Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Outstanding Problems In Indian Geology And Some That I Just Made Up

In the October 2011 issue of the Journal of the Geological Society of India, K.S. Valdiya one of India's senior geologists and ardent spokesperson for earth sciences identifies some burning questions (behind paywall) in Indian geology.

Here is his list:

1) When did India dock with Asia?   The question asks essentially when did land bridges form between the two continents. There are similarities in vertebrate fauna of the Maastrichtian Murree (~ 68 mya) sediments of Kashmir and those from Asia suggesting an earlier welding of the two continents than is generally accepted.

2) This one deals with the southern limit of the Himalayan orogen.  What is the nature of deformation at and southwards of the Himalayan Frontal Thrust i.e. underneath the Gangetic alluvium?

3) What is the structural, tectonic and magmatic significance of the zones of "lineaments" along the Narmada-Tapi rift and along the Western coast of India? These lineaments are related to the stretching and rifting of India in the late Cretaceous but can we measure displacement along these fractures and are some of them conduits for the Deccan magmas? What is their relationship to seismic activity?

4) What is the nature of the Palghat Gap? This is a break several tens of kilometers wide in the Western Ghat mountain chain long interpreted to be an ancient shear zone. What do we make of a peneplained Precambrian terrain reaching great heights of over 7000 feet in the southern Western Ghats?

5) What is the relation between rift basins in Khambhat Gujarat and Sanchor -Barmer Rajasthan with the Marion hot spot. Is the genesis of these Jurassic-Cretaceous hydrocarbon bearing basins related to the passage of the Indian plate over the Marion "plume"?

6) How do we interpret the distinct structural and metamorphic boundaries in the various Precambrian terrains of Peninsular India? Are they ancient suture zones... recording Archaean collision events between micro-plates?

There is a lot here to chew on. These are questions that will require devoted research programs with expertise in a variety of geological sub-disciplines. There is a lot of work addressing these questions already going on but apparently K.S. Valdiya feels more needs to be done.

I have my own list of urgent questions. This list is not so much a list of unanswered questions or a list of great mysteries but more a collection of societal expectations that our scientists should fulfill. As a citizen of India these are the questions I would ask our geologists to pay attention to and devote their energies to studying.

1) A detailed quantitative hydro-geological characterization of the hard rock aquifers of Peninsular India. Vast areas of Peninsular India are underlain by basalts and granites. Water in this crust is stored in and flows through narrow zones of cracks and fractures. Tens of millions of farmers depend of ground water from these aquifers. Some more tens of millions are too poor to spend money on ground water exploration and digging wells in these hard terrains. They need help. And a more detailed understanding of these aquifers, their water bearing capacity and what would be their sustainable extraction limits under varying climatic and usage scenarios is urgently wanted.

2) Long term monitoring of Himalayan glaciers and the water budget of the rivers of the Himalayan foothills and Gangetic plains. Some recent studies suggest a gradual decline of Himalayan glaciers in response to global warming with implication for the future water supply to the glacially fed rivers of north India. We need to make an early start in understanding potential changes in water availability and their impact on agriculture and livelihoods.

3) Sediment budget of the Ganges-Brahmaputra delta region. This enormous delta has been built over the Cenozoic by sediment brought by rivers draining the Himalayas. How will shrinking glaciers, changing rainfall patterns and changing river flow regimes influence the sediment supply and its deposition in the alluvial plains and the delta region? Is there potential for the delta to degrade thus exacerbating the effects of sea level rise?

4) A detailed mapping of soil varieties and studying concerns over soil degradation and soil erosion.

5) How much shale gas is there in the many sedimentary basins of India?

6) Do we have enough understanding of contaminant transport through shallow and deep aquifers? Is groundwater quality given enough importance and is it studied in enough detail to answer apprehensions about potential contamination of ground water from fracking that may result from the hundreds of shale gas wells that will be drilled in the near future?

7) Is carbon sequestration at deeper crustal levels in the vicinity of some or many of the planned coal fired power plants geologically feasible?

8) Do we have significant uranium ore deposits?

There are probably many more questions, but I have given a sample that touches on three crucial subjects - Water Security, Food Security and Energy Security. Geology forms an important component of the foundational knowledge required for providing a better quality of life for hundreds of millions of Indians.  Indian geologists must proactively wrestle with these questions and play an important role in answering to these three concerns of Water, Food and Energy in this century.

....  And finally, the biggest mystery of all in Indian geology... Why are there so few Indian geologist bloggers? .. :)

Besides my blog I know of only one other!


  1. Hey Suvrat, very cool post, as always. I am particularly interested in the paleoclimate of the subcontinent (especially the paleomonsoon aspect) and out of the questions you have put across, I'm most intrigued by 3.

    With regard to your last question, I think I should finally give up my lurker status on your blog and introduce myself as another Indian geoscience (not necessarily geology) blogger. My blog is called Isotope Dope (del18o.blogspot.com) though I am thinking of relocating/revamping and start a regular full fledged science blog (maybe akin to the transformation from Reporting On A Rev. to Rapid Uplift? ;D)

  2. Kaustubh - many thanks for introducing yourself. you have a fantastic blog.. i used O isotopes quite a bit in my work so looking forward to reading more from you.. if you feel like it you should contact Chris Rowan of Highly Allochthonous( you can contact him via his contact us page) ) who curates an aggregated feed of the geoblogosphere and ask him to add your blog feed to the shared list..

    welcome and hope you blog more!

  3. Hey... Sorry for going AWOL. I was searching for something else when I came across your blog again.
    There is some interesting work being done by the NGO ACWADAM (www.acwadam.org)...you've probably heard of it...that addresses the hydrogeological questions you asked. The also engage Bachelors and Masters students in their work to introduce them to ground realities and requirements. Probably a drop in the ocean ... but they have the right idea.
    The Himalayan situation. Every time I search for papers for any work in the Himalayas especially pertaining to paleoclimate, you get a list of foreign teams and their papers and surprisingly few by Indians from Indian Institutes. Hopefully with the Climate Change center at IITM and the HIMPAC program and others like them, there will be influx of Indian scientists exploring the Himalayas as well. I am not even sure if its of any significance whether Indians study the Himalayas or Foreign teams do or whether it makes any difference ... just wondering.

  4. Hi Nikki- good to hear from you! I know about ACWADAM.. yu are right though that we need many more like them.

    regarding Himalayas.. I do think more Indian scientists need to get involved. Firstly, Indian scientists involvement will serve to influence government policy and secondly , translating research into something practical for communities will require developing a long term interface with local people and the more Indian scientists involved the better chances of transmission of this knowledge, I feel.

  5. I agree. It helps with Policy and it helps when you are trying to communicate to people. But what if its pure research. Does it make a difference if for example, (1) You were to work at a foreign institute while doing geological field work in India (2) You work for an Institute in India that guides foreign teams to appropriate sampling sites where all the research is conducted in their institutes abroad (3) try to work with or establish an expert working group in India knowing that a lot more time would be spent in establishing a lab,training of people, getting funds and other general beurocratic details...

    Just wondering...

  6. Nikki- those are well thought out points. I feel that as far as a body of knowledge is being generated, science benefits, no matter who is doing the work. but your point 2 does make me wonder whether Indian scientists should be playing supporting roles to foreign institutes. If most of the work is being done abroad it does mean that scientists here are not acquiring a deep knowledge of the specific problem. taking someone for fieldwork for sampling is different from spending laborious hours in the lab over the problem. that;s when you become an expert. So in that sense yeah.. it does make a difference to where that expertise resides, with implications for practical dissemination of that knowledge and so forth.

    I have to admit I get a little bewildered to see large tectonic and metamorphic papers on Himalayas in big journals and every author of the team is a foreigner. So what are institutes like Wadia Institute of Himalayan geology doing?

    that leads to your point 3. is it a matter of funding and bureaucratic hurdles that local scientists are not always taking that big step ahead?..