Current Affairs December 2018

What are Eco-sensitive zones?

The Environment Protection Act, 1986 does not mention the word “Eco-sensitive Zones”. The section 3(2)(v) of the Act, says that Central Government can restrict areas in which any industries, operations or processes shall not be carried out or shall be carried out subject to certain safeguards Besides the section 5 (1) of this act says that central government can prohibit or restrict the location of industries and carrying on certain operations or processes on the basis of considerations like the biological diversity of an area, maximum allowable limits of concentration of pollutants for an area, environmentally compatible land use, and proximity to protected areas.

  • The above two clauses have been effectively used by the government to declare Eco-Sensitive Zones or Ecologically Fragile Areas (EFA). The same criteria have been used by the government to declare No Development Zones.
  • The MoEF (Ministry of Environment & Forests) has approved a comprehensive set of guidelines laying down parameters and criteria for declaring ESAs. A committee constituted by MoEF put this together. The guidelines lay out the criteria based on which areas can be declared as ESAs. These include Species Based (Endemism, Rarity etc), Ecosystem Based (sacred groves, frontier forests etc) and Geomorphologic feature based (uninhabited islands, origins of rivers etc).
16. ECO Niwas Samhita 2018
Source: PIB
Why in news:

Ministry of Power has launched the ECO Niwas Samhita 2018, an Energy Conservation Building Code for Residential Buildings (ECBC-R).

  • The code was launched on the occasion of National Energy Conservation Day 2018.
  • It aims to benefit the occupants and the environment by promoting energy efficiency in design and construction of homes, apartments and townships. About the Energy Conservation Building Code:
  • It is prepared after extensive consultations with all stakeholders, consisting of architects & experts including building material suppliers and developers.
  • The parameters listed have been developed based on large number of parameters using climate and energy related data.
  • The code is expected to assist large number of architects and builders who are involved in design and construction of new residential complexes.
  • Implementation of this Code will have potential for energy savings to the tune of 125 Billion Units of electricity per year by 2030, equivalent to about 100 million ton of Co2 emission. Background:
  • ECBC for commercial buildings was already in place and revised and updated version of ECBC for commercial buildings was launched in June 2017. It is estimated that energy demand in the building sector will rise from around 350 billion units in 2018 to approximately 1000 billion units by year 2030.
  • Building sector will have highest growth in energy demand in coming 10-15 years. Government is encouraging all building professionals including architects, builders to generate awareness towards energy conservation while constructing new residential homes.
    National Energy Conservation Awards:
  • National Energy Conservation Day is celebrated every year on 14th December by Ministry of Power in association with Bureau of Energy Efficiency. On this day, 26 industrial units from various sectors were given awards for their excellent performance in energy efficiency.
    About Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE):
  • BEE is a statutory body under Ministry of Power which is mandated to implement policy and programmes in the area of energy efficiency and conservation.
  • The objective of such initiatives is to reduce energy intensity in our country by optimizing energy demand and reduce emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) which are responsible for global warming and climate change. India has committed to reduction of 33-35% GHG emission by 2030 as part of the document submitted to UNFCCC.
17. Cyclonic Storm Phethai
Source: The Hindu
Why in news:

  • Cyclone Pethai has emerged as a deep depression in the Bay of Bengal around 900 kms off Chennai on 15 December 2018.
  • It was expected to bring heavy rainfall in the coastal areas of north Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Odisha.
    Key facts:
  • Cyclonic Storm Phethai is the sixth named cyclone of 2018 North Indian Ocean Cyclone season.
  • The previous five named cyclones are Sagar, Mekunu, Luban, Titli and Gaza.
    18. NASA’s Voyager 2 Spacecraft
    Source: NASA, BBC

    NASA's Voyager 2 spacecraft has exited the heliosphere -- the plasma bubble created by the sun that encompasses most of our solar system -- and entered interstellar space.

    More about Voyager 2:
    • It is only the second man-made object to ever enter interstellar space.
    • Voyager 2 is the only probe ever to study Neptune and Uranus during planetary flybys.
    • It is now 11 billion miles from Earth, following behind its sister spacecraft, Voyager 1, which is 6 years ahead of it. The probe is estimated to be travelling at 34,000 mph.
    • Voyager 2 is the only spacecraft to have visited all four gas giant planets — Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune — and discovered 16 moons, as well as phenomena like Neptune’s mysteriously transient Great Dark Spot, the cracks in Europa’s ice shell, and ring features at every planet.
      What is Interstellar space?
    • Scientists use the heliopause to mark where interstellar space begins, although depending on how you define our solar system it can stretch all the way to the Oort Cloud, which begins 1,000 times farther away from the sun than Earth’s orbit.
      The Heliosphere:
    • The heliosphere is a bubble around the sun created by the outward flow of the solar wind from the sun and the opposing inward flow of the interstellar wind. That heliosphere is the region influenced by the dynamic properties of the sun that are carried in the solar wind–such as magnetic fields, energetic particles and solar wind plasma. The heliopause marks the end of the heliosphere and the beginning of interstellar space.

    • About Voyager mission:
    • The Voyager mission was launched in the 1970’s, and the probes sent by NASA were only meant to explore the outer planets – but they just kept on going.
    • Voyager 2 was launched on August 20, 1977, from Cape Canaveral, Florida aboard a Titan-Centaur rocket. On September 5, Voyager 1 was launched, also from Cape Canaveral aboard a Titan-Centaur rocket.
    • The mission objective of the Voyager Interstellar Mission (VIM) is to extend the NASA exploration of the solar system beyond the neighbourhood of the outer planets to the outer limits of the Sun’s sphere of influence, and possibly beyond.
    • The Voyager spacecraft are the third and fourth human spacecraft to fly beyond all the planets in our solar system. Pioneers 10 and 11 preceded Voyager in outstripping the gravitational attraction of the Sun but on February 17, 1998, Voyager 1 passed Pioneer 10 to become the most distant human-made object in space.
    19. Signs of water found on Asteroid Bennu Source: NASA
    Why in news:

    ASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft discovered evidence of water on a relatively nearby skyscraper-sized asteroid, Bennu, a rocky acorn-shaped object that may hold clues to the origins of life on Earth.

    Key points:
  • Data obtained from spacecraft’s two spectrometers, the OSIRIS-REx Thermal Emission Spectrometer (OTES) and OSIRIS-REx Visible and Infrared Spectrometer (OVIRS) has revealed presence of hydroxyl molecules that contain oxygen and hydrogen atoms bonded together.
  • These hydroxyl groups exist globally across asteroid in water-bearing clay minerals, indicating that at some point Bennu’s rocky material interacted with water.
  • While Bennu itself is too small to have ever hosted liquid water, the finding indicates that liquid water was present at some time on Bennu's parent body, a much larger asteroid. About OSIRIS-REx:
    OSIRIS-Rex stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer.
  • It launched in September 2016 is NASA’s first asteroid sampling mission i.e. it will survey surface, collect sample and deliver it safely back to Earth.
  • It had reached its destination Bennu asteroid in December 2018 after travelling through space for more than two years and travelling over two billion kilometres.
  • Samples returned by the mission to Earth in 2023 will enable scientists to find new information about the history and evolution of our solar system.

  • Why was Bennu chosen?

    Bennu was selected for a the OSIRIS-REx mission from over 500,000 known asteroids, due to it fitting following key criteria:

    • Proximity to Earth: In order for OSIRIS-REx to reach its destination in a reasonable timeframe, NASA needed to find an asteroid which had a similar orbit to Earth.
    • Size: Small asteroids, those less than 200m in diameter, typically spin much faster than larger asteroids, meaning the regolith material can be ejected into space. Bennu is around 500m in diameter, so rotates slowly enough to ensure that the regolith stays on its surface.
    • Composition: Bennu is a primitive asteroid, meaning it hasn’t significantly changed since the beginning of the Solar System (over 4 billion years ago). It is also very carbon-rich, meaning it may contain organic molecules, which could have been precursors to life on Earth.
    • Bennu is of interest as it is a Potentially Hazardous Asteroid (PHA). Every 6 years, Bennu’s orbit brings it within 200,000 miles of the Earth, which means it has a high probability of impacting Earth in the late 22nd Century.
      20. Method to simulate, predict solar activity over ten years developed
      Source: The Hindu
      Why in news:

      A team of researchers from IISER Kolkata have developed a way of predicting the intensity of activity in the next solar cycle (approximately from 2020 to 2031) using data spread over the last 100 years.

      • Astronomers have observed sunspots on the surface of the sun for nearly 400 years. It is known that sunspots follow a cyclic pattern of growing in number and disappearing in approximately 11 years, known as the sunspot cycle or the sun’s activity cycle. We are currently in the 24th sunspot cycle since the observation began in 1755.
      • The researchers found that the sun’s activity would not dip during the next cycle, but it would be similar to the current cycle, perhaps even stronger. They expect the cycle to peak around 2024. Method:
      • The researchers simulate the behaviour of the sun using magnetic field evolution models and observational data. They simulate solar activity, and using inputs from observed data from one cycle, predicte the behaviour of the sun over the next cycle, about ten years in advance.
        What are Sunspots?
      • Sunspots are temporary phenomena on the Sun’s photosphere that appear as spots darker than the surrounding areas. They are regions of reduced surface temperature caused by concentrations of magnetic field flux that inhibit convection. Sunspots usually appear in pairs of opposite magnetic polarity.
        Significance of studying sunspots:
      • To know the effects on space weather. This refers to the effect of radiation, particle flux and magnetic flux in the region around the sun. During extreme events, space weather can affect electronics-driven satellite controls, communications systems, air traffic over polar routes and even power grids.
      • Sunspots are correlated with climate on earth. A lot of the research in this area focuses on predicting the way the next sunspot cycle will shape up – whether the sun will be extremely active and produce many sunspots or not.
      • For the understanding of the long-term variations of the sun and its impact on our climate which is one of the science objectives of Aditya mission. The forecast will be also useful for scientific operational planning of the Aditya mission.
        ‘Maunder-like minimum’:

        There have been predictions that the next cycle (cycle 25) will show reduced sunspot activity. There have even been speculations that the sun may be heading towards a period of prolonged low activity – what solar physicists describe as a ‘Maunder-like minimum’.
        The Maunder minimum refers to a period from 1645 to 1715 where observers reported minimal Sunspot activity — the number of sunspots reduced by a factor of nearly 1,000, over a period of 28 years.

      • During this and other such periods of low activity, some parts of Europe and North America experienced lower-than-average temperatures. While the connection between the Maunder minimum and the climate on earth is still debated, it gives another reason to watch the sunspots.
      21. Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA)
      Source: Business Standard
      Why in news:

      Astronomers have obtained stunning, high-resolution images of 20 nearby protoplanetary disks, depicting the birth of planets, using Chile’s Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA).

      • The observations are part of a major ALMA initiative known as the Disk Substructures at High Angular Resolution Project, or DSHARP campaign. Significance:
      • According to the researchers, the most compelling interpretation of these observations is that large planets, likely similar in size and composition to Neptune or Saturn, form quickly, much faster than current theory would allow.
      • It may also help explain how smaller rocky planets manage to survive in the chaos of young systems.
        About ALMA telescope:

        The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) is an international partnership of the European Southern Observatory (ESO), the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Natural Sciences (NINS) of Japan, together with NRC (Canada), NSC and ASIAA (Taiwan), and KASI (Republic of Korea), in cooperation with the Republic of Chile.

      • ALMA is a single telescope of revolutionary design, composed of 66 high precision antennas located on the Chajnantor plateau, 5000 meters altitude in northern Chile.
      • ALMA allows scientists to unravel longstanding and important astronomical mysteries, in search of our Cosmic Origins.
        22. Clean Sea- 2018
      • Indian Coast Guard (ICG) has conducted Regional Level Marine Oil Pollution Response Exercise titled ‘Clean Sea– 2018’ at sea off Port Blair, Andaman & Nicobar (A&B) Islands.
        Key points:
      • The objective of exercise was to ascertain preparedness of IGC, resource agencies and other stakeholders in responding to major oil spill in line with provisions of National Oil Spill Disaster Contingency Plan (NOS-DCP).
      • Indian Coast Guard (ICG) under Ministry of Defence is responsible for marine environment protection in maritime zones of India and is coordinating authority for response to oil spills in Indian waters.
      • It has drawn up National Oil Spill Disaster Contingency Plan (NOS-DCP) and has established three pollution response centres at Mumbai, Chennai and Port Blair.
        Need for exercise:
      • Great Channel between Nicobar Islands and Northern Sumatra that leads into Malacca Straits is marine drive of high seas. Almost 200 ships cross 160-km wide Straits daily making it among busiest sea routes of world. Considering, high intensity of oil tanker traffic through this route, the area is highly vulnerable to oil spills. So there is need for robust national system for oil spill response is critical. 23. India’s tallest bridge pier built in Noney, Manipur
      • The Northeast Frontier Railway Construction Organization has constructed India’s tallest pier as part of the project to build a railway bridge at Noney in Manipur. The proposed bridge will be the world’s tallest railway bridge.
        Key points:
      • The bridge is being constructed across the valley of river Ijai near Noney, with the height of the final pier being 141 metres. The total length of the Noney bridge will be 703 metres.
      • On completion, the bridge will surpass the existing world record, held by the 139-metre Mala-Rijeka viaduct in Montenegro.
      • The bridge is a part of the 111-km Jiribam-Tupul-Imphal new broad gauge line project, a national project which is set to be completed by 2022. The project also includes 45 tunnels, the longest being 10.28 km, which will be the longest railway tunnel of the northeast. 24. Kerala becomes first state to have four International Airports
      • With the inauguration of the Kannur International airport, Kerala has now become the first state in India to have four international airports.
      • Kochi, Kozhikode and Thiruvananthapuram are the other three cities with an international airport.
        25. Kaiga Power Station-1 creates a World Record
      • Karnataka’s Kaiga has once again made the country proud by creating a world record for the longest uninterrupted operation for 941 days, thereby breaking the earlier record of 940 days by the United Kingdom.
      • On October 25, 2018, Kaiga Generating Station( KGS-1) had broken the earlier world record for longest uninterrupted operation among Pressurised Heavy Water Reactor(PHWR) held by Pickering-7 (Ontario) in Canada which operated for 894 days and few hours./
      • KGS-1 at Kaiga, located 56 km from Karwar has been generating electricity continuously since May 13, 2016. It is an indigenously-built PHWR run by domestic fuel (uranium). It began commercial operations on November 16, 2000, and has produced 500 cr. units of power so far. In June, KGS-1 had set a national record for continuous operation of 766 days.
      • According to official sources, KGS-1 will be shutdown for maintenance on December 30. Nuclear power reactors undergo mandatory checks and have to get clearance from the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board to continue operations.
        26. World’s first Floating Nuclear Plant in Russia
      • Akademik Lomonosov is the world’s first “floating” nuclear power plant (FNPP).
      • It is coming up in Russia.
      • An FNPP is basically a mobile, low-capacity reactor unit operable in remote areas isolated from the main power distribution system, or in places hard to access by land. They are designed to maintain both uninterruptible power and plentiful desalinated water supply in remote areas.
        27. Bhitargaon Temple
      • Bhitagaon brick temple is located in Kanpur District of Uttar Pradesh. It is the oldest remaining Hindu temple, and was built in the Gupta Era in 6th centur
      • Bhitargaon is one of the first to shikhara above the garbha-griha which became a standard feature of later temples in the ‘nagara’ style.
      • Bhitar-gaon or inner village, refers to the inner part of what was at some point known as pushppur the outer area is called bari-gaon or outer village.
      • It is also one of the earliest surviving brick temples of India.
      • In 1861, Lord Canning appointed Sir Alexander Cunningham as the Archaeological Surveyor to the Government of India. Accordig to Cunningham, his friend, Raja Ravi Prasada, gave him information of a brick temple near Kanpur that had superior terracotta work and consequently he paid visits to the temple.
      • Though Cunningham had placed it as belonging to the 7th century, it has subsequently been identified as belonging to the late Gupta period, to the 5th century. Next Page