World Federation of Science Journalists

Amundsen - Dinesh C. Sharma




Dinesh C. Sharma
Science Editor, Mail Today
India

My Arctic blog [ www.arcticindia.blogspot.com ]
Published stories [ www.mailtoday.in ]

A science journalist and columnist based in New Delhi, India, with 23 years' experience in reporting for national and international media on a spectrum of issues. He specializes in science and technology, environment, health and medicine related issues.

Worked for wire agency, Press Trust of India, the Observer group and The Telegraph, Calcutta as well as Television Eighteen between 1984 and 1998. In the past few years, he has reported for The Lancet (UK) and Environmental Health Perspectives. In March 2007, he was given the National Award for Science Writing in Print Medium by the National Council for Science and Technology Communication, for his contributions made in the past five years. In July 2007, he joined Mail Today, a joint venture of the India Today Group and Daily Mail, UK, as Science Editor.

Covered several important scientific and environment related events including the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) held at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in June 1992.


Newspaper publications

Doing science in the Arctic

June 17, 2008

By Dinesh C Sharma, Science Editor, Mail Today , India
onboard CCGS Amundsen in the Arctic ocean

Scientists onboard Amundsen seem to be in a research frenzy. Small teams of researchers from about ten groups working on the ship venture out every day - and night - to collect plethora of samples from the surface, below the ground and in the atmosphere. They use instruments to dig deep into the frozen layers and reach to the sea water, dive into pools of water at sub-zero temperatures, fly over the region on helicopter fitted with sophisticated instruments and use an automated submarine to map the ocean floor. All this means a lot of physical work  lugging heavy equipment into open ice on ice sleds, skippy boats or snow mobiles. One Coast Guard helicopter is always on standby on the ship for carrying out electromagnetic surveys and other scientific work. At times, small planes are also chartered for aerial surveys. A number of researchers are engaged in work relating to physical processes occurring in the water column and in determining factors that control the ice-ocean and the atmosphere-ocean exchanges.

The goal of all this research is common  looking for the impact of global warming on the fragile eco-system of the Arctic, in the form of changes in temperature, precipitation, winds, ocean currents, lake and river hydrology, and snow and ice cover.

On Friday, I joined two groups working out in the open ice. In the morning, I went out with Debbie and her colleagues Eva and Elizabeth. Debbie is looking for traces of chemical contamination in the Arctic waters. Scientists believe that Halogenated Organic Contaminants and trace metals like mercury are delivered, distributed, and concentrated in the Arctic due to increasing human activity elsewhere on the planet. In order to measure the presence of mercury, researchers are collecting water samples near-surface air, snow and ice cores, vertical ocean water profiles, and in suspended as well as bottom sediments. Debbie collected water samples at different depths from a deep pit dug about a kilometer from the ship. Two samples at each level are collected by lowering an instrument, each sample has to be tagged, its information recorded on a notebook and lugged back to the ship for analysis. I helped Debbie in this task and realised that it is a difficult job, which requires patience, lot of physical work and diligence. Even a small deviation from the protocol or any contamination could give misleading results.


In the afternoon, I was out in the ice once again with another team collecting sediment sample from depths of 50 meters and more. I pulled out the sample collector which was 25 meters below and felt exhausted. It was like pulling out water from a deep well. This one required more stamina as the sampler was fitted with weights of 10 kg or more so that it remains straight in the small pit. This was the first time in my long career as a science journalist that I was doing science rather than just writing about it. Usually, science reporters are covering scientific conferences or scanning scientific journals for interesting research papers or meeting scientists to get some news. We rarely get a chance to see how raw data is collected in the field or even a laboratory. We only get to report the final outcome of research. This was a unique opportunity for me to be part of data collection and contribute a tiny bit to the Arctic research. Whatever may be the outcome of this exercise, I realised one thing - doing science is certainly much more grueling that reporting science!

 


Application essay

Global warming and India:
Why should an Indian science journalist visit the Arctic?

India is home to the world's tallest mountain range, the Himalayas, which has the largest concentration of glaciers outside of the polar region. Of over one billion Indian people, about 750 million live in watershed areas of rivers originating from these glaciers. These rivers are lifeline of people in entire North India and other parts of the country. People depend on them for water used in irrigation, water for drinking purposes and for production of hydel power. Major rivers like the Ganges and the Yamuna are considered holy by devout Hindus and are worshipped at several places. But with the threat of global warming and climate change, all this could change over the next few decades as scientists have noted that some of the Indian glaciers are receding at an alarming rate. The most famous Gangorti glacier is said to be retreating by 30 meters a year. A few glaciers have already disappeared and others are receding fast. I have been reporting on research findings of scientists on Himalayan glaciers and their likely impact on Indian people.

For over two decades now, India has been regularly sending expeditions to the Antarctica and has set up two research stations there. It was only recently that it has joined research efforts in the Arctic region, which is an excellent indicator of changes due to global warming. These changes have specific relevance to India and the Indian subcontinent. The thermohaline circulation that originates in the northern Atlantic and southern Arctic is the major force that drives not only the oceanic circulation but also regulates the global climate. Studies have shown that there exists a link between the Northern polar region and the intensity of Indian monsoon. The Indian Arctic research initiative coincides with the ongoing International Polar Year. A new scheme of Arctic expeditions and research has been launched by the Indian government, under which Indian scientists would be sent to the Arctic region during 2008 and 2009, and a full fledged oceanographic expedition in an Indian research vessel has been planned during the Arctic summer of 2009-10 and 2011-12.

In view of growing interest about global warming as well as the Arctic, it would be of great professional interest for me to visit the region and bring home to readers and audiences first hand reports on global warming from the scene of action. I have been engaged in environment reporting for the past more than two decades and have had the privilege of covering the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (the Earth Summit) held in June 1992 at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I have worked with various media outlets in India and the region. Recently, I have joined the India Today group as Science Editor for its daily newspaper, Mail Today. The group publishes the highly popular India Today magazine in several Indian languages and runs the leading television network, Aaj Tak. Given a chance to visit the Arctic onboard the Amundsen icebreaker, I would be able to bring home the reality of global warming to millions of people back home. It would be dream come true for a science communicator. Ends