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Capacity Building Activities

Department of Bio-chemistry, Calcutta University

Introduction
Ever since the earth came into being there has been a climate system for sustenance of life and through out the earth’s history there have been several phases of changes in climate. As a result there have been well marked cold and hot periods. Interestingly over the last 150-200 years, i.e. since the industrial revolution, climate change in the form of elevated mean global temperature has been taking place. It has been proved beyond doubt that human activities during this period have been releasing more and more green house gases to the atmosphere which in turn has given rise to the recent climate change through rise in global mean temperature. Two important effects of this global warming are sea level rise and increase in number, frequency and intensity of cyclones and hurricanes both of which are and will affect the coastal areas substantially.

Background
The eastern part of the coastal region of West Bengal is characterized by the spectacular mangrove forest of Sundarban. The forest performs several important ecological functions for its sustenance. On one hand, the mangrove forest acts as a bio-shield against severe storms and cyclones coming from the Bay of Bengal that have the potential of causing large scale damage to the coastal areas. On the other hand, the mangrove forest participates in complex physical, chemical and biological interactions that produce an unique ambience for healthy and luxuriant growth of the forest. People living in and around the forest draw their livelihood from the living and renewable resources provided by the forest. The forest acts as a sink of carbon in as much as it is suspected that they emit methane, a green house gas, to the atmosphere. It is also known that CO2 is produced by heterotrophic activity in a mangrove swamp. However, a correct assessment of the contribution of mangrove forest towards controlling the climate change/global warming is still not available due to absence of reliable measurement data. Conversely, the expected changes in carbon bio-geochemical cycle in the mangrove system in relation to the anticipated climate change/global warming are still to be understood/worked out due to the same reasons.

The life forms in the Sundarban have a complex inter-related existence in dynamic equilibrium with the extant physical and chemical environment. The mangrove produces rich organic debris (consisting of decaying spores, pollens, seeds, leaves, fruits, twigs and branches of trees, etc) due to its high biological productivity with unique concentrations of nutrients in the debris. The nutrients are released both to the water and soil of the mangrove wetland of Sundarban. Parts of these “foods” are consumed by a group of organisms (like fishes, birds, amphibians, mammals, etc) either directly or through the water or the soil medium to sustain their body metabolic functions. The other parts are assimilated in the substrate soil, “consumed” by various forms of microbes which return some part of the “digested” consumed food to the soil as organic fertilizers. The fertilized soil (BY humification) thus supports further luxuriant growth of the mangrove forest. There is, however, a residual flow of nutrients and organic carbon from the mangrove system to the coastal water. The microbial diversity of a mangrove forest is mind-boggling and the various forms interact with the environment at various energy levels to set up a complex food web and growth of mangrove vegetation.

Objectives
The above discussion brings out that there are at least five frontier areas of enquiries on functioning of the Sundarban mangrove forest that can be pursued as part of climate change program providing important inputs in drawing up an integrated coastal zone management plan of the coastal areas of West Bengal. The objectives of each of the five areas of enquiries are as follows:

  • Understanding the functioning of the Sundarban mangrove system through the activities of the microbes present in the substrate sediments and understanding the role of microbial diversity in maintaining the system,
  • understanding the natural process of capture of carbon and emission of green house gases from mangrove forests of Sundarban thereby assessing the contribution of mangrove forest towards controlling global warming,
  • predicting the changes in carbon bio-geochemical cycle in the mangrove system of Sundarban in relation to climate change/global warming,
  • understanding the natural process of flow of nutrients and organic carbon from the mangrove system to the coastal sediment and water in Sundarban to self support the mangrove system of Sundarban
  • assessing the amount of carbon sequestration through mangrove forest of Sundarban towards controlling global warming

Work Plan
Planned procurement of the instruments as envisaged in the present project will essentially support two research programs as part of capacity building of the participating departments (Biochemistry, Microbiology, Agriculture, Environmental Science and Atmospheric Science) of the University of Calcutta.

The first program will involve collection of representative soil and water samples from areas of Sundarban having different vegetation assemblages and analyzing the microbial diversity using structural and functional metagenomics. For this purpose one Thermocycler or PCR machine is proposed to be purchased. The second instrument that is proposed for purchase is Pyrosequencer for performing both structural and functional metagenomics for understanding microbial diversity. A Gel Doc Documentation System is also included for procurement.

  • Pyrosequencer
  • Gel Doc system
  • PCR

The second program will involve the following major works:

  • measurement of CO2 sequestration and CH4 emission from the mangrove forest and water,
  • estimation of bacterial abundance (BA) and bacterial productivity (BP),
  • measurement of inadvertent fertilization by nutrient flux (dissolved inorganic nitrogen), dissolved inorganic phosphate silicate from rivers.
  • measurement/estimation of residual flow of nutrients and organic carbon from the mangrove system to the coastal water.

The instrumental requirements for the second program are as follows:

  • Upright wide field research microscope with bright field, dark field, phase contrast and fluorescence with CCD camera and software
  • Total carbon analyzer
  • Liquid scintillation counter
  • Low temperature programmable Incubator with Shaker system
  • Nitric oxide analyzer
  • Fluorescence Lifetime measurement spectrometer

Budget

The project cost has been estimated at Rupees 5.6 crores out of which capital cost will be about Rupees 3.125 crores towards purchase of equipments and recurring cost will be about Rupees 2.475 crores. The net financial impact will be addition of cutting-edge instruments in the Calcutta University for carrying out advanced research in biotechnology and biochemistry having applications in coastal management research. Such impact will also be in the form of peer-reviewed scientific publications in internationally reputed scientific journals.