The First Indian to Winter over the South Pole: Reflections


This book is specially dedicated to my parents, viz., my father Shri Mohinder Singh Sehra, and my mother Shrimati Satwinder Kaur, whom I wholeheartedly regard as next to God and who always induced into me a constant inspiration and cultivated a keen and everlasting interest for scientific adventures and exploratory work, which took me right upto the South Pole to explore the Antarctic continent at the risk of my life and put India on the world map of Antarctica.

In Memoriam

All our ancestors, and my late grandfather, S. Bir Singh Sehra ( 1890-1985), who lived a simple farmer’s life, and my late younger brother, Dr. Saranjit Singh Rana (1956-1996), Medical Doctor, for their great service to humanity
All Polar explorers who sacrificed themselves in the harshest and the most hostile Polar regions with a self denial of comfort in search of new scientific knowledge for the common good of all mankind.


I am very thankful to Prof. P.R. Pisharoty for his kind guidance in my Ph.D. work on Antarctic Explorations and the Members of the 17th Soviet Antarctic Expedition for their scientific collaboration and kind cooperation extended to me as a project Scientist during their Antarctic Expedition from 1971-1973.
I am also greatly indebted to all my family members, viz., my parents Sardar Mohinder Singh Sehra and Shrimati Satwinder Kaur, my wife Dr. (Mrs.) Bupinder Sehra, MBBS, MD, Gynaecologist, our son Mr. Gaurav Singh Sehra, our daughter Miss Pamela Sehra, elder brother Dr. Manjit Singh, Ph.D., younger brother Mr. Amarjit Singh Sehra and younger sister Rani Parminder Kuar for thier ever helpful altitude and constant encouragement in writing this book.
I also thank all our other relatives, colleagues and friends and everyone else who helped me directly or indirectly in this work and in all other matters enabling me to bring out this historical book.

The Tribune, Thursday, April 26, 1973

Sehra Was Ist Indian
Scientist To Visit Antarctica
NEW DELHI, April 25 (PTI) :- The Prime Minister, Mrs. Indira Gandhi, told the Lok Sabha today that on the basis of information available to the Department of Space, Mr. Parmjit Singh Sehra was the first Indian scientist to have visited Antarctica.
She told Mr. Indrajit Gupta in a written anster that Mr. Sehra, a Research Scientist at the Physical Research Laboratory, Ahmedabad, had accompanied a Soviet Scientific Expedition to Antarctica in 1972.
Mrs. Gandhi said Mr. Sehra, who returned to India in 1973, was engaged in Research work in upper atmosphere physcis for which he was utilising the data collected during the expedition. The question of any recognition could arise only after the research work was completed.

Indian Express Sunday, January 17, 1982
Ice Desert & the Nostalgic Tale
By our Staff Reporter

AHMEDABAD, Jan 16- For Dr. Parmjit Singh Sehra, 31-year-old scientist of the Indian Space Research Organisation here, the news of the Indian expedition to the Antarctica early this week stirred up nostalgic memories of his own visit to that cold continent way back in 1972.
The first Indian to be on the South Pole, Dr. Sehra spent 18 months on the ice desert where the temperature in winter goes down to minus 88.3 degrees centigrade and nights and days are each six months long.
Dr. Sehra, then working with the Physical Research Laboratory here, had gone to the South Pole as a member of the Russain Antarctic Expedition under an Indo-Soviet agreement. On return here, he wrote a thesis entitled “Atmospheric Structure: Exploration over Antarctica and Interhemispheirc Comparison” and earned his Doctorate from the Gujarat University. Dr. Sehra, who has sent his congratulations to the current expedition teams has advocated that India should have a permanent Scientific station on the South Pole to carry out a study of the region.
Recalling his visit to the South Pole Dr. Sehra said the most spectacular periods in the Antarctic, were winter from June to August and spring from September to November. These periods were marked by sudden warming and cooling, strong wind reversals and dispapperance of the tropopause.
Dr. Sehra suggests that a study of the atmospheric changes in the Antarctic continent can possibly provide clues to understanding the phenomenon of the Indian monsoon.
An AMS Extract about Dr. Parmjit Singh Sehra from the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 45 Beacon Street, Boston, Massachusetts 02108-3693, U.S.A.

About Our Members
Dr. Parmjit Singh Sehra joined the World Meteorologi“Hazardous Pollution Problem over Ludhana, Punjab, India”.cal Organization (WMO) as a WMO/UN Expert for conducting an advanced WMO Class-II, class-I Training Programme at the Department of Meteorological Services in Harare, Zimbabwe. The project is sponsored by the Finnish International Development Agency (FINNIDA), the Southern African Transport and Communication Commission (SATCC), and the WMO. Dr. Sehra's responsibilities in this advanced WMO Training Program include teaching physics, mathematics, and data processing to participants, followed by instructing meteorological theory. After trainees complete their studies they will also be given the necessary of on-the-job training.
Dr. Sehra's participation with the 17th Soviet Antarctic Expedition from 1971 to 1973 led him to the distinction of being the first person from India ever to winter over the South Pole and circumnavigate and explore Antarctic continent. For his accomplishment, Dr. Sehra was awarded the prestigious Soviet Antarctic Medal, Ribbon and Polar Watch. His expedition to Antarctica sparked lot of interest in India for further exploration of Antarctica, including opening Indian research bases in Antarctica.
Dr. Sehra is a member of the AMS and was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Meteorological Society in 1991. He plans to continue working with the WMO to further the advancement of atmospheric sciences.

(Vol. 74, No. 1, January 1993
Bulletin American Meteorological Society)

Foreword :
Indian Scientist Worked at Soviet Antarctic station
by J.M. Caffin, Editor, ‘Antarctic’- A Scientific Journal of the New Zealand Antarctic Society, Christchurch, New Zealand, September, 1975 :

“India has become involved in scientific research in Antarctica as the result of an agreement with the Soviet Union for joint meteorological exploration of the upper atmosphere. Under this agreement an Indian scientist worked with the 17th Soviet Antarctic Expedition in 1971-73, and became the first Indian ever to winter on the continent.
Since the Indian Department of Atomic Energy and the Soviet Hydrometeorological Service signed the agreement in 1970, there have been regular weekly soundings with M-100 meteorological rockets from the main Soviet station, Molodezhnaya, and Thumba, India. Mr. Parmjit Singh Sehra, of the Physical Research Laboratory, Ahmedabad, was sent to the Antarctic by the Indian Space Research Organisation.
Mr. Sehra spent 18 months in the Antarctic, and participated in the meteorological rocket soundings of the upper atmosphere at Molodezhnaya. He also visited all the other Soviet stations, viz., Bellingshausen, new station Ruskaya’s site, Leningradskaya, Mirny, inland station Vostok at the Pole of cold & Geomagnetic South Pole, and Novolazarev-skaya as well as many other Antarctic stations including the american Amundsen-Scott South Pole station located at the Geographic South Pole. For his work with the 17th Soviet Antarctic Expedition he was awarded the prestigious Soviet Antarctic Medal, Soviet Antarctic Ribbon and the Soviet Polar Watch.
While Mr. Sehra was in Antarctica, 60 M-100 meteorological rockets were launched from Molodezhnaya. Sixteen of these carried an additional wind sensor “chaff” for determining the mesospheric winds. Most of the flights were successful, and the average rocket apogee reached was 86.95 km. This was the first meteorological study of the upper mesospheric winds made in Antarctica.
The “chaff” used in this study consisted of cylindrical aluminium-coated glass fibre. It was carried in a special container, and ejected at rocket apogee. A high sensitivity Meteor-2 radar checked the descending chaff cloud, and the data on the drift of its trajectory were used to measure the wind speed and direction in the mesospheric region under study.
Results of this investigation of the Antarctic upper atmosphere indicate that the most active period in South Polar regions is the winter and early spring; it is marked by large distruptions in the wind and thermal structure. In scientific papers printed in ‘Nature’, (Vol. 252, No. 5485 pp. 683-686, December 20/27, 1974 & Vol. 254, No. 5499, pp. 401-404, April 3, 1975), Mr. Sehra says that the rapid shifts in both zonal and meridional components of the upper atmospheric winds, particularly during the winter period May to July, are accompanied by sudden changes in the teperature distribution.
Stratospheric warming and cooling lead to the inituitive conclusion that the polar winter warmings may be caused both by an increase in the supply of energy in the form of a vertical flux of geopotential energy consisting of very long waves, and by radioactive and photochemical processes taking place in the upper atmosphere.
During September, when the winter westerlics change to the summer easterlies the upper atmosphere is again disrupted with a warming of 39*C at 40 km which is attributed to the increase in available heat brought about by the return of sunlight. It is thus concluded that sizeable perturbations may occur in the upper atmosphere over Antarctica during the winter regime.
Mr. Sehra is not only the first Indian Scientist to work in the Antarctic; he is also the first man in Enderby Land to join the New Zealand Antarctic Society, and the only member to wait nearly two years for his copies of ‘Antarctic’.
In 1972, Mr. Sehra relayed a request by radio from Molodezhnaya through McMurdo Station and Scott Base in Antarctica to join the New Zealand Antarctic Society. He asked also that all available issues of ‘Antarctic’ be sent from New Zeland to Moscow by air freight, and then by sea from Leningrad, USSR to Molodezhnaya in Antarctica.
Sixty copies of the bulletin were dispatched to Moscow by registered mail. But the parcel missed the ‘Professor Zubov’, the first ship to reach Molodezhnaya in Antarctica. It was believed to have been carried to Molodezhnaya, Antarctica by the supply ship ‘Ob’, which arrived there when Mr. Sehra had left, and then was trapped in heavy pack ice for 90 days off King George V Land.
Eventually, after an exchange of correspondence, the parcel reached Mr. Sehra in India in 1974, and payment for the 60 issues of the bulletin was received in October.
Mr. Sehra is still a subscriber to ‘Antarctic’. And he hopes to assiciate himself with the New Zealand Antarctic Research Programme at a later date”.

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