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“Geological studies hold key to Himalayan economic growth”

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Dr. Kalachand Sain

Interview with Director, WIHG

By RATNAJYOTI DUTTA

The Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology is focusing on understanding the geological composition of the Himalayan region to promote sustainable economic growth. It’s essential to take into account the diverse geological aspects of the region before initiating any long-term development plan, to avoid incidents like last year’s Silkyara tunnel incident. The Dehradun-based institute is working towards this goal and addressing a range of issues associated with Himalayan geology under its specialised mandate. Its Director Dr Kalachand Sain’s insights on the matter are sure to be enlightening and informative.

Excerpts from an interview with Dr Sain:

Why is the subject of Himalayan geology important for the scientific community?

It’s fascinating to explore the potential of the Himalayas for development. There are numerous opportunities for construction of roads, bridges, tunnels, and ropeways, as well as building hydro-power projects, geothermal or hybrid energy plants, and expanding micro-scale industries based on Himalayan resources. These initiatives can help meet the aspirations of people living in the Himalayas and foster socio-economic growth. However, it’s equally important to maintain a balance between the utilisation of natural resources and safeguarding the Himalayan ecosystem for sustainable growth and safe habitation. Climate change has made the Himalayan states particularly vulnerable to diverse kinds of disasters, which makes it crucial to educate people on preparedness, protection, and disaster risk reduction. Sensitisation of local people is also essential to learn from past events and protect from future disasters. It’s vital to include geology in the school/college curriculum to nurture the young minds and provide solutions to societal issues and alleviate local challenges. The lithology, geomorphology, structures, tectonics, slopes and gradients, vegetation or forest cover, rock strengths, etc., play a crucial role in the mountain-specific town planning, design of building codes, construction works, and their impact on the surroundings and downstream.

How is the Wadia Institute trying to mitigate disaster management issues in the Himalayan region?

It is important to comprehend the root causes of disasters or geo-hazards in the Himalayas, such as earthquakes, landslides, glacial/snow avalanches, flash floods, debris flow, and river incision. The Wadia institute has state-of-the-art facilities for data acquisition, analysis, processing, and interpretation, as well as field instruments to study the subsurface and surface processes in the Himalayas. The institute has prepared vulnerability, susceptibility, or risk maps based on remote sensing and ground observations to identify the most vulnerable zones or hotspots of different types of envisaged disasters. The institute has also deployed specific sensors for monitoring earthquakes, glaciers and glacier-lakes, and landslides, and is developing AI-enabled Early Warning Systems (EWS). To build a disaster-resilient and climate-adaptable future, the institute is continuing its efforts through Outreach Programmes to sensitise local people about their responsibilities and disseminate scientific knowledge to city planners, administrators, investors, politicians, intellectuals, environmentalists, etc., through seminars, media, and popular lectures.

How to avoid a Silkyara Tunnel incident in the Himalayan region?

To avoid another Silkyara Tunnel-like incident in the Himalayan region, modern techniques such as remote sensing, satellite imagery, and drones are used for pre-cursor studies related to identifying earthquake-prone areas. The Wadia Institute in Dehradun specialises in studying the geology, geophysics, and related fields of the region. Their research findings help understand the geological processes and predict natural disasters. The institute’s research is valuable for both the scientific community and the general public, creating awareness about the risks associated with living in earthquake-prone areas.

How does the remote sensing technique utilised for earthquake forecast?

The Wadia Institute specialises in Geology, Geophysics, Glaciology and related fields. Their expertise in earthquake forecasting is critical, and they use advanced techniques like remote sensing, satellite imagery and drones to collect data and analyse it in real-time using AI tools. By studying subsurface data and the homogeneity of rocks, they can predict expected earthquake intensity with greater accuracy, which is essential in mitigating the risks associated with natural disasters. The Institute’s research is valuable for the scientific community and helps create awareness about the risks associated with living in earthquake-prone areas, contributing to building safer communities.