Parmjit Singh Sehra

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The official history of India's presence in the Antarctic begins from December 6, 1981, when the icebreaker M V Polar Circle steamed out of Goa with a 21-member team. But would it be true to say that the real history begins a decade ago, in 1971? This was the year Parmjit Singh Sehra reached the cold continent as part of a joint Indo-Russian expedition to study the upper atmosphere. At that time Sehra was a young researcher in Ahmedabad-based Physical Research Laboratory. "[Vikram A] Sarabhai [the architect of the Indian space programme] had a keen desire of sending someone from India to the Soviet Launch Stations, especially the one in Antarctica, so as to avail of the rare opportunity provided by the Hydrometerorological Services of the ussr,' recalls Sehra in his book A Visit to South Pole. "But none were ready for this venture because it involved great dangers and risk of life. The India Meteorological Department (imd) had already withdrawn from their earlier commitment.' Sehra was hand-picked by the great scientist and, unlike the venerable imd, had no qualms.

He spent 18 months in the Antarctic, working at Molodezhnaya, headquarters of the Soviet Antarctic expedition. Sehra and his Russian counterparts launched 60 rockets into the atmosphere. He writes: "When the weather is extremely bad with very strong winds, we sometimes do have to crawl to reach the work place and to survive in good health. Our living-quarters are on the foot of the highest ridge, which we have to climb up twice and climb down twice everyday to accomplish our rocket sounding work, and in bad weather climbing is replaced by crawling.' They found that unusual polar winter warmings are caused by an increase in the supply of energy in the form of a vertical flux of geothermal energy and by radioactive and photochemical processes taking place in the upper atmosphere. His findings