Original Link : http://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/dr-k-p-krishnan-scientist-on-the-dangers-facing-polar-bears/article8389347.ece

What do you do?

India began its scientific endeavours in the Arctic in 2007 when a team of five scientists initiated studies in the fields of Arctic microbiology, atmospheric sciences and geology. This ignited a long term programme of regular scientific activities, all coordinated by the National Centre for Antarctic and Ocean Research (NCAOR), Goa. Krishnan, who is a Scientist-D at NCAOR, made his first expedition to the Antarctic in 2007 and the Arctic in 2008. He now heads the Planning, Coordination and Implementation of the Indian Arctic programme.

IndARC, India’s underwater observatory in the Arctic works to provide data crucial to understanding climate patterns in the polar region and its possible influence on the Indian monsoon that is vital to agriculture in the subcontinent. This observatory in the Kongsfjorden, is expected to help Indian researchers collect primary data on long-term climate variability in the Arctic. “We have a scientific settlement in Ny-Alesund, in Spitsbergen Island, a research town, with each nation having its own observatory and station where serious work is on, all working on the same goal – climate and climate change. We use sensors to collect real-time data on seawater temperature, salinity, current and other vital parameters of the fjord. This region is of special significance to the Indian subcontinent due to the existence of atmospheric connection between the northern polar region and the Indian monsoon intensity. The new data could be used to fine tune models for predicting the various facets of the Indian monsoon system.”

What is your qualification?

Krishnan, alumni of Chinmaya Vidyalaya, Ernakulam, is a winner of the National Geoscience Award (2014) for his contribution to the field of Glaciology and Arctic and Antarctic Research, is also a prolific writer on this subject with his articles published in numerous national international journals and books. He secured his Masters in Marine Biology from Cochin University of Science and Technology and his PhD in Marine Sciences from Goa University. Kathakali is Krishnan’s other passion. A trained artiste he never misses a chance to watch a performance even if it means travelling from Goa to Vellinezhi.

How is your work related to the environment?

The North and South Polar Regions stand out for their grand icy landscape, fascinating life, and its extreme environment. The image that is often construed is that of people, wrapped in furry clothes, on sledges driven by dogs across the white glaciers, of penguins, polar bears, and the amazing Aurora. But for scientists like Dr. K.P. Krishnan these regions hold a mirror to the future of this planet. And for one who has made many expeditions to these regions the signs out there are ominous.

“Since my first visit there have been visible changes in the Polar Regions. I think there needs to be a greater sense of urgency among decision-makers and awareness by the public regarding the global importance of changes taking place in these realms. It is a sensitive issue. When we wax eloquent about climate change what needs to be noticed and addressed is the huge loss of sea ice in the Arctic,” says Krishnan, who is principal investigator of the long term monitoring project of Kongsfjorden, (an inlet on the west coast of Spitsbergen, an island which is part of the Svalbard archipelago in the Arctic Ocean), for climate change studies.

Krishnan continues, “There is some amount of sea ice that is perennial and some that melts and returns annually. Now, this is critical for if you don’t get enough that means it becomes a threat for the ecosystem that depends on it. You must have seen photographs of polar bears feeding on something it is not supposed to feed on. Why is this happening? The hunting behaviour of the polar bears is such that it stands on the sea ice, digs a hole and catches the seal as it pops up. Under the changed circumstances, with polar bears deprived of this, it needs to find other places for food, often trespassing into human habitations, .”says Krishnan who did his Bachelors in Zoology from Sacred Heart College, Thevara.

The polar bears have never faced periods as warm as what it experiences now. And this could get worse in the coming years. “The situation is different from anything we have seen before and it is mostly manmade. The polar bear case is a perfect example of the crisis. These animals eat seals, but when the seals are not available they’ll eat anything. During my first expedition we were instructed, trained on self-protection. It is unlike the Antarctic where there is no threat to life. We were told about polar bear movement, behaviour and what to do when you accost them. I did not see them then. But now they seem to be wandering close to our research station and human settlements in search of food.”

Any unique experiences? why did you choose an offbeat, unconventional and  unusual career such as this?

All expeditions so far have, for Krishnan, been inspiring experiences. But one that he will always hold close to his heart is the one to the Antarctic. “It was tough to say the least, especially the ship journey. Antarctica hardly compares to the Arctic for a genuine cultural experience as it is an uninhabited continent, except for some research stations and scientists. It is pristine, naturally beautiful. The unpredictable wilderness, the solitude, whiteness and emptiness is unforgettable.”