Society News

Who’s who in the OES : M. A. Atmanand (Atma)

Hello. My name, Atmanand, sounds unique for any one not from India. The meaning is: “Atma” means “soul” and “Anand” means “happiness.” You may call me Atma for short. I am not sure if I am always happy, true to my name!
I was born in the town of Palakkad in the south west part of peninsular India. I did my schooling and college education in the region, the state called Kerala, which is nowadays mentioned as “God’s own country” by the tourism industry. I moved to the south east of India to pursue my Masters and PhD degrees. My initial career was at Fluid Control Research Institute, where I had interactions with many United Nations experts from abroad in setting up the Laboratories for flow measurement and control. This was the place from where I really got practical experience after completing my University education. I then moved on to the National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT), in 1997, which was established in 1993. I was one of the few engineers who joined the Institute in the initial formative years. Here my initial period was on commissioning of wave energy turbine at a platform created for this purpose at Vizhinjam in Kerala, which is in the south west coast of India. I could really participate in the commissioning of the impulse turbine with flipping vanes. This was commissioned in 1997 under my supervision on the caisson which had the motion of waves converted to air movement. It was a marvelous sight to see the flipping of vanes according to the wave motion. The conversion of waves to power was established and a lot of data was collected from this plant.

Wave energy plant at Vizhinjam in south west of India Sea trial of In-situ soil tester in the
Central Indian Ocean Basin
Pretrial preparations of underwater crawler
on board Sagar Kanya
Tense moments on board Sagar Kanya
when the soil tester is underwater


After successful completion of sea trails of In-situ soil tester at the Central Indian Ocean Basin

Soon I moved to the area of deep-sea technologies, which was being formed at the Institute. My work started with designing the electrical, instrumentation and control system for an underwater mining machine, along with our German collaborators from University of Siegen. After completing the work, sea trials were done from on board the Ocean Research Vessel (ORV) Sagar Kanya. The task was stupendous in that almost none of us in the team were experienced in handling such operations those days, including our German colleagues. While launching the crawler, weighing nearly 10 tonnes in air, was attempted without a proper handling system and Dynamically positioning (DP) system on the ship, it made the crawler move in an uncontrolled manner, which eventually lead to parting of the cable and we lost the crawler. Luckily, it was shallow at that location and we managed to salvage the same within about 10 to 15 days. We had to spend many months in rectifying the problems and got back to the sea again with a crude type of dynamic positioning using tugs and boats to keep the vessel in place. This too was risky and we managed later to have a proper launching system and DP system on board the ship Sagar Kanya. With this in place we could do the launching and retrieval of the crawler properly and do sand mining at a depth of 500m. After we completed the sand mining trials, we modified the crawler with collector and crusher to collect and crush nodules. As there were no nodules at depths of 500 m, artificial nodules, having same property of original nodules, were prepared, laid on the sea bed and mined to the surface.
One of the other important projects, which was successfully executed, was the design and development of an in-situ soil property measurement system. It is necessary to measure the property of the seabed in-situ, as you know, sea bed property changes when it is taken out from its nascent state and then tested. So, it is necessary to measure the main properties, namely bearing strength and shear strength, in-situ. Bearing strength is measured by means of a cone penetrometer, which is conventionally used by civil engineers, and the shear strength is also measured using a cone penetrometer. The most important aspect is that the bearing strength values are small and it has to be measured when the ambient pressure is about 600 bar at 6000 m water depth. We had the assistance from a company Sevmorjeo from Russia with whom we developed the system. It was calibrated inland and the integrated system was taken to Central Indian Ocean Basin (CIOB) on board ORV Sagar Kanya. The system was launched using a cable, which carried the entire weight of the system. Power was provided using the same cable at high voltage and a fiber optic line deep inside was used for data transmission for instrumentation and control. The system was successfully tested at a depth of more than 5000 meters. This was done for the first time in India and I was happy that I could lead the team and get the project done successfully.
During this cruise, we had to cross the equator and go to the southern hemisphere. During those days, passing the equator used to be a great event, and there used to be a sort of fun program for first timers after which the captain issues a certificate indicating that the Lord of the seas is pleased to allow us to cross over the equator. I was trying hard to locate the certificate, which is of a jocular nature, so that all of you could enjoy it. Unfortunately I was not in a position to track it from my old records. Some of the pictures taken during the cruises are provided here.

On my left is my wife Anitha and on my right is our son Achyuth at the Mughal gardens in Srinagar, India

I had the good fortune of sailing on the Sagar Kanya, Sagar Manjusha, Siderenko, Boris Petrov, etc., for various projects. On Sagar Kanya I had sailed as team member and as Chief Scientist. Apart from the technical work on board the ship, I had the good fortune to enjoy the beautiful skies with its moonlight during the Full Moon Nights and the beautiful sunrise and moonrise with unpolluted air.
The work continued and multiple systems were designed and developed and tested successfully for the past many years. The success of all these gave me more responsibilities and I took over as the Director of Institute in October 2009 and continued to be in that position for more than five and a half years. After this, activities like preparing a vision document for the institute and also activities related to the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO were taken up. In the month of February, 2018, I once again took over as the Director of the Institute for a second term and am currently pushing hard for the large projects of manned submersible, deep sea mining, ocean energy, etc.
On the personal front, I was immensely supported by my wife Anitha and son Achyuth. My family really did not grumble when I used to go for long cruises leaving everything to be taken care of at home. My son was seeing me going on cruises and doing lots of technical work, which perhaps turned his attention to engineering. He completed his bachelor’s degree from India and master’s degree from France and is currently working in Paris. Our family photo, taken during one of our family vacations, is shown below.