Living a Frozen Life

Published at November 21, 2015 01:12 AM 0Comment(s)16056views

Kashmiri scientist becomes world’s youngest Antarctic expedition station leader
Heads ‘Bharti Research Station’ in Antarctica for nearly 2 years

Living a Frozen Life

Nazir Ganaie

Srinagar, Nov 20:
Twenty-seven-year old, Muhammad Yunus Shah of Khan Sahab area of central Kashmir’s Budgam district has been literally living a ‘black and white life’ for more than two years after becoming the youngest scientist to head India’s Bharti Research Station in Antarctica.
In 2013, down in Antarctica, a crew of scientists and their support staff from India, in which this young scientist from Kashmir was one of the research members, spent nearly four months, just researching.
All those months, they entirely spend their time in the dark and unconnected with the world outside while passing their days at India’s ‘Bharti Research Station in Antarctica’- a third research station, on Antarctica came up at an estimated cost of Rs 140 crore, which became operational in 2011.
Shah was heading a 32-member Indian Scientific Expedition to Antarctica.
“I won’t say it was a dream but it turned out to be the most extraordinary and thrilling assignments of my life,” said Shah who returned to Kashmir from Antarctica after nearly two years.
 “I wasn’t prepared for the job earlier but the during the four initial months that I spent in Antarctica as one of the research members gave me a kick to do something extraordinary and I succeeded in it,” Shah said. “I had never imagined that I would spend my life in black and white - six months in dark and six months in light.”
He said coming to the grips of such a life was an uphill task.
Shah, who did his masters in Geology from the Department of Geology and Geophysics, University of Kashmir, is a scientist at Polar Studies Division, Geological Survey of India (GSI).
Shah holds the record of being the youngest station leader so far in Antarctic Expeditions.
After joining GSI where he attended training for about a year in different parts of India, Shah successfully completed 35th OCG with ‘A’ Grade.
“After the training, I was selected for Polar Studies Division, Faridabad. Fortunately, I got an opportunity to participate in 32nd ISEA as a summer team member in Larsemann and Schirmacher Oasis and carried out geological mapping in both the areas of Antarctica in the year 2012-13,” Shah said. “In the 33rd ISEA, I was given the responsibility of station leader of Bharati Station, East Antarctica and nominated for Limca and Guinness book of world records.”
Shah served as the Station Leader at Bharati Research Station, Larsemann Hills, East Antarctica for 33rd Indian Scientific Expedition to Antarctica (ISEA) from November 1, 2013 to January 2015.”
Shah has been continuously involving himself in geological and glaciological studies in different parts of East Antarctica.
His contribution in understanding the crustal evolution, climate change and establishing pre-Gondwana linkages were the main focus of his research work in this icy continent – considered the driest, coldest and windiest part of the planet Earth.
“I got a project, which I am supposed to work on for about 10 years and the research would be based on my field trip to Antarctica,” he said. “The enormous task of successfully conducting the requisite research and achieving the smooth logistic work of all assigned tasks and targets in Antarctica so far was possible due to collective efforts and commitment of each of the expedition members at the remotely located station.”
Shah’s affable leadership skills and commendable scholarship of the continent’s topology, polar geology and its varied glacial aspects have been rightfully commended by officials from institutes as varied as National Centre for Antarctic and Ocean Research (NCAOR) to Polar Studies Division, Geological Survey of India (GSI) at Faridabad.
Other than managing the day-to-day aspects of running the station affairs at Antarctica, Shah has also managed to commendably carry out his own geological research work concerning geological mapping of the surrounding islands and the nearby peninsular regions.
His coordination with the nearby research stations of China (Zhongshan), Russia (Progress) and Australia (Davis) has also come in for lots of warm and effusive praise from all quarters of the world.
Notably Antarctica is Earth’s southernmost continent, containing the geographic South Pole.
It is situated in the Antarctic region of the Southern Hemisphere, almost entirely south of the Antarctic Circle, and is surrounded by the Southern Ocean. 
Researchers say that Antarctica was once a part of a larger land mass called Gondwana that settled over the South Pole and split from Australasia and South America.
Overcoming Wintering Effect
Shah said research scientists stationed at Antarctica are prone to the ‘wintering effect’.
He said for him being the youngest leader of the group this was very difficult to manage.
“Members elder to me used to come to me with their family and personal problems, which I was supposed to listen keenly,” Shah said. “They would be relieved after sharing these issues with me and whatsoever was in my hand as a leader would make them feel comfortable.”
However, he said, as a leader, he was not supposed to discuss his problems with anyone, which would add to his worries and psychological pressures.
Shah said he would go into his room and converse to himself in front of the mirror.
He said, if people don’t follow some of the psychological techniques, they come into the heavy wintering effect, which causes damage to their psyche. 
“Devastating September 2014 Kashmir floods was a biggest worry for me back home,” Shah said. “I would go in front, start conversation to each of my family member, imaginatively.”
He said working in such circumstances becomes one of the tedious jobs.
“When you get isolated, you remain cut off from your family and at the same time there isn’t any social life and one is bound to encounter some psychological disorder,” he said.
However, he said the government before sending the research scientists to places like Antarctica conducted a proper Psychological test to see the strength of the researcher for living in such harsh environment.
“The maximum temperature in Antartica that I have lived in was -10 and the minimum was -50 and there were places where temperature would also be recorded at -85 degree Celsius.”
Breaking Rules
Council of Managers National Antarctica Programme (COMNAP) – an agency that monitors the research work at Antarctica urges the leaders and scientists to work on the documentary filmmaking in the most frozen region of the world.
“I along with my other members directed and produced a film called Breaking Rules in Antarctica which also earned us a good reputation,” he said. “Back home, I am still living a frozen life, a life, which is out of this world.”
Another Kashmiri youth, Muhammad Tabish Parray, an engineering graduate from NIT Srinagar, and a Sustainable Energy Masters fellow in KHT Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden, is all set to be part of the 80-member team heading to the snow-covered continent of Antarctica  to study climate change.
According to the scientist, the expedition focuses on issues of climate change, renewable energy, sustainability and how it affects the planet’s future.
The expedition would be led by explorer and environmentalist Robert Swan, who is the first person in history to walk unsupported to the North and South Poles.
Robert was also the special envoy to the Director General of UNESCO in 1984. 


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