One of the premier research bodies in Goa is the National Institute of Oceanography (NIO), but not many are aware about its existence or functions or that it is over fifty years old.
By the 1950s, the community of oceanographers around the world had made progress in describing the features of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, yet the geology of the Indian Ocean, such as the chemical characteristics of the water column, distribution of fish productivity, linked to monsoonal cycles, through sea bed mapping and sampling, were relatively unexplored.
THE NIO IS BORN
The global community of oceanographers organised the International Indian Ocean Expedition (IIOE) 1959-'65 with government participation. As the IIOE approached its concluding phase, the government decided that Indians, who had participated, needed to have an institution where they could build on the research skills they picked up. And so, an autonomous research organisation was founded at Dona Paula, Goa, in January 1966, to undertake scientific research. It also had regional centers in Kochi, Mumbai and Vizagapatam. Padma Shri Dr N K Panikkar was appointed director, and remained so till his retirement in May 1973.
Today, the staff of the organisation is spread across four campuses, and includes roughly 170 scientists, 120 PhD holders, 210 technical and supporting staff, and close to 120 administrative staff. Roughly 80% of the staff are based in Goa.
In January 1981, the NIO hauled up polymetallic nodules from a depth of 4,800 m in the western Indian Ocean using its first research vessel, RV Gaveshani, which helped India gain the status of ‘Pioneer Investor’ from the International Sea Bed Authority (ISA).
Some of the issues that have been addressed by the NIO — Evolution of the Indian tectonic plates and its implications; determination of the time when the Himalayas started rising, leading to monsoonal climate of the Indian subcontinent; nature of mid-ocean ridges; characteristics of marine sedimentary facies; evolution as archived in the sediment; the role of rivers on the subcontinent.
NIO (Goa) organised the first Indian expedition to Antarctica in 1981, exploring polymetallic nodules, and established close ties with the Department of Ocean Development and the Ministry of Earth Sciences, which helped the institute, while the government expanded the infrastructure for research, technology and services in the country.
At the campus, research is supported by numerous well-equipped laboratories, a huge library and a fleet of three research vessels. The research contributions (publications, reports, books, etc) provide details about the contributions mentioned above. The library of the institute is one of the largest in the country in the field of oceanography, with a collection of over 35,000 books and journals, and several universities have recognized the NIO as a centre for doctoral research.
The NIO also holds about 50 patents (see www.nio.org), most of which come from marine biotechnology studies and marine instrumentation.
OCEANOGRAPHY AS A CAREER
Oceanography encompasses studying physical, chemical, geological and biological aspects of the ocean, how environmental changes affect marine life, and the uncontrolled growth of organisms alien to the local ecology which can wipe out local fisheries and affect humans. Academic courses involving it cover science, chemistry and math.
A Master’s degree and a doctorate are necessary to qualify as an oceanographer. It takes 3 to 4 years to earn a Bachelor’s degree, 2 years for a Master’s, and six or more years to earn a doctorate, which means a minimum of 12 years before qualifying for a job, with a reasonable salary.
The job involves travelling extensively, doing physical tasks and encountering risky organisms and scenarios. Many oceanographers work at institutions around the world — while some stick solely to research, others do part-time lecturing.
As an oceanographer, you're not always in control of your schedule. You must conduct field research regardless of the time convenient for you, spend months in remote places, run into risky situations, often return to the field to gather more data, compounded by tight deadlines imposed by funders, who want to see results from their investments within specific time frames.