Current Affairs - Ecology & Environment

Inland Waterways Transport Terminal

On 4th July 2023, the Ministry of Ports, Shipping & Waterways laid the foundation stone of the Inland Waterways Transport (IWT) terminal.

The key points are:

  • Aim: The terminal aims to rejuvenate inland waterways transportation in the region for both cargo and passenger movement.
  • Location: It is located on the bank of the River Brahmaputra (National Waterways 2) in Dibrugarh, Assam.
  • The completion of the terminal is scheduled for February 2024.
  • It is expected to contribute to the growth of trade and commerce.
  • Catalyst for Development The terminal is seen as a catalyst for the development and progress of upper Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, and Nagaland.
  • It is part of the vision set by Prime Minister to enable waterways transportation as a transformational factor.
  • The development of the terminal acknowledges the potential of the Brahmaputra River and aims to utilize it efficiently while considering ecological and economic factors.

Loss of Arctic Sea Ice is Inevitable

The recent study published in the Nature journal suggests that the loss of Arctic sea ice is inevitable in the coming decades, even if significant reductions in carbon emissions are achieved.

Key Findings

  • Human Influence: The researchers found that as much as 90% of the ice-melting in the Arctic is caused by human activities, primarily greenhouse gas emissions. This indicates that anthropogenic factors play a dominant role in the decline of Arctic sea ice.
  • Underestimated Melting: The study highlights that climate models used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have underestimated the rate of Arctic ice melting.
  • By correcting for this underestimation, the researchers concluded that even in emission scenarios where temperatures rise above 4.5°C, there could be ice-free summers by 2080, and potentially even earlier if drastic emission reductions are not undertaken.
  • Limited Impact of Emission Pathways: The study suggests that until 2060, there is little difference between high and low emissions pathways in terms of temperature change. This means that regardless of the emissions trajectory, the Arctic is likely to experience similar temperature changes until that time.

Regulation of Global Methane Emissions

Recently, a study conducted by researchers revealed that only approximately 13% of global methane emissions are regulated, despite methane being responsible for at least 25% of current global warming.

Key findings of the research are:

  • Limited knowledge: The researchers found that there is limited knowledge regarding the effectiveness of existing policies, as estimations are often used instead of actual measurements.
  • Adopted in Three Regions: The findings showed that 90% of identified national policies were adopted in three regions namely North America (39%), Europe (30%), and the Asia Pacific (21%).
  • Methane emissions are currently increasing at a rate faster than any time since the 1980s.
  • Satellites to Monitor Methane Emissions: The researchers suggest that using technologies like satellites to monitor methane emissions can assist policymakers in measurement, verification, compliance, and detection of significant emitters.
  • Policies Tend To Be Less Stringent: While there has been a gradual increase in methane policies globally since 1974, policies targeting fossil methane emissions from coal, oil, and gas sectors tend to be less stringent compared to those addressing biogenic methane sources, particularly in the waste sector.
  • Introducing Policies With Broader Coverage: The study emphasize the importance of introducing policies with broader coverage, mitigation solutions for major sources, and measurable objectives to achieve a significant reduction in methane emissions.
  • To meet the 1.5°C objective of the Paris Agreement, man-made methane emissions should be reduced by at least 40 to 45% by 2030 compared to 2020 levels.

Surge in Sea Surface Temperatures of the World's Oceans

Recently, a study has reported a considerable surge in the sea surface temperatures of the world's oceans since early March 2023.

  • Causes: The study has found that the significant rise in sea surface temperatures of the world's oceans since early March 2023 to late April 2023 is attributed to a natural El Nino event combined with a rebound from a three-year cooling La Nina, on top of global warming effects.
  • Marine Heat Waves: While some scientists believe that the warming is solely due to El Nino, others have pointed to marine heat waves in areas such as the northern Pacific near Alaska and off the coast of Spain as evidence of an unusual pattern.
  • Implications: The warming trend is significant because the world's oceans cover 71% of the Earth's surface, and it has the potential to cause damage to marine ecosystems, coral reefs, and fish populations, as well as increase the risk of more severe weather events such as hurricanes and typhoons.
  • Need for Urgent Action: The study serves as a reminder that the world must take urgent action to address the climate crisis and its impact on the planet's oceans and ecosystems.

New Seamounts

In a recent discovery, scientists have identified 19,325 new seamounts, or underwater mountains, using high-resolution data collected by advancements in altimetry for gravity-field mapping.

  • Seamounts are formed through volcanic activity and are recognized as hotspots for marine life.
  • A previous 2011 census had already mapped 24,000 seamounts across the world’s oceans.
  • They can be active, extinct, or dormant volcanoes and are typically formed near mid-ocean ridges, where the earth’s tectonic plates are moving apart, allowing molten rock to rise to the seafloor.
  • Some seamounts are also found near intraplate hotspots and oceanic island chains with volcanic and seismic activity.
  • Seamounts provide information about the mantle’s composition and how tectonic plates evolve.
  • They are also home to diverse biological communities, and their study helps understand their influence on how water circulates and absorbs heat and carbon dioxide.
  • Surveyors map seamounts using echo sounders or multibeam sonar on ships for topographic mapping or using satellite altimetry for gravity-field mapping.

Five-fold Increase in Polar Ice Melting

Recently, a study was published in the journal Earth System Science Data. It included 50 satellite surveys of Antarctica and Greenland taken between 1992 and 2020.

  • The researchers found that Earth’s polar ice sheets lost 7,560 billion tonnes of ice between 1992 and 2020, which is equivalent to an ice cube that would be 20 km in height.
  • The seven worst years for polar ice sheet melting and loss of ice have occurred during the past decade, with 2019 being the worst year on record.
  • The melting ice sheets now account for a quarter of all sea level rise, a fivefold increase since the 1990s.
  • Melting of the polar ice sheets has caused a 21 millimetres (mm) rise in global sea level since 1992.
  • Almost two thirds, or 13.5 mm, of the sea level rise originating from Greenland and one third, or 7.4 mm, from Antarctica.

Microplastics in US Freshwater Systems

Recently, a new study published in the Journal of Environmental Science and Technology has revealed the alarming levels of microplastics found in freshwater systems in the US.

  • The study collected water samples from 20 different sites across the United States and found microplastics in all of them.
  • The highest levels of microplastics were found in urban areas, but even remote locations such as national parks were not immune to contamination.
  • The microplastics were found in a variety of forms, including microbeads, microfibers, and microfragments, and were primarily composed of polyethylene and polypropylene.
  • The presence of microplastics in freshwater systems poses a serious threat to aquatic life and the entire ecosystem.
  • These tiny particles can be ingested by fish and other organisms, causing physical harm, and potentially transferring toxins up the food chain.
  • This study highlights the urgent need for better waste management practices and the reduction of single-use plastics in our daily lives.
  • It also underscores the importance of further research to understand the full extent of the impact of microplastics on our environment and our health.

Flash Droughts

Recently, a new study has found that climate change is causing droughts to become faster and more intense, particularly a type of fast-developing drought known as a "flash drought”.

  • According to the study, flash droughts suck water out of soil and plants
  • The phenomenon occurs during the growing season, primarily in summer, and is triggered by extreme heat and dryness.
  • Flash droughts can be especially devastating for agriculture.
  • Last year, most of China's Yangtze River basin was struck by a flash drought that developed within a month.
  • The study found that flash droughts are happening more often in nearly three-quarters of climate regions across the world.
  • The frequency of flash droughts will continue to increase as the planet warms.

An Algal Bloom of the Dinoflagellate

Currently, Visakhapatnam beaches are glowing blue due to a natural phenomenon known as bioluminescence.

  • The glow observed in Visakhapatnam is caused by tiny marine organisms called phytoplankton.
  • Specifically, an algal bloom of the dinoflagellate species of noctiluca and ceratium, emit light on the ocean surface at night when disturbed by breaking waves.
  • The phenomenon is particularly visible during warm weather conditions and moonless nights.
  • Bioluminescence is not new to Visakhapatnam and has occurred on several occasions in the past, but the recent experience is on a larger scale, making it a visual spectacle.
  • Marine biologists say that it is a likely indication of environmental changes in seawater in the region of its occurrence.
  • While it may not be harmful to humans, any kind of algal bloom can affect the marine ecosystem as phytoplankton is consumed by fish.
  • The impact of these noctiluca blooms off Visakhapatnam coast on marine species is less reported and explored and needs to be studied.

First-Ever Fernarium

Recently, Eravikulam National Park (ENP) in Munnar, the natural habitat of the Nilgiri tahr, has established a Fernarium, which houses 52 varieties of ferns.

  • The initiative aims to raise awareness among visitors about the park's biodiversity.
  • Ferns are part of the Epiphytic family and are the ecological indicator of healthy forests, according to the botanist.
  • It grows naturally in a soilless condition and obtains water and nutrients through leaching from trees.
  • This Fernarium is located near the orchidarium. (A Fernarium is a specialized greenhouse or botanical garden that is designed to cultivate and display ferns, which are a type of plant that do not have flowers and rely on simple tubes to transport water and nutrients throughout the plant).
  • The park also offers new facilities such as a selfie point and buggy cars for visitors to explore the park.
  • A survey of new births in ENP will be held on April 20 to record the number of Nilgiri tahrs born during the calving season. The last annual census recorded 785 tahrs, while 125 new calves were sighted.
  • The park expects to find around 150 new calves this time.

An orchidarium is a garden or a greenhouse dedicated to the cultivation and display of orchids. It is a specialized facility designed to provide the ideal growing conditions for orchids, which are often difficult to grow and require specific levels of temperature, humidity, light, and air circulation.

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