By Dr Nafees Meah, Director RCUK India.
I joined Professor Mark Bailey, the Director of the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH), and Professor Alan Jenkins, the Deputy Director, on their recent travels around India. They had taken five days out of their very busy schedules to come to India. CEH is a NERC Centre of Excellence and also a world leading centre for integrated research into ecosystems and biodiversity. It works in partnership with the research community, policy makers, industry and society to deliver solutions to the most complex environmental challenges facing the world. The reason why both Mark and Alan came was to raise the profile of CEH in India and to seek to establish institutional partnerships with high quality research institutes in India in the fields of hydrology and water resource management, ecosystem services and landscape ecology. The RCUK India team was, therefore, very pleased to organise a pretty intensive itinerary for the two Professors which took in policy makers and researchers in Delhi, Bangalore and Roorkee. It seemed like planes, trains and automobiles all over again.
There was considerable interest shown at the National Institute of Hydrology (NIH) at Roorkee in working in partnership with CEH. Indeed, it was more of a case of re-establishing a relationship that had been very strong at one time as the Institute had been modelled (when it was founded in 1978) on the UK’s national hydrology centre before it amalgamated with the ecologists to form CEH in the recent past. Indeed Dr S K Jain from NIH explained some of the fascinating history of the Roorkee site (which is also home to an Indian Institute of Technology or IIT) and the role that the British played in channelling the Ganges through huge engineering projects to provide water for irrigation for the whole region. An engineering college had been established in the 1850s to provide trained personnel to help build the water management and irrigation systems.
Water resources, or more precisely, water scarcity, remains a big problem in India and has rightly been identified as one of the two absolutely critical issues that have to be addressed in the Twelfth Five Year Plan (the other being energy). CEH has world leading expertise in the understanding of river flows, the basic science for understanding floods and droughts and the likely impact of climate change on fresh water systems. As a result, there was much discussion of potential areas of collaboration between the two institutes. It was agreed that further meetings and exchanges would be very useful to prioritise the areas of potential collaboration.
In Bangalore, there was a series of meetings with researchers at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) and at the Ashoka Trust for Research into Ecology and the Environment (ATREE). An issue identified through discussion was the possibility of developing partnership between the UK and India on an integrated soils research programme to better understand the changes that are happening through intensification of agriculture, deforestation, impact of water scarcity, increasing salinity of groundwater and, of course, climate change on soil structure, microbiology and quality. A much better understanding of soils and what is happening to soil quality is needed if India is to deliver on its food security goals in the future as its population and, therefore, demand for foodstuffs increases. In a discussion with Professor Vinod Gaur, it was proposed that a fruitful next step would be to organise a joint India-UK workshop on the topic with a view to establishing a Joint Indo-UK Centre. As well as soils, another area of potential collaboration was in developing the hydrological modelling aspect in a system called JULES which is used by the UK’s Met Office in its Earth System climate models to take into account land surface and atmosphere interactions. India currently uses the Met Office climate models as well as US climate models for its weather and climate predictions.
Both Mark and Alan were keen to stress that theirs was very much an exploratory visit to see whether there was an opportunity for CEH working more closely in partnership with Indian researchers and institutes. There is no doubt now that this will be the first of many exchanges between CEH scientists and their Indian counterparts.