Environment and Biodiversity May 2018

Air quality
  • India is tying up with the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Finland Meteorological Institute to develop a pollution-forecast system that will help anticipate particulate matter (PM) levels at least two days in advance and at a greater resolution than what is possible now.
  • At present the System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research (SAFAR), is run by the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, the organisation is  under the Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES).
  • It is apex forecaster of pollution trends in Delhi, Mumbai, Pune and Ahmedabad. It generates a likely air quality profile, a day in advance, for these cities.
  • SAFAR will continue to be the backbone for pollution forecast, the new system will use a different method of analysis, leading to better resolution and more accurate forecasts.
  • Recently Union Environment Ministry released a draft of the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) that aims to improve air quality monitoring in India by increasing the number of pollution monitoring stations and, incorporating it into a pollution forecast system.
Chinese Giant Salamander
  • According to new research the world’s largest amphibians, giant Chinese salamanders, which were once widespread  now face imminent extinction due to illegal poaching and hunting as a luxury food.
  • Red List Category & Criteria: Critically Endangered
  • The report in the journal Current Biology says that they cannot confirm survival of wild Chinese giant salamander populations at any survey sites, and consider the species to be extremely depleted or functionally extinct across the huge surveyed area.
UK Plastics Pact
  • More than 40 British companies, including major retailers and soft drinks companies, on Thursday pledged to eliminate unnecessary plastic packaging as part of an anti-pollution push.
  • Corporate giants such as Coca-Cola, Asda, Procter & Gamble and Marks & Spencer have all signed up the “UK Plastics Pact” amid growing concern over plastic pollution, particularly in the oceans.
Goa New frog species
  • plateaus of the Western Ghats parts of Goa, scientists have identified a new species of frog called Fejervarya goemchi.
  • The new species is named after the historical name of the state of Goa.
  • The scientists provide an overview of the group and recommend additional sampling across the Asian continent in a a Zoological Survey of India report.
  • The new species is found in the high elevation areas of laterite plateaus, temporary water bodies and paddy fields of Goa.
.Draft National Energy Storage Mission
  • The draft National Energy Storage Mission expects to kick-start grid-connected energy storage in India, set up a regulatory framework, and encourage indigenous manufacture of batteries.
  • The draft sets a “realistic target” of 15-20 gigawatt hours (GWh) of grid-connected storage within the next five year.
  • Power grids do not currently use storage options that would help in smoothly integrating renewable energy sources.
  • The NITI Aayog has proposed a three-stage solution for promoting battery manufacturing in the country.
  • The incentives on offer include land grants for direct awarding of land free of charge or at highly discounted cost to companies to develop manufacturing capacity.
The need for storage : 
  • solar energy generation may be at its peak at noon, but unless stored, it will not be available when needed to light up homes at night.
  • Renewable sources are inherently intermittent: there are days when the wind doesn’t blow or the sky is cloudy.
  • As the share of solar and wind energy increases in the power grids, the problem still remains that the peak supply of renewable sources does not always meet peak demand.
  • Batteries could help store surplus energy during peak generation times, but are more immediately needed to stabilise the grid when shifting between renewables and the baseload thermal capacity.
  • Once the installed capacity of renewables reaches 100 GW [from the current 65 GW], it will become critical to incorporate storage options.
Great Barrier Reef
  • Australia pledged half-a-billion dollars to restore and protect the Great Barrier Reef.
  • The World Heritage-listed site, which attracts millions of tourists, is reeling from significant bouts of coral bleaching due to warming sea temperatures linked to climate change. The reef is also under threat from the coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish, which has proliferated due to pollution and agricultural runoff.
  • The bulk of the new funding — just over 200 million dollars — was earmarked to improve water quality by changing farming practices and adopting new technologies and land management.
  • Scientists said the site suffered a “catastrophic die-off” of coral during an extended heatwave in 2016, threatening a broader range of reef life than previously feared.
  • A study in the journal Nature said some 30 per cent of the reef’s coral perished, the first of an unprecedented two successive years of coral bleaching along the 2,300-kilometer reef.
Sariska National Park
  • The number of tiger cubs in the Sariska National Park in Rajasthan’s Alwar district has risen to 14 with the birth of two cubs.
  • Prelims remember the location of the park.
Thwaites Glacier
  • Britain and the United States launched a $25 million project to study the risks of a collapse of a giant glacier in Antarctica that is already shrinking and nudging up global sea levels.
  • The five-year research, involving 100 scientists, would be the two nations’ biggest joint scientific project in Antarctica since the 1940s.
  • The scientists would study the Thwaites Glacier, which is roughly the size of Florida or Britain, in West Antarctica.
  • Thwaites and the nearby Pine Island Glacier are two of the biggest and fastest-retreating glaciers in Antarctica. If both abruptly collapse, allowing ice far inland to flow faster into the oceans, world sea levels can rise by more than a metre (3 feet), threatening cities from Shanghai to San Francisco and low-lying coastal regions.
Lake Victoria biodiversity under threat
  • Three quarters of freshwater species endemic to East Africa’s Lake Victoria basin face the threat of extinction.
  • A fresh report backed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) assessed the extinction risk of 651 freshwater species like fish, molluscs, dragonflies, crabs and aquatic plants native to Africa’s largest lake.
  • The report titled “Freshwater biodiversity in the Lake Victoria Basin”. “Three-quarters (76%) of these endemics are at risk of extinction,” IUCN warned.
  • In its report, the IUCN pointed out that freshwater species are important sources of food, medicine and construction material for the millions of people living in the area surrounding the lake.
  • The lake, which stretches into Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda and whose catchment also touches Burundi and Rwanda, is known for its high-level of unique biodiversity.
  • main threats to biodiversity in the region: overfishing, poor fishing practices and environmental degradation as wetlands are converted to agricultural land. Industrial and agricultural pollution, over-harvesting and land clearance.
  • Lake Victoria, also called Victoria Nyanza, largest lake in Africa and chief reservoir of the Nile, lying mainly in Tanzania and Uganda but bordering on Kenya.Among the freshwater lakes of the world, it is exceeded in size only by Lake Superior in North America.
India had 14 out of world’s 20 most polluted cities
  • Delhi and Varanasi are among the 14 Indian cities that figure in a list of 20 most polluted cities in the world in terms of PM2.5 levels in 2016, data released by the WHO shows.
  • Nine out of 10 people in the world breathe air containing high levels of pollutants.
  • In terms of PM10 levels, 13 cities in India figure among the 20 most polluted cities of the world in 2016.
  • The WHO has called upon member-countries in its Southeast Asia region to aggressively address the double burden of household and ambient (outdoor) air pollution, the region, which comprises India, accounts for 34% or 2.4 million of the seven million premature deaths caused by household and ambient air pollution together globally every year.
  • Of the 3.8 million deaths caused by household air pollution globally, the region accounts for 1.5 million or 40% deaths, and of the 4.2 million global deaths due to ambient air pollution, 1.3 million or 30% are reported from the region.
  • The PM2.5 includes pollutants like sulfate, nitrate and black carbon, which pose the greatest risk to human health.WHO’s global urban air pollution database measured the levels of fine particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5)
  • WHO recognize air pollution is a critical risk factor for non-communicable diseases (NCDs), causing an estimated 24% of all adult deaths from heart disease, 25% from stroke, 43% from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and 29% from lung cancer.
  • Many of the world’s mega cities exceed WHO’s guideline levels for air quality by more than 5 times, representing a major risk to people’s health.
  • Responding to the air pollution data released by the World Health Organisation (WHO) , the government claimed that various measures have led to pollution levels actually falling in 2017.
  • At 143 microgrammes/cubic metre, Delhi’s PM (2.5) levels in 2016 — as reported by the WHO — made it the sixth most polluted city in the world. The government, citing Central Pollution Control Board data, said it was 134 microgrammes/cubic metre in 2016 and 125 microgrammes/cubic metre in 2017.
  • The CPCB data based on Continuous Ambient Air Quality Monitoring Stations (CAAQMS) also noted that PM (10) figures were 289 microgrammes per cubic metre in the year 2016 and 268 microgrammes per cubic metre in the year 2017.
  • The WHO had cited numbers from CPCB, along with other peer-reviewed sources, to assess pollution levels in Delhi in 2016.
Glow-in-the-dark algae
  • The phenomenon of Mumbai’s beaches glowing in the dark maybe a consequence of global warming and not industrial pollution, according to a year-long investigation by Indian and American scientists.
  • The Noctiluca algae, commonly known as sea tinkle, is a parasite and occurs in patches or ‘blooms’ in the Northern Arabian Sea. They glow at night due bioluminescence, and have earned them the nickname ‘sea sparkle’.These patches are a sign of decline because they compete with fish for food and choke their supply.
  • Noctiluca devours one of the most important planktonic organisms at the base of the fish-food chain, namely diatoms, and also excretes large amounts of ammonia, which is linked with massive fish mortalities.
  • Researchers from the Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS)—a Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES) body—and the US’ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) – “global warming conditions” may be instead be responsible.
  • A warming ocean means greater temperature differences among layers of the sea water and this slows the upward transport of nutrients like silicate from the ocean bottom, lowering its concentration at the surface. Diatoms growing in surface water need both sunlight and silicate to build their glass skeletons and thus, will fail to thrive when silicate becomes less available. On the other hand, Noctiluca remains unaffected by these changes and additionally will prey on the remaining diatoms.
Taj Mahal discolouration
  • Supreme Court said that Taj Mahal is browning, experts say that the discolouration is due to a mix of weathering as well as industrial pollution but thorough studies are required before remedial measures are implemented.
  • In 2014, a study by Indian and US researchers argued that the key culprits responsible for the discolouration were: particulate matter; carbon from burning biomass and refuse; fossil fuels; and dust possibly from agriculture and road traffic.
Western Ghats forest cover vital for Tamil Nadu’s South-West monsoon
  • The dense vegetation in the Western Ghats determines the amount of rainfall that Tamil Nadu gets during the summer monsoon.
  • A team led by Prof. Subimal Ghosh from the Department of Civil Engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Bombay has found that dense forests of the Western Ghats contribute as much as 40% of moisture to the southwest monsoon rainfall over Tamil Nadu during normal monsoon years. The average contribution is 25-30%. But during monsoon deficit years, the contribution increases to as high as 50%.
  • The study found the forests of Western Ghats contribute as much as 3 mm per day of rainfall during August and September over a “majority of locations” in Tamil Nadu and 1 mm per day during June and July.
  • The Western Ghats acts as a capacitor. The forest land and vegetation gets recharged with water during the wet spell and during the break periods moisture is released and which contributes to rainfall to the State.
New snake found in Western Ghats
  • New snake found in Western Ghats , it is just 40 cm long and iridescent brown, named Bhupathy’s shieldtail .
  • The snake, currently observed only in the forests of the Anaikatty hills in Tamil Nadu’s Coimbatore district, has been named Uropeltis bhupathyi, after the late herpetologist S. Bhupathy, for his contributions to the field.
  • The reptile belongs to a family of snakes found only in peninsular India and Sri Lanka. They are non-venomous, burrowing and mostly earthworm-eating, and are called shieldtails after the large, flat tips of their tails, which make them appear almost sliced off.
  • The discovery takes the number of known species of shieldtails in India to 41. The country is home to more than 300 snake species.
addiction to plastic
Mains Value addition : When the rest of the world, particularly India and China, stepped on the growth pedal, the use of plastic rose exponentially. In 1950, annual plastic production was less than half a million tonnes. By 2002, when India and China were well into their high growth trajectory, production reached 200 million tonnes a year!
  • In 2016, 335 million tonnes of plastic were synthesised, most of which has been disposed of within days, if not hours. Some 80 billion tonnes of plastic have been produced since 1950, of which about 60% has been discarded and a meagre 9% recycled.
  • when exposed to salt water and sunlight, plastics fragment into tiny little pieces called microplastics that find their way into fishes and other aquatic life, entering the food chain.Added to this are microbeads, tiny pieces of polyethylene plastic that are added to health and beauty products such as cleansers and toothpaste.
  • India is producing some 5.5 million tonnes of plastic every year,  most of it is finding its way into the natural environment. A 2015 study conducted by the Central Pollution Control Boardfound that plastic waste has become a serious problem in as many as 60 cities across the country. These cities are generating 15,000 tonnes of plastic waste everyday
fall in water reserves
Mains Value addition
  • India’s groundwater resources have been over exploited
  • According to a sample assessment in 2011, groundwater in 19 of India’s 71 districts — about 26% — were critical or exploited, meaning that nearly as much or more water was being pulled out than their reservoirs’ natural recharge ability.
  • In another assessment in 2013, they included groundwater blocks in districts that had gone saline, and this percentage was up to 31%.
  • Groundwater is exploited unequally. The maximum overdraft is in the northwestern States of Rajasthan, Punjab and Haryana.
  • The overall contribution of rainfall to the country’s annual groundwater resource is 68%, and the share of other resources, such as canal seepage, return flow from irrigation, recharge from tanks, ponds and water conservation structures, taken together is 32%.
  • national per capita annual availability of water has reduced from 1,816 cubic metre in 2001 to 1,544 cubic metre in 2011, a 15% reduction.
  • Reasons: India has registered a sharp decline in its pre-monsoon rainfall this year. Between March 1 and the first week of May, the country should have got at least 70 mm of rain, but has only got 55 mm, or a 20% deficit.
  • Outcomes: According to figures from the Central Water Commission, India’s key reservoirs are, as of this week, 10% short of their decadal average for this time of the year.
  • Policy: The Centre has a ‘model’ groundwater Bill that is not binding on the States. However, 11 States and four Union Territories have adopted it. But the legislation has had limited impact on groundwater exploitation.
New technology purifies water using sunlight
  • Scientists have developed a new technology that uses the sunlight to purify water with near-perfect efficiency.
  • The idea of using energy from the sun to evaporate and purify water was reportedly described by Greek philosopher Aristotle over 2,000 years ago.
  • By draping black, carbon-dipped paper in a triangular shape and using it to both absorb and vaporise water, researchers have developed a method for using sunlight to generate clean water with near-perfect efficiency.
  • The technique has many advantages. It is simple, and the power source  the sun  is available just about everywhere.Using this set-up, researchers evaporated the equivalent of 2.2 litres of water per hour for every square metre of area illuminated by the regular sun.
Tourism behind 8% of CO2 emissions
  • The world’s domestic and international tourism industry contributes to 8% of the global greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Small islands attract a disproportionate share of carbon emissions, considering their small populations, through international arrivals, while the U.S. is responsible for the majority of tourism-generated emissions overall.
Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano
  • Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano that has been oozing lava and burping steam for days.
  • Kilauea is one of the most active volcanos in the world and one of five on the island. A magnitude 5 earthquake under its south flank preceded an initial eruption and several severe aftershocks followed.
  • is a currently active shield volcano.
U.S. cancels carbon monitoring project
  • A NASA programme that cost $10 million per year to track carbon and methane, key greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming, has been cancelled.
  • The end of the programme called the Carbon Monitoring System (CMS)  which tracked sources and sinks for carbon and made high-resolution models of the planet’s flows of carbon — was first reported by the journal Science.
climate variations recorded in stalagmite
  • A stalagmite is a type of rock formation that rises from the floor of a cave due to the accumulation of material deposited on the floor from ceiling drippings. Stalagmites may be composed of lava, minerals, mud, peat, pitch, sand, sinter and amberat.
  • Analysing bits of a stalagmite from Kotumsar cave in Central India, a collaboration involving researchers from Physical Research Laboratory (PRL), Ahmedabad, has revealed variations of the Indian summer monsoon over some 3,000 years, starting from 8,500 years ago to 5,600 years ago.
  • The Kotumsar cave is 35 metres below ground level and located in the Kanger Valley National Park of Chhattisgarh. It formed by slow dissolution of the Kanger limestone by water from the Indian summer monsoon (June to September) over hundreds of thousands of years.
  • The team used Uranium–Thorium dating to study the sample.
  • The team found that at the beginning of the mid-Holocene, from 8,500 years ago to 6,500 years ago, the monsoon had started declining. The team also noticed 70–100-year-long mega drought events. They also noticed that, gradually, the summer monsoon increased between 6,500 years ago to 5,600 years ago.
Bengal florican
  • The critically endangered Bengal florican  a grassland bird more threatened than the tiger use not just protected grasslands but agricultural fields, too.
  • This suggests that conserving these cultivated areas could be as important as protecting the grasslands where these birds breed.
  • Fewer than 1,000 adult Bengal floricans remain in the world in two, very fragmented populations. One of them is in the grasslands of the terai, the fertile foothills of the Himalayas, which spans across Nepal and Indian states such as Uttar Pradesh.
  • During the monsoon (the non-breeding season), the birds had far larger home ranges. They moved out of protected grasslands and into low-intensity agricultural fields along large rivers.
Multiple threats to Himalayan biodiversity
  • The Indian Himalayas, which constitute about 12% of the country’s landmass, is home to about 30.16% of its fauna, says a new publication (Faunal Diversity of Indian Himalaya) from the Zoological Survey of India (ZSI).
  • Spread across six States  from Jammu and Kashmir in the west through Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and West Bengal’s Darjeeling to Arunachal Pradesh in the far east the Indian Himalayas are divided into two bio-geographic zones  the Trans-Himalaya and the Himalaya, based on physiographic, climatic and eco-biological attributes.
  • The Indian Himalayas also have 131 protected areas, which cover 9.6% of the entire protected area of the country, almost the same as the Western Ghats (10% of protected areas), another biodiversity hotspot in the country.
  • The protected areas include 20 national parks, 71 wildlife sanctuaries, five tiger reserves, four biosphere reserves and seven Ramsar Wetland sites.
  • The publication lists 133 vertebrate species of the region cited as threatened in the IUCN Red List. This includes 43 species of mammals like the critically endangered Pygmy Hog, the Namdapha flying squirrel and the endangered Snow leopard, the Red Panda and the Kashmir Gray Langur.
  • Fifty-two species of birds are also in the threatened category like the critically endangered White-Bellied Heron and Siberian crane and vulnerable species like the Black Necked crane and the Indian Spotted eagle, among others.
  • The Indian Himalayas host 1,249 species/subspecies of butterflies, with the highest density recorded in Arunachal Pradesh. Some of the rare high-altitude butterflies found in the Himalayas are Parnassius stoliczkanus (Ladakh banded Apollo) and Parnassius epaphus (Red Apollo), listed under Schedule I and Schedule II of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, respectively.
Threats to this Himayalan biodiversity
  • Climate change is the major threat as far as mammals and birds are concerned. The impact is visible in the shifting distribution of sensitive species like the Asiatic Black Bear, the Snow leopard, and the Himalayan Marmot.
  • Habitat loss due to land use change, illegal wildlife trade, forest fires and increasing anthropogenic activities
Protected lands under urbanisation pressure
Mains Value addition points: 
  • Protected lands may be legally protected on paper, but one-third of the world’s protected areas are under intense pressure from human activities such as road construction, grazing for livestock and urbanisation said a study published in Science..
  • Using global “human footprint” maps to quantify the intensity of human pressure in 41,927 protected areas  in 213 countries. Their results show that 32.8% of protected land worldwide is highly degraded. 55% of protected areas created before the ratification of the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD, a multilateral treaty with 196 countries as signatories) in 1992 have experienced increases in pressure from human activities.
  • 80% of protected land in India has been heavily modified by human activity.
  • The report warns that CBD goals  such as the Aichi Biodiversity Target 11 which mandates including at least 17% of terrestrial areas of a country as protected by 2020  will be undermined if widespread human pressure continues inside protected areas.
India’s freshwater stocks in danger
  • Scientists led by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in the U.S. used data on human activities to map locations where the availability of freshwater is rapidly changing.The team used 14 years of observations from the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) spacecraft mission, a joint project of NASA and the German Aerospace Center, to track global trends in freshwater in 34 regions around the world.
  • The study, published in the journal Nature, found that wetter parts of the earth’s were getting wetter and dry areas getting drier due to a variety of factors, including human water use, climate change and natural cycles.
  • Areas in northern and eastern India, West Asia, California and Australia are among the hotspots where overuse of water resources has caused a serious decline in the availability of freshwater.
UGC directs universities to ban plastic bottles on campus
  • The University Grants Commission (UGC) has directed all universities and higher educational institutions to ban the use of plastic cups, lunch packets, straws, bottles and bags on their campuses.
  • The directive comes after the Environment Ministry issued an advisory, saying that India is the host of this year’s World Environment Day celebrations, the largest United Nations-led event on environment, and the theme is ‘Beat Plastic Pollution.’
International Biodiversity Day 2018
  • Every year May 22 is observed as The International Day for Biological Diversity (IDB) to increase awareness on various biodiversity issues such as habitat destruction, marine pollution and climate change.
  • It was first observed in 1993 by the Second Committee of the UN General Assembly. In 2000, May 22 was chosen as the The International Day for Biological Diversity to commemorate the Adoption of the Agreed Text of the Convention on Biological Diversity. It is an international legal agreement ratified by 196 nations for “the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources”.
  • The theme for 2018 is “Celebrating 25 Years of Action for Biodiversity.
Worsening air quality major cause of premature deaths
  • Worsening air quality in the last two decades has emerged as one of the major reasons for high numbers of premature deaths, says a new study conducted in 11 north Indian cities.
  • The findings titled ‘Know what you breathe’, released here on Tuesday, were researched by Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)-Delhi in collaboration with environmental NGO Centre for Environment and Energy Development (CEED). The report found annual mortality linked to air pollution to be in the range of 150-300 persons per 1 lakh population.
  • The study calculated the annual “mortality burden” through averages of recorded deaths caused due to Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), Acute Lower Respiratory Infection (ALRI), coronary disease, stroke, and lung cancer, in these cities. COPD was the largest cause of the deaths (at 29.7%) and lung cancer the lowest (0.6%).
  • Premature mortality burden would reduce by 14%-28% annually with the achievement of Indian air quality standards in these cities, the report said.
Humans form a minuscule part of life on earth
  • according to a first-of-its-kind global census of the footprint of life on the planet ,The planet’s real heavyweights are plants.
  • Plants outweigh people by about 7,500 to 1, and make up more than 80% of the world’s biomass.
  • Bacteria are nearly 13% of the world’s biomass. Fungi yeast, mold and mushrooms make up about 2%.
  • Domesticated cattle and pigs outweigh all wild mammals by 14 to 1, while the world’s chickens are triple the weight of all the wild birds.
  • Taking water out of the equation and measuring only dry carbon makes it easier for scientists to compare species. About one-sixth the weight of a human is dry carbon. Humans are about two-thirds water.

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