- The global community is once again faced with the El Nino prediction for this year. The last 15 episodes between 1951 to 2022, have shown extreme weather events accompanied with global warming.
- The last episode of 2015 in India, saw 13% lower rainfall, whereas the episode in 2009 saw the worst drought with devastating impact on the economy and the ecosystem.
- The El Nino prediction is the bad news for India’s agricultural sector for the coming year. The demographic correlation of the agrarian activities makes it a very sensitive political issue.
- Poor freshwater management has been a major cause of serious devastation faced both by the urban and rural communities.
The global community is once again faced with the El Nino prediction for this year. The last 15 episodes between 1951 to 2022, have shown extreme weather events accompanied with global warming. Out of these, eight occasions witnessed deficient monsoon and another three-saw rainfall below normal. This year’s moderate to strong El Nino prediction translates to approximately 73% chances of below the long-term normal rains. The last episode of 2015 in India, saw 13% lower rainfall, whereas the episode in 2009 saw the worst drought with devastating impact on the economy and the ecosystem. Globally, the episode in 1997 was regarded as the most powerful with temperature rise of 1.5 deg C (2.7 deg F), compared to the normal increase of 0.25 deg C associated with the El Nino events.
India is primarily an agrarian based economy with over 50% population dependent on it, for their livelihood. Agriculture and the allied sectors, contributes 18 % to the GDP and has been largely dependent on the monsoons for its success. Monsoon impacts the crop production and thus the livelihood of the 50% population. These are the majority, who actively participate in the electoral process in deciding the next government.
The last decade has seen massive economic growth across multiple sectors and such developmental activities also have a serious impact on the sustainability and enhances the stress on the availability of natural resources. The rapid urbanization and industrialization in the rural India have been a cause of over stretching of the natural resources, particularly water. The ground water depletion, contamination of the freshwater systems, reduced availability of freshwater resources for domestic and industrial purposes and many more are some critical issues that merit attention. The pace of development has not been able to reduce the dependence of the agricultural sector on the monsoons. The uncertainty of the monsoons continues to haunt us every single year and policy makers are unable to build any counter measures. The climate change risk is a major cause of worry, particularly for a country like India, that has such massive demographic exposure to the monsoon uncertainties.
Poor freshwater management has been a major cause of serious devastation faced both by the urban and rural communities. The coastal and riverine communities are facing serious issues due to erosion. The erratic monsoons and regular droughts have caused stress among the farmers, fishermen and the associated communities. Water resource management and quality management both need to be balanced and there is serious cause of concerns.
Calibrated and graded usage of freshwater based on the quality requirement for the application is extremely important. The integrated approach is extremely important to ensure effective climate change resilience, so that we can embrace the El Nino forecast with far less devastation to life and property.
The Underwater Domain Awareness (UDA) framework can ensure effective freshwater management with an integrated approach for resource and quality management. The UDA framework will facilitate policy & technology intervention along with acoustic capacity & capability building. The digital transformation backed by the UDA framework will be the way forward. The following aspects need to be addressed to justify the integrated approach.
Sediment Classification: The sediment classification study will allow three critical areas to be addressed in the sediment characterization for effective management.
Sediment Bearing Pressure: The sediment bearing pressure is an important input for planning any underwater construction activities. Even erosion and siltation management will require inputs on the sediment bearing pressure.
Assessment of the Benthic Ecosystem: The benthic ecosystem has a critical role in maintaining the ecological balance. Awareness of the benthic ecosystem will allow effective management. Mindless dredging as the de facto means for sediment management is completely flawed. The Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) for any project needs to include the benthic ecosystem.
Abiotic Presence in the Sediment: The sediments carry significant abiotic content and are extremely unique to the location. The appreciation of the abiotic content can allow effective management. Useful minerals to plastic pollution is the range of content that we are likely to encounter.
Sediment Transport Study: The sediment carry depends on the bed load and the channel geometry. The entire siltation process is highly sensitive to the specific inputs on the sediment transport at the local level. Dredging should be the last resort, multiple other techniques like sediment diversion based on the sediment transport pattern will be highly effective.
Water Quality Management: The precise appreciation of the water quality and corresponding allocation of freshwater based on the calibrated application requirement is the way forward. The real-time inputs on water quality will be extremely important, based on the digital transformation. The digital infrastructure spanning across multiple biological and chemical water quality parameters are important.
Aqua-culture Management: Aqua-culture has become one of the leading export driven growth opportunities for the commercial as well as local communities in India. The fast growth activity also suffers from multiple sustainability and long-term business continuity challenges. The operational management needs constant monitoring and interventions due to vulnerabilities to disease outbreak and climate change risks. A digital tool that can provide real-time inputs on the entire underwater scenario, will be a game changer. Effective Environment Impact Assessment (EIA), will be critical to ensure long term management in a nuanced manner.
Seaweed Farming: Seaweed today, is being projected as the wonder plant with unimaginable sustainability possibilities and commercial applications. Industrial scale, seaweed cultivation will allow massive sustainable blue economic growth. Right from identification of the site to sowing, harvesting, and processing needs to be managed effectively using the digital underwater tool. Seaweed farming has a profound impact on the carbon sequestration, erosion management, reduced usage of chemical fertilizers and more.
Disaster Management: The early warning mechanism using digital means can provide significant opportunity to minimize the loss of life and property, in case of disasters. The recent disasters points towards the oceans and other freshwater systems as their origin. Building the digital infrastructure towards real-time warning systems to sense any upcoming disasters or even build prediction models will be of relevance.
The entire UDA framework will allow the digital transformation to build the Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) infrastructure. The MSP is the de facto tool for governance across all the applications. The MSP infrastructure must ensure a three-step formulation:
- Modelling & Simulation (M&S): The digital data available from land-based infrastructure will be extremely valuable to build models across the entire underwater space. The land-based sensors provide the underwater parameter inputs and the topography from previous studies to reasonable degree of accuracy. These inputs are used to build the models and then use these models to simulate the scenario underwater across applications. This is the most potent and cost-effective tool to cover the entire underwater space. It is not viable to have sensors to cover the entire underwater space, thus such M&S tool will be extremely critical.
- Field Validation: The models need to be field validated to build credibility for the models and generate reasonable confidence on the simulated data. After few iterations, once the models provide reasonably accurate inputs, we can trust the simulated output for any real-world deployments. The field validation is usually planned in critical locations, where the model behaviour is likely to be extreme and uncertain. The M&S output is normally used to even formalize the field validation strategy.
- Real Deployment for Continuous Monitoring: Once the M&S and field validation is completed, the underwater sensors are deployed at certain critical locations for continuous monitoring of the underwater domain awareness. These data sets can be extrapolated for multiple other locations and applications to draw actionable inputs.
The tropical waters of the Indo-Pacific strategic space will require massive M&S effort to build the site-specific local inputs. The technologies and knowhow from the west (temperate & polar regions) are not valid in out tropical regions. The entire digital transformation driven MSP, must be indigenously developed to account for the significant deviation in the underwater parameters, due to the tropical characteristics.
The MSP will allow prediction and effective management of the entire underwater space. Governance can be driven with nuanced policy & technology interventions along with the acoustic capacity and capability building. The tropical characteristics is unique and needs to be recognized. The governance mechanism must account for the socio-economic, socio-political, and socio-cultural aspects. The UDA framework will have varied dimensions to be covered. The few examples given above are only indicative and lot more work is required to be undertaken.
Dr (Cdr) Arnab Das
Dr (Cdr) Arnab Das, Director and Founder of MRC, Pune. Dr Das is a former Naval officer with 2 decades of active services and PhD holder from IIT Delhi with specialization in Underwater Acoustics. He has worked on several projects and has a plethora of publications to his credit.