we roughly know that such resources are available in a given area, and the DOM will help us know the specifics,” Ravichandran added. The DOM could also lead to the development of various technologies such as acoustic phones, components that withstand a high-pressure environment, research vessels and related infrastructure, he said.
The technologies required for deep sea mining have strategic implications and are not commercially available, Ravichandran said, adding that attempts will be made to indigenise technologies by collaborating with leading institutes and private industries, the official said. Ravichandran said this mission is also directed towards capacity development in marine biology which will provide job opportunities in Indian industries.