Away from war and politics, Antarctica is a pristine continent at the southern end of our planet with a fully protected environment where scientific research has priority or as Antarctic Treaty parties call it, “… a natural reserve, devoted to peace and science”. Governed by a group of nations in a unique international partnership that was signed in 1959, Antarctica is home to 82 research bases from 30 countries, some of which operate in the summer while others, throughout the year.
During India’s third expedition to the ice-covered continent in 1983, Dakshin Gangotri, our first scientific base station in Antarctica, named after the eponymous glacier was established, about 2,500 kilometres from the South Pole. Constructed within a span of eight weeks by a team of 83 individuals with pre-fabricated timber, the research station was established using locally sourced Indian equipment and operated entirely on solar energy. Built as two double-storey blocks, connected by a single-storey corridor, the space included laboratories, a living room, bunkrooms, restrooms, a kitchen, and supply and storage areas.
Dakshin Gangotri served as a testing ground for radio wave experiments in the Antarctic region and a platform for studying diverse aspects of the environment in the area conducting scientific observations on physical oceanography, freshwater lake chemistry, terrestrial and aquatic biological characteristics, geology, glaciology, and geomagnetism. Within two years it also started calculating wind velocities and solar intensities to determine the feasibility of wind energy and solar energy.
It was abandoned in 1988–1989 after it was submerged in ice and was finally decommissioned on 25 February 1990, subsequently turned into a supply base. Maitri, also known as Friendship Research Centre came shortly after, followed by Bharti, India's 3rd research station.
Dakshin Gangotri helped India become a consultative member of the Antarctic Treaty, get inducted into the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research and paved the way for the establishment of new Maitri and Bharati, as well as Arctic scientific base stations including Himadri and IndARC, in later years. It contributed to understanding global climate change, the impact of melting ice sheets, and the interconnectedness of ecosystems and is still a symbol of India's commitment to peaceful cooperation and contribution to global scientific exploration.