Science News

Floating lab mooted on India's Brahmaputra river

Subhra Priyadarshini

doi:10.1038/nindia.2017.122 Published online 20 September 2017

© Subhra Priyadarshini

A la Amazon, India would soon have its own boat lab floating up and down the mighty river Brahmaputra in the north eastern state of Assam. The ‘Brahmaputra Biodiversity and Biology Boat’, a two-storey vessel being put together with an initial investment of Rs 50 crore, is expected to dedicatedly research the effects of climate change, dams and human intervention on the river’s ecosystem.

The boat, expected to set sail by the end of this year (2017), also aims to carry out substantial research of the fast-eroding Majuli, once the world’s largest riverine island famous for its biodiversity and as a seat of culture and Vaishnav religion. The island has shrunk to almost half of its original 1200-odd square kilometres area in the past few decades following large scale erosion.

Work on the boat lab – a refurbished trawl – will start by the end of 2017. The blueprint of the floating lab is being put together by scientists at the Indian Institute of Technology, Guwahati. Apart from the laboratory, the boat is expected to house a cold storage facility for samples, a fleet of satellite boats or rafts and one floor dedicated to outreach and education for local people.

IIT Guwahati scientists, who are part of the ambitious project, say it would be ‘challenging as well as exciting’ to research the hydrology, water quality, biodiversity and the associated ecosystems of Bramhaputra, one among the longest rivers of the world.

The announcement for the boat lab was made by India’s science and technology minister Harsh Vardhan alongside a host of other programmes for the north eastern states such as Rs. 50-crore phyto-pharma plant mission to conserve medicinal plants; and distribution of a frugal microscope ‘Foldscope’ in schools and colleges of the region.

Department of Biotechnology secretary Krishnaswamy VijayRaghavan said that the project would make for constant monitoring of environmental and anthropological factors affecting the river and its hydrology, water quality and biodiversity. These, he said, have not been studied well enough despite the massive expanse of the nearly 3,800 kms long Bramhaputra, that meanders past three countries – China, India and Bangladesh – to reach the Bay of Bengal.