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Environment, Science

Indian bull frog: the Andamans’ new colonisers

A narrow road bifurcates the hyper-green paddy fields of Webi village in Middle Andaman, in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. A clear stream flows around the Webi, home to the Karen community, brought to these shores from Myanmar 93 years ago.

At dusk, as fading sunlight paints the surrounding hills in silhouette, the calls of cicadas, crickets and frogs rise in crescendo. In the cacophonic stillness, a centipede winds its way across the empty weathered road. And then, in the blink of an eye, it’s gone, swallowed whole by a recent migrant to the island — the Indian bullfrog (Hoplobatrachus tigerinus).

Barely 10 cm long, this particular specimen is small. But the larger ones weigh at least half a kilo. The golden stripe on their backs and the glitter around their throats shine in the diffused light of a mobile phone. Less than two feet from the centipede-eater sits another frog. Next to that, one more, and another, and another… scores of frogs in varied sizes, basking in the warmth of the asphalt. Every now and then, one of them leaps toward the murky waters of the paddy fields. There is nothing frog-like about the deep, guttural croaks of these prolific breeders. Rather, they sound more like a bull with a sore throat.

“It wasn’t here even five years ago. Now they’ve taken over the village,” says Nau Thaw Raytoo, a mother of four, who lives in a concrete-bamboo house with her children, their wives, and her six grandchildren. Her broken Hindi shifts to fluent, high-pitched Karen when instructing raucous kids.

The bullfrog is only the latest entrant in the Andamans’ 150-year-old history of invasives. Picture shows Gannatabla village at Diglipur in North Andaman.

The bullfrog is only the latest entrant in the Andamans’ 150-year-old history of invasives. Picture shows Gannatabla village at Diglipur in North Andaman.   | Photo Credit: K. Murali KumarMORE-INGround Zero

The Indian bull frog, a recent arrival from the mainland, is steadily occupying the islands’ ecosystem and threatening the local economy. Mohit M. Rao reports on the bizarre man-frog conflict brewing in the islands

Barely 10 cm long, this particular specimen is small. But the larger ones weigh at least half a kilo. The golden stripe on their backs and the glitter around their throats shine in the diffused light of a mobile phone. Less than two feet from the centipede-eater sits another frog. Next to that, one more, and another, and another… scores of frogs in varied sizes, basking in the warmth of the asphalt. Every now and then, one of them leaps toward the murky waters of the paddy fields. There is nothing frog-like about the deep, guttural croaks of these prolific breeders. Rather, they sound more like a bull with a sore throat.

“It wasn’t here even five years ago. Now they’ve taken over the village,” says Nau Thaw Raytoo, a mother of four, who lives in a concrete-bamboo house with her children, their wives, and her six grandchildren. Her broken Hindi shifts to fluent, high-pitched Karen when instructing raucous kids.

Webi is just among the scores of villages in the islands where the amphibian has arrived in hordes. An unusual man-frog conflict is brewing. The voracious animal gulps down anything that would fit in its jaws: centipedes, leeches, native frogs, lizards, small snakes, and even chicks and ducklings, which are an important source of food for the islanders.

“I’ve seen them eat chicks, swallowing the head whole,” says Raytoo, adding that of the 15 chicks hatched in the family’s chicken coop this year, only three have survived. Balakishore, whose father is Ranchi (an overarching term for Jharkhand tribals who were settled here to clear the forests decades ago) and mother is Karen, has lost 50 ducklings to the frogs. When grown, each duck would have fetched at least ₹300 in the local market.

In the villages carved out of the virgin Andaman forests, the amphibian invader has evoked both surprise (“where did they come from?”) — and anxiety (“when will they go away?”). The bullfrog, found widely in mainland India and protected under Schedule IV of the Indian Wildlife Act 1972, is making the most of a free run that it’s enjoying in the erstwhile penal colony.

In the Andaman Islands, it can rain eight months of the year. The first rains in May are the signal for the bullfrogs to come out of the streams and agricultural ponds that have become their shelters. They breed by the hundreds, with each female able to lay between 3,500 and 20,000 eggs. Not all survive, but enough live to breed again, ensuring that the horde extends their range. With an average life span of seven years, and time to sexual maturity of 10-12 months, their population can dramatically shoot up in a very short time, which is precisely what happened once they landed in the islands.

“This is an invasion,” says Nitya Mohanty, a doctoral student at the Centre for Invasion Biology at Stellenbosch University (South Africa). His research, done with the Andaman and Nicobar Environment Team, has been on invasive species — first on the chitals (spotted deer) that have established their herds in the Andamans, and now on the bullfrog invasion.

So far, the bullfrog has been found in six out of the eight major inhabited islands. In 2017, it was even found in Little Andaman, which is separated from the Greater Andaman Islands by more than 55 km of sea. “This kind of incursion into remote islands is not naturally possible in such a short time,” says Mohanty.

The frog has acquired many names in the course of its journey through multi-cultural settlements of the island: shona beng (‘Golden frog’, for the prominent golden stripe) among the Bengali settlers; haramendak (‘Green frog’, for its olive-green skin) in Ranchi villages, where you could hear Oraon, Sadri or Munda being spoken; and dey-phala (‘Green frog”) in villages where the 2,500-odd Karen community stays. Whatever the name or language, the narrative of economic loss and ecological threat is a constant.

How they spread

Mohanty’s team sought to define the contours of this “invasion” through interviews with locals. As early as 2001, the bullfrog had already established breeding populations in one village. By 2009, it had spread to seven villages. Since then, at least 53 villages have reported the bullfrog in worrying densities.

Like most contemporary tales in the archipelago, the bullfrog story may also have to do with the earthquake and the tsunami that devastated large parts of Andaman and Nicobar islands in 2004. Following the decline of natural fish stock, the local administration encouraged integrated farming, with aquaculture in agricultural ponds. There are now over 2,500 such ponds in the islands, most of them filled with stocks of exotic, fast-growing fish imported from the mainland.

The fishling stocks (mostly from Kolkata) released into some of these ponds were contaminated with bullfrog eggs and tadpoles. All fingers point at the local fisheries department, which has, however, dismissed these claims and accused private traders of having brought the invader to the islands.

Most villagers believe that the bullfrog’s first hop into the islands was in Diglipur, in the northern tip of the Andamans, where its prolific spread first became a talking point. By 2011, it was spotted at Mayabunder in Middle Andaman, and by 2013, it was found in Wandoor, near the southern tip of the Andamans, around 300 km from Diglipur. While many were accidental releases, in some areas, it had been released by villagers as a fast-breeding cheap food.

Researchers Harikrishnan Surendran and Karthikeyan Vasudevan had been working in Wandoor since 2008, and were the first to report the presence of the bullfrog as an invasive in a scientific journal. “[The spread] is not surprising at all, given the high reproductive output of Indian bullfrogs and their association with agricultural areas… it was only a matter of time before they got introduced to other islands,” says Surendran.

Nearly two years ago, while engaged in construction and repairs at a resort near Wandoor in South Andaman, M. Alazhagan, 35, saw a multitude of frogs thronging the swimming pool. Some, he says, had turned yellow, with blue globules on their throat — males decked up for the breeding season. He approached one, and it froze. He decided to take a selfie: him grinning in the foreground, with the frog posing meditatively in the background. “It looked so strange! So much bigger than the frogs we were used to seeing and so colourful,” he recalls.

But fascination soon gave way to frustration. In North Wandoor village, located at the edge of the Lohabarrack Salt Water Crocodile Sanctuary, it isn’t the crocs that villagers keep an eye on.

The tsunami had created salty channels in the area and rendered large tracts infertile. So, many had turned to creating agricultural ponds — to rear fish and also because they would serve as sources of freshwater when the rains filled it up. Shushil Mondal found that his pond had been taken over by frogs. “Earlier I could get 20 kg of fish whenever I spread the net. Now, I get only shona beng. There is no fish left now. It has eaten everything,” he says.

The frogs pose a threat particularly to the livelihoods of landless labourers, such as Parimal Das and his family of eight. They had migrated to the Andamans from Kolkata nearly 20 years ago, and are now nomads, leasing land wherever it is available to grow vegetables. Agriculture in a rain-heavy, saline-rich soil is difficult, and free-range chickens are an important and steady source of income, with each fetching up to ₹600. “I’ve lost six chicks this year already. We had to build a murghi ghar [wooden makeshift cage on stilts] to lock the chickens at night, but even then the frogs manage to squeeze through,” he says.

On the other side of the Greater Andaman islands, the Andaman Trunk Road snakes its way through dense forests. Trees form a seemingly impenetrable canopy, creepers drape branches in a gown of broad leaves, and undergrowth form layers upon layers above the damp soil. Amidst the shades of green, the Andaman Crape Myrtle, a deciduous tree, bursts in bouquets of small lilac flowers.

Five kilometres of these forests separate Gannatabla village — a settlement of Jharkhand tribals — from the nearest village in North Andaman. The village is a clump of 50 houses and a series of rectangular paddy fields. There is no pond here where fish is cultured. The bullfrog, however, lurks in these fields and drinking water wells.

Gannatabla village at Diglipur in North Andaman.

“We don’t know how it has come here. Three years ago, we spotted it in the streams that come through the forests when we went fishing for kala macchi (black fish). Now the fish is hardly seen but the frog is everywhere,” says 29-year-old Johnson Kirketa, suggesting that the bullfrog had crossed the forests through channels and streams.

Colonisers among the natives

Bullfrogs are found all over mainland India, but it is in the unique ecosystem of the islands that it becomes a major threat. Unlike the mainland, resources on the islands are scarce for big animals, while natural calamities are more frequent. The wildlife here has evolved in a miniature setting: there are no large herbivores (the largest is the Andaman wild pig) or large carnivores.

“Islands have fewer species, but their nature make them irreplaceable. They are found no where else in the world… This makes the entire food web in the islands very different from that of the mainland,” says Vasudevan, senior principal scientist at the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad.

The Zoological Survey of India has found that out of the 9,130 marine and terrestrial species discovered so far in the islands, 1,032 species (or 11.30%) are endemic (found only in the Andamans). In the constraints of land, this endemicity increases to nearly 25%, or 816 out of the 3,271 land species. These creatures had evolved to cope with natural disaster, but have little capacity to withstand rapid, human-induced impacts. “There is not much room for redundancy and refuges in these islands,” says Vasudevan.

But the bullfrog is only the latest entrant in the Andamans’ 150-year-old history of invasives, with alien species introduced in waves by the British, Japanese, and ‘mainland’ Indians having gradually colonised many parts of the island territory. These include the elephant(introduced for logging and later abandoned), chital, hog deer, and barking deer (all three for game meat).

In 2013, using satellite imagery, Rauf Ali from the Puducherry-based Foundation for Ecological Research, Advocacy and Learning found that forests with elephants and chitals had suffered significant degradation (Interview Island) compared to places where they were absent (Little Andaman). It’s a one-two punch: elephants knock down trees and strip barks, while chitals prevent regeneration of forests by grazing on seedlings.

The Indian bullfrog

Invasives have come in all forms to the Andamans. The Japanese introduced the Giant African Snail, one of the 100 worst invasive species as described by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), in the 1940s during their three-year occupation. It has now established itself as a major agricultural pest. Meanwhile, about 90% of the fish being bred in ponds are carps and other exotic fish which have even established natural breeding sites outside human-created ponds. Similarly, the islands are home to at least 592 introduced alien plant species, some indirectly pushing endemic plants to the fringe.

Away from the obvious economic impact, it is in the sounds of the night that one can perhaps gauge the ecological impact of the invasive bullfrog. Across infested villages, residents say sightings of native species of frogs have reduced. Full grown natives pale in size to even a young bullfrog. Water snakes, a common accompaniment for the paddy farmer, and centipedes are in decline.

But even more worrying signs were found in the gut of the frog. For months, Mohanty and his associates captured and “stomach flushed” contents out of 798 individuals belonging to two native species and the invasive bullfrog. From the gut of the bullfrog came out native frogs, the endemic Andaman blind snake, the endemic emerald gecko, skinks and others. “Adult bullfrogs pose a threat to small endemic vertebrates [from frogs to birds]. Within frog species, it can have a two-pronged impact on the Limnonectes genus of frogs. Bullfrogs not only eat the native frogs, even their diets overlap, indicating a possibility of competition,” he says.

It isn’t just their size that works to their advantage. It’s their appetite for meat, even at the tadpole stage. Bullfrog tadpoles are highly carnivorous, preying on other tadpoles (even native tadpoles) heavily.

Controlling invasives

In a few villages, the explosion in population from May onward sees a feast of bullfrogs: skin fried to a crisp, their legs boiled or fried. Here, a kilo (roughly three medium-sized frogs) is sold for ₹60 — the cheapest source of protein in the market. In other places, it is anger that has humans killing the frog. “Whenever I find it on the road, I beat it with a stick. If it jumps, I’ll jump into the paddy field and chase it. One dead frog means one lesser mother laying thousands of eggs,” says a villager in North Andaman, whose name has been withheld as killing bullfrogs is a criminal act under wildlife laws. In Wandoor, a family claims to have killed nearly 50 frogs in July.

However, these are mere dents in a burgeoning population. “It is difficult…I don’t see a way to stop it. The government should think of something. Else, in five years, poora basti bhar jayega  [the village will be filled with frogs],” says Krishna Singh at Mohanpur village in North Andaman. He claims to have lost 30 chicks to the frog.

Murmurs of the conflict have started, with the issue being raised by local political representatives. “It really is a big menace. But we have to see how the population stabilises,” says S. Dam Roy, Principal Scientist at the Central Island Agricultural Research Institute, Port Blair, which operates the local agriculture helpline.

Stung by the inflow of invasives, and with the fear that more could come, it was in the serene, undulating plantations that form the CIARI headquarters that a plan was hatched five years ago to start a ₹40-crore bio-security laboratory for quarantine and research. The plan did not materialise.

Globally, invasive species, particularly in islands, are becoming the focus of numerous organisations. The Convention on Biological Diversity has said that invasives have contributed to 40% of all animal extinctions since the 17th century. The IUCN has formulated guidelines for managing invasives specifically in islands, largely involving data collection, community engagement, policy measures and management plans.

Far away from the concerns of scientific papers and environmentalists, in the government offices at Port Blair, there is little panic about invasives. “They are just animals, and nature will find a way to live in harmony,” says Tarun Coomar, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, who also holds the post of Environment Secretary in the relatively small administration governing the islands.

This confidence is not reflected among the villagers. While many are resigned to the invasion, some suggest commercial harvest for export to South-East Asia, for history has shown that animal populations crash when they have an economic value attached to them.

But for now, it is an unchecked invasion. “Bullfrogs have reached little Andaman, the next frontier is Nicobar. There are other islands they are yet to invade, and we must do everything to stop that. Signs at jetties about the adverse economic impact of bullfrogs and the need to check contamination of fish stocks could be useful,” says Mohanty.

For millenia, the islands, now a Union Territory, were largely disconnected, literally and figuratively, from the mainland. In more ways than one, the landscape here resembles those in Myanmar, Thailand and Indonesia than mainland India.

In ethos too, the disconnect remains. In government offices, officials caution outsiders (whose annual numbers touch 6.5 lakh, as compared to 3.9 lakh residents) to take it slow in the islands: “Ye mainland nahiyeh Andaman hai  [This is not the mainland, this is Andaman].” But it may not stay that way for long. As the croaks of the bullfrog reverberate through the islands, their clamour assumes the urgency of a clarion call — to act before it is too late.

Mohit M Rao

Environment

Arunachal receives Rs 1588.732 crore CAMPA fund from Centre

Arunachal Pradesh on Thursday received an amount of Rs 1588.72 crore under the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA), which is a major boost towards promoting afforestation and achieving green objectives.

Tripura and Mizoram received funds of Rs 183.65 crore and Rs 212.98 crore under CAMPA.

In total, union minister of environment, forest and climate change Prakash Javadekar handed over Rs. 47,436 crore of CAMPA fund to various States in the presence of Union Minister of State Babul Supriyo.

The fund shall be utilized as per the provisions of the Compensatory (Afforestation) Fund (CAF) Act and CAF Rules.

Speaking at the meeting, Union Environment Minister Javadekar said, “The State budget for forests shall remain unaffected, and the fund being transferred would be in addition to the State Budget.”

“It is expected that all States will utilize this fund towards forestry activities to achieve the objectives of the Nationally-Determined Contributions (NDCs) of increasing its forest and tree cover, which will create an additional carbon sink equivalent to 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide by 2030,” said Javadekar.

The Environment Minister further emphasized that CAMPA funds cannot be used for payment of salary, travelling allowances, medical expenses, among other expenses.

Javadekar highlighted the efforts of the government towards preserving and improving the forest wealth and ecological security of the country.

He said important activities on which the fund will be utilised will be for the Compensatory Afforestation, Catchment Area Treatment, Wildlife Management, Assisted Natural Regeneration and Forest Fire Prevention and Control Operations and others.

Besides, the other activities include soil and moisture conservation works in the forest, Improvement of Wildlife Habitat, Management of Biological Diversity and Biological Resources, Research in Forestry and Monitoring of CAMPA works.

Environment

Air pollution linked to premature death risk

Exposure to toxic air pollutants is linked to increased deaths due to cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, warn researchers.

Conducted over a 30-year period, the study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, analysed data on air pollution and mortality in 652 cities across 24 countries and regions. 

The researchers found that increases in total deaths are linked to exposure to inhalable particles (PM10) and fine particles (PM2.5) emitted from fires or formed through atmospheric chemical transformation.

“As there’s no threshold for the association between particulate matter (PM) and mortality, even low levels of air pollution can increase the risk of death,” said Yuming Guo, Professor at Monash University in Australia.

“The smaller the airborne particles, the more easily they can penetrate deep into the lungs and absorb more toxic components causing death,” Guo said.

Though concentrations of air pollution in Australia are lower than in other countries, the study found that Australians are more sensitive to particulate matter air pollution and cannot effectively resist its adverse impacts. 

“Given the extensive evidence on their health impacts, PM10 and PM2.5 are regulated through the World Health Organisation (WHO) Air Quality Guidelines and standards in major countries,” Guo added.

The results suggest that the levels of particulate matter below the current air quality guidelines and standards are still hazardous to public health.

Air pollution linked to premature death risk

IANS | Sydney

Environment

Weather anomalies in Tibet pose challenge to agriculture: experts

LHASA = The unusually hot and dry weather in Tibet since June has posed new challenges to agriculture, climate experts said.

Sustained heat and little rainfall dried soil and limited the growth of vegetation, particularly in Lhasa, Nagqu and Xigaze, the Tibet regional climate center said.

The water surface of the Yarlung Zangbo River and Lhasa River shrank slightly compared to the same period last year, it said.

Local authorities have been reminded to make preparations for possible drought and step up monitoring of fires, crop diseases and pests, said Wang Xufeng, a researcher with the Northwest Institute of Eco-Environment and Resources of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS).

June’s average temperature in the Tibet Autonomous Region was 1.3 degrees Celsius higher than the previous average, with record highs seen in several cities.

On June 24, the temperature in Gyaca, under the jurisdiction of Shannan, soared to 32.6 degrees.

Regional capital Lhasa, which is a generally cool place 3,650 meters above sea level, embraced summer for the first time on June 23 since meteorological data was first collected in 1981.

Moreover, the region entered the rainy season on July 4, 27 days later than previous years.

Such weather anomalies have more negative impacts on agricultural production than positive ones, experts said.

With the highest elevation in the world’s mid-latitude region, the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau is very sensitive to the impact of global warming, said Kang Shichang, director of the State Key Laboratory of Cryospheric Science of the CAS.

This year’s weather is an anomaly, and the long-term trend remains that the plateau is getting warmer and wetter, he said. (Xinhua)

Climate Change, Environment

Cloudburst in Arunachal; tourists stranded in flash flood, road closed

 

A calamitous cloudburst leading to massive rainfall and flash flood has made disaster in destrying many houses, bridges and roads in Tenga, Arunachal Pradesh.

Several hundred people were reported to be stranded while many others were missing in the flash flood which left a trail of devastation at Kaspi Nala near Nag-Mandir Tenga in West Kameng District of Arunachal Pradesh on Monday evening.

An RCC Bridge between Kaspi and Nagmandir has been washed away by floodwater.

The Army and paramilitary forces along with disaster management authorities have been deployed to rescue the victims.

Meanwhile, the West Kameng district administration has closed the Bhalukpong to Tawang  road.

The cloudburst triggered the flash flood on the evening of Monday, damaging over four houses, one boys’ hostel and one hilly restaurant along with several vehicles and motorcycles, according to tourists witnessed.

Earlier in the month of April, Bomdila, the headquarters of West Kameng district experienced cloudburst causing widespread damages to the places in proximity of the township.

The cloudburst was followed by torrential rain and hailstorm which created havoc in the township. According to Chandan Kumar Duarah, a science journalist says the cloudbust and flash flood attributed to massive deforestation, soil cutting in the region and climate change.

The rain lashed the district headquarters for over an hour resulting in chocking of drains and spread of debris all around.

At least 800 people were reported to be stranded while many others were missing in the flash flood which left a trail of devastation at Tenga in West Kameng District of Arunachal Pradesh on Monday evening.

The Army and paramilitary forces along with disaster management authorities have been deployed to rescue the victims.

The cloudburst was followed by torrential rain and hailstorm which created havoc in the township.

The rain lashed the district headquarters for over an hour resulting in chocking of drains and spread of debris all around.

Environment

Jaipur Pays The Price For Overusing Groundwater

At Matasula village just 10 kilometres from the Ramgarh Dam, there is one hand-pump that supplies water for an entire village of 100 households.

Jaipur could run out of ground water in five years, say experts


Amid a long, harsh summer and drought in many parts of the country, Rajasthan has become one of the states where over-extraction of ground water is leading to depletion at alarming levels.

According to state government figures, in state capital Jaipur, of the 13 water blocks, 12 are in the dark zone – which means the underground water is in the danger of running out here.

“A zero water day is not very far away. Jaipur can run out of water in the next few years and cities like Ajmer and Bhilwara will probably face a zero water day even earlier,” says Dr SK Jain, a water expert and hydrologist.

The water tanks and step well in the Amer and Jaigarh forts, ponds and tanks in villages and the Ramgarh Dam, were some of the ancient water harvesting system of medieval Jaipur that made it self-reliant in water. 

The Ramgarh Dam was built in the early 1900s to supply drinking water to Jaipur city by King Madho Singh, the second. But urbanization and reckless water extraction now mean the dam is completely try and Jaipur is paying the price for its destroyed water heritage.

At Matasula village just 10 kilometres from the historic dam, there is one hand-pump that supplies water for an entire village of 100 households. 

Locals recall a time not very long ago when the wells here were always brimming with water and the Ramgarh Dam contributed to ground water recharge in the area. But with the dam dry for 20 years, practically all wells in a radius of 10 kilometres have dried up too. 

“When the Ramgarh Dam used to fill up during the monsoon, water used to come into our wells too. Since 2000 when the water dried up completely in the dam, our village wells have also gone dry. People have had to go for borewells as water levels have dropped,” said 40-year-old Sita Ram Jogi, a resident of Matasula village.

Women are the worst affected, says Suman, another village resident.

“We fill water all day, not only for drinking and bathing but also for our animals. Buffaloes and goats need water, and when this hand-pump stops working – sometimes it goes dry – then we have to trek many kilometres to fill water. Our children also labour with us filling water for the families daily needs,” she says. 

The Rajasthan High Court has appointed a nodal officer to oversee the rejuvenation of the Ramgarh Dam. 

Rohit Singh, the nodal officer in this case, says the dam has dried up due to increased agriculture, farmers building small boundaries around their fields and urbanisation in the dams catchment area, which obstructs the flow of water. 

“Rajasthan has been historically water deficient but old structures like wells, stepwell tanks, we need to revive those, we need to get back to basics,” he says.COMMENT

But long term measures will not immediately resolve the water crisis in Jaipur. Every year the ground water levels in Jaipur have been dropping by 1 metre. In some blocks the extraction is 600 times more than recharge.

by Harsha Kumari Singh

Environment

INDIA OBSERVES 32 CONSECUTIVE DAYS OF HEAT WAVE, LONGEST AND DEADLIEST AFTER 1988

This year, India reeled under a prolonged spell of heat wave with a total of 32 consecutive days. A similar record was set in the year 1988, when heat wave prevailed over the Indian mainland for a total of 33 days at a stretch after 3 consecutive years of droughts in 1985, 1986 and 1987. Extreme heat was also observed in the year 2015, which turned out to be a drought year.

This year, the state of Bihar has already witnessed many deaths related to heat wave conditions. The current year is turning out to be extremely hot for many places. On June 15, Gaya in Bihar recorded 45.6°C as the day temperature, which was 8 degrees above normal. On the same day, Patna also saw the maximum soar to 45.8°C. While the national capital Delhi broke all records with Safdurjung Observatory recording a whopping 48°C. The maximums in stations like Churu, Phalodi and Ganganagar also exceeded the 50 degrees Celcius mark multiple times.

This has been a rather drier June in the country. Only Cyclone Vayu has led to a few rains over some regions. Even the national capital of Delhi observed a 20 day long stretch (from May 26 to June 15) of 40-plus temperatures, which is very unusual for the city. Chandrapur in Maharashtra also witnessed 45-plus temperatures for at least 30 days on a stretch, barring a few days (when temperatures were still above 40-degrees). Phalodi in Rajasthan observed 40-above temperatures for almost 40 days. Severe heat wave conditions are prevailing over Jaisalmer and Phalodi which haven’t observed any rains in the last 3 weeks now. Severe heat wave is going on over Banda of Uttar Pradesh as well which soared above 49°C on multiple days.

Heat Wave Timeline

The southern parts of the country like Telangana, North Interior Karnataka and Marathwada are usually the first to experience heat. Here, peaking temperatures set in as early as the end of March.

This is then followed by Central India, East and then North India which starts experiencing heat by the second half of April.

Telangana, North Interior Karnataka, Gujarat, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal, Punjab, Haryana, Delhi and Uttar Pradesh comprise of the most heat wave prone pockets in the country.

On the other hand, Coastal India, Northeast India and hills are mostly spared from extreme heat.

The reason behind Heat Wave

Whenever there is any heat build-up over an area in the pre-Monsoon season of March, April and May, it is succeeded by some thunderstorm activity, which normalizes the temperatures. But, when the pre-Monsoon rains are absent from an area, for days together, heat build-up takes place.

Also, as soon as the Monsoon mitigation takes place in the form of rains starting from South India and then reaching above North, the rising temperatures get arrested.

And this is exactly how the weather has mostly panned out in the country so far.

Relief from the heat

Heat wave has already abated states like Gujarat, Rajasthan, Haryana and Punjab because of the ongoing weather activities there.

Bihar and its adjoining areas are also experiencing some weather activities now. Some more rain and thundershowers are being expected in Bihar in view of the changing weather. Also, a changed wind profile will lead to more rains in the area in the next two to three days. A weather system is also building up in the Bay of Bengal.

Monsoon usually makes an appearance in Bihar on June 10. It’s already been running quite late till now and may make an appearance in the next week or so.

Image Credits – DW 

Any information taken from here should be credited to Skymet Weather

Environment

14% less rainfall in northeast, India record lowest pre-monsoon in 65 years

As pre-monsoon season ended on May 31, the northeast region witnessed a gross rainfall deficiency to the tune of 14 percent.

According to a recent report by skymetweather.com, India recorded only 99 mm of rainfall against the normal average of 131.5 mm for the pre-monsoon season – March, April and May.

The three-month long pre-monsoon season ended in India with gross rainfall deficiency to the tune of 25 percent. All the four regions recorded deficit rains, the report said.

While the eight northeast states witnessed isolated rains and thunderstorms during the period, the hill state of Mizoram has found a place in the large deficient category states of India.

Ideally in the pre-monsoon season, Mizoram is supposed to receive about 240 mm of rainfall. Unfortunately, the state received only 71.5 mm with a deficit rainfall of about 70 percent.

This has been the second driest pre-Monsoon season in the last 65 years, the report by skymetweather.com said. It added that the pre-monsoon rainfall in 2019 was similar to that of 2009. That year too saw similar rainfall, resulting in 25% lag in rains.

The skymetweather.com also reported that one of the most prominent similarities between 2009 and 2019 is that they have been El Niño years. Thus, rains have been reacting in a somewhat identical pattern.

However, the Skymet Weather has already predicted below-normal monsoon to the tune of 93 per of the long period average.

Environment

People’s biodiversity registers will collate data on plants, animals, trees, crops, traditional knowledge

By: Gulshan Ahuja 

India is among the 17 mega bio-diverse countries of the world. Four of the 34 biodiversity hotspots identified in the world are in India — the Western Ghats, the Eastern Himalayas, the Indo-Burma region and the Sundaland (includes Nicobar Group of Islands). India has 10 bio-geographic zones with 46,000 plant species and 96,000 species of animals recorded so far.
The steep decline in biodiversity is a major cause of concern across the world. Plants and animals become extinct in a gradual process but this decline has increased manifold due to human activities. Many regions in the world have seen a major dip in the biodiversity owing to changes in climate and increasing pollution levels and overexploitation of bio-resources for commercial use. Tasmanian tiger, golden toad, Caribbean monk seal, ivory-billed woodpecker, western black rhinoceros are some of the examples of animals species that have gone extinct and mountain gorilla, sea turtle, Amur leopard and tiger are on the verge of extinction. Similarly, plants and trees like Lepidodendron, Araucaria Mirabilis, wood cycad and Kokia cookei are extinct and many others are endangered.

Rio de Janeiro convention on biodiversity 1992

Realizing the need to conserve biodiversity, the world community met during Earth Summit in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and signed the convention on biological diversity (CBD), a landmark treaty that set the framework for conservation of biodiversity and its sustainable use. The treaty was ratified by 196 countries and India became signatory in 1994. The convention recognizes sovereign rights of the states over their resources with three objectives — conservation of biodiversity, sustainable use of its components, fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising out of the use of biological resources.

In India, the Biological Diversity Act was passed in 2002 and the Centre formulated Biological Diversity Rules in 2004. The National Biodiversity Authority, headquartered in Chennai, was constituted and all the states set up State Biodiversity Boards. Now, biodiversity management committees are being set up local body levels across the states.

Conservation of biodiversity

It is vital that everyone contributes to the conservation of biodiversity by reducing overexploitation of natural resources, planting trees and avoiding activities that lead to pollution as pollution is the largest single factor responsible for climate change leading to loss of ecosystems and biodiversity.

In Haryana, the Haryana State Biodiversity Board is working to achieve the objectives of the convention on biological diversity by educating people and spreading awareness on the importance of conserving biodiversity. The biodiversity management committees across the state will be imparted skill development training in biodiversity management on the importance of conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity. They will also be made aware of their rights in use of bio-resources by traders and manufacturers and will be helped in getting their share of benefits through the access benefit sharing (ABS) mechanism that was decided in the Nagoya Protocol signed by the CBD nations in Japan in 2010.

The biodiversity management committees will also be involved in creating people’s biodiversity registers (PBRs) to collate data on plants, animals, trees, agricultural crops (agri-biodiversity) and traditional knowledge existing in the area about use of bio-resources, particularly herbal plants. This information will help them become partners in benefit sharing in bio-resources occurring in the area in case of commercial utilization of bio-resources.

Bio-resources are plants, animals and micro-organisms, but not human genetic material, according to the Biological Diversity Act, 2002.

The theme of the International Day for Biological Diversity being celebrated across the globe on May 22 this year is “Our Biodiversity, Our Food, Our Health.”

Haryana is organizing essay writing and photography contests, and painting competitions by professional painters and nature lovers as well as school children. On this day, it becomes imperative for all of us to start thinking about conservation and sustainable aspects of biodiversity. The conservation of biodiversity is a necessity and we must make efforts to conserve it rather than contributing towards its decline.

(The writer, a former IFS officer, is chairman of the Haryana State Biodiversity Board, Panchkula)

Environment

The heat is on over the climate crisis. Only radical measures will work

by Gaia Vince

Drowned cities; stagnant seas; intolerable heatwaves; entire nations uninhabitable… and more than 11 billion humans. A four-degree-warmer world is the stuff of nightmares and yet that’s where we’re heading in just decades.

While governments mull various carbon targets aimed at keeping human-induced global heating within safe levels – including new ambitions to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 – it’s worth looking ahead pragmatically at what happens if we fail. After all, many scientists think it’s highly unlikely that we will stay below 2C (above pre-industrial levels) by the end of the century, let alone 1.5C. Most countries are not making anywhere near enough progress to meet these internationally agreed targets.

Climate models predict we’re currently on track for a heating of somewhere between 3C and 4C for 2100, although bear in mind that these are global average temperatures – at the poles and over land (where people live), the increase may be double that. Predictions are tricky, however, as temperatures depend on how sensitive the climate is to carbon dioxide (CO2). Most models assume that it is not very sensitive – that’s where the lower 3C comes from – but a whole new set of models to be published in 2021 finds much greater sensitivity. They put heating at around 5C by the end of the century, meaning people could be experiencing as much as 10C of heating over land.

Such uncertainty isn’t ideal, but for our purposes let’s plump for an entirely feasible planetary heating of 4C by the end of the century. If that seems a long time away, consider that plenty of people you know will be around then. My children will be in their 80s, perhaps with middle-aged children and grandchildren. We are making their world and it will be a very different place.

Four degrees may not sound like much – after all, it is less than a typical temperature change between night and day. It might even sound pleasant, like retiring from the UK to southern Spain. However, an average heating of the entire globe by 4C would render the planet unrecognisable from anything humans have ever experienced. The last time the world was this hot was 15m years ago during the miocene, when intense volcanic eruptions in western North America emitted vast quantities of CO2. Sea levels rose some 40 metres higher than today and lush forests grew in Antarctica and the Arctic. However, that global heating took place over many thousands of years. Even at its most rapid, the rise in CO2 emissions occurred at a rate 1,000 times slower than ours has since the start of the Industrial Revolution. That gave animals and plants time to adapt to new conditions and, crucially, ecosystems had not been degraded by humans.

Things look considerably bleaker for our 2100 world. Over the past decade, scientists have been able to produce a far more nuanced picture of how temperature rise affects the complexities of cloud cover and atmospheric and oceanic circulation patterns and ecology. We’re looking at vast dead zones in the oceans as nutrients from fertiliser runoff combine with warmer waters to produce an explosion in algae that starve marine life of oxygen. This will be exacerbated by the acidity from dissolved CO2, which will cause a mass die-off, particularly of shellfish, plankton and coral. “We will have lost all the reefs decades before 2100 – at somewhere between 2C and 4C,” says Johan Rockström, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany.Advertisement

Sea levels will be perhaps two metres higher and, more worryingly, we will be well on our way to an ice-free world, having passed the tipping points for the Greenland and west Antarctic ice sheets, committing us to at least 10 metres of sea-level rise in coming centuries. That’s because as ice sheets melt, their surface drops to a lower altitude where it is warmer, speeding up melting in a runaway feedback loop. Eventually, dark, heat-absorbing land is exposed, speeding the melting process even more. By 2100, we will also have lost most low-latitude glaciers, including two-thirds of the so called third pole of the Hindu Kush-Karakoram-Himalayan mountains and Tibetan plateau that feeds many of Asia’s important rivers.

However, most rivers, especially in Asia, will flood more often, according to research by Richard Betts, head of climate impacts at the Met Office Hadley Centre, because the hotter atmosphere will produce more intense monsoons, violent storms and extreme rainfall. His studies predict a wide equatorial belt of high humidity that will cause intolerable heat stress across most of tropical Asia, Africa, Australia and the Americas, rendering them uninhabitable for much of the year. Tropical forests of heat-tolerant species may well thrive in this wet zone with the high CO2 concentrations, especially with the disappearance of human infrastructure and agriculture, although the conditions will probably favour lianas (vines) over slower-growing trees, Betts says. To the south and north of this humid zone, bands of expansive desert will also rule out agriculture and human habitation. Some models predict that desert conditions will stretch from the Sahara right up through south and central Europe, drying rivers including the Danube and the Rhine.

Our best hope lies in cooperating as never before: decoupling the political map from geography

In South America, the picture is more complicated: increased precipitation could enhance the Amazon rainforest, leading to mightier river flow. Other models predict a weakening of the easterlies over the Atlantic, drying the Amazon, increasing fires and turning it from forest to grassland. The tipping point for the Amazon could well be triggered by deforestation; while the intact forest could cope with some drought because it generates and maintains its own moist ecosystem, areas that have been opened up through degradation allow moisture to escape. “A combination of climate change and deforestation could push it into a savannah state,” Rockström says.Advertisement

All of nature will be affected by the change in climate, ecosystems and hydrology and there will be plenty of extinctions as species struggle to migrate and adapt to an utterly changed world. Daniel Rothman, co-director of MIT’s Lorenz Center, calculates that 2100 will herald the beginning of Earth’s sixth mass extinction event. But what about us? This is undoubtedly a more hostile, dangerous world for humanity, which by 2100 will number around 11 billion, all of whom will need food, water, power and somewhere to live. It will be, in a giant understatement, problematic.

The good news is that humans won’t become extinct – the species can survive with just a few hundred individuals; the bad news is, we risk great loss of life and perhaps the end of our civilisations. Many of the places where people live and grow food will no longer be suitable for either. Higher sea levels will make today’s low-lying islands and many coastal regions, where nearly half the global population live, uninhabitable, generating an estimated 2 billion refugees by 2100. Bangladesh alone will lose one-third of its land area, including its main breadbasket.

From 2030, more than half the population will live in the tropics, an area that makes up a third of the planet and already struggles with climate impacts. Yet by 2100, most of the low and mid latitudes will be uninhabitable because of heat stress or drought; despite stronger precipitation, the hotter soils will lead to faster evaporation and most populations will struggle for fresh water. We will have to live on a smaller land surface with a larger population.

Indeed, the consequences of a 4C warmer world are so terrifying that most scientists would rather not contemplate them, let alone work out a survival strategy.

Rockström doesn’t like our chances. “It’s difficult to see how we could accommodate a billion people or even half of that,” he says. “There will be a rich minority of people who survive with modern lifestyles, no doubt, but it will be a turbulent, conflict-ridden world.”

He points out that we already use nearly half the world’s ice-free surface to produce food for 7 billion people and thinks meeting the needs of 11 billion in such hostile conditions would be impossible. “The reason is primarily making enough food, but also we would have lost the biodiversity we’re dependent on and be facing a cocktail of negative shocks all the time, from fires to droughts.”

Others are more sanguine. “I don’t think that humans as a species or even industrial civilisation is seriously threatened,” says Ken Caldeira, climatologist at the Carnegie Institution for Science in California. “People live in Houston, Miami and Atlanta because they live in air conditioning through the hot summers. If people are rich enough to air-condition their lives, they can watch whatever is the successor to Game of Thrones on TV, as the natural world decays around them,” he says. But he points out that while richer people risk a loss to their quality of life, the poorer risk their actual lives.

So how might we give all of humanity the best chance?

Our best hope lies in cooperating as never before to radically reorganise our world: decoupling the political map from geography. However unrealistic it sounds, we’d need to look at the world afresh and see it in terms of where the resources are and then plan the population, food and energy production around that. It would mean abandoning huge tracts of the globe and moving Earth’s human population to the high latitudes: Canada, Siberia, Scandinavia, parts of Greenland, Patagonia, Tasmania, New Zealand and perhaps newly ice-free parts of the western Antarctic coast. If we allow 20 sq m of space per person – more than double the minimum habitable space allowed per person under English planning regulations – 11 billion people would need 220,000 sq km of land to live on. The area of Canada alone is 9.9m sq km and, combined with all the other high-latitude areas, such as Alaska, Britain, Russia and Scandinavia, there should be plenty of room for everyone.

Food production will need to be more intensive. This will be a mostly vegetarian world, devoid of fish and livestock

These precious lands, with tolerable temperatures and access to water, would also be valuable food-growing areas, as well as the last oases for many species, so people would need to be housed in compact, efficient high-rise cities with reflective roofs and resource-recycling systems. That risks raising local temperatures to intolerable levels, because compact cities function as heat islands, so solar-powered cooling or even artificial winds would be needed to counteract this. There is also an increased risk of epidemics in such densely populated spaces.

Peter Cox, a climatologist at the University of Exeter, thinks this is viable, but would require a massive programme of infrastructure to manage waste, air quality and water needs. City-scale underground reservoirs could supply domestic needs and efficient recycling would keep water – and other resources – circulating in the population for years rather than hours. Post-fossil fuels, we will require unprecedented electricity production. This could come from vast arrays of solar- and wind-power plants in a belt across the uninhabitable desert regions. High-voltage direct current transmission lines could relay this power to the cities or it could be stored as thermal energy in molten salts and transported in hydrogen – after solar energy is used to split water to provide hydrogen for fuel cells.Advertisement

Hydrogen production will be on an industrial scale and it could be used for nonelectric transport, for instance. Wave farms, nuclear fission (and potentially fusion) and solar power will help meet our electricity needs. In the meantime, the effective capture from the air of today’s carbon emissions will with luck be a reality; they can be stored or used in the manufacture of materials.

Food production will need to be more intensive, efficient and industrial. This will be a mostly vegetarian world, largely devoid of fish and without the grazing area or resources for livestock. Poultry may be viable on the edges of farmland and synthetic meats and other foods will meet some of the demand. Heat-tolerant, drought-resistant crop varieties, such as cassava and millet, will replace many of our current unmodified staples such as rice and wheat and they will grow faster and with greater water efficiency because of the high COlevels.

One problem is that almost all of our agriculture will need to be at higher latitudes, because the tropics will be too dry or too hot for farmworkers. And that means less land and less sunlight in winter. “Global agriculture could be limited by the geometry of Earth’s orbit around the sun,” Cox says. “However, studies have shown that crops thrive with artificial light delivered by LEDs at exactly the right frequencies for photosynthesis. This means we could grow crops through the winter months, hydroponically in smaller spaces, stacked up in warehouses or even underground, leaving valuable land surfaces for other uses.”

Cultivation of algal mats and crops grown on floating platforms and in marshland could also contribute, while crops could potentially be grown in uninhabitable regions, farmed and processed remotely by artificial farmers. Either way, we would need to use far more precise nutrient and irrigation systems to avoid polluting more fertile ecosystems and reduce food loss and waste.

He points out that we already use nearly half the world’s ice-free surface to produce food for 7 billion people and thinks meeting the needs of 11 billion in such hostile conditions would be impossible. “The reason is primarily making enough food, but also we would have lost the biodiversity we’re dependent on and be facing a cocktail of negative shocks all the time, from fires to droughts.”

Others are more sanguine. “I don’t think that humans as a species or even industrial civilisation is seriously threatened,” says Ken Caldeira, climatologist at the Carnegie Institution for Science in California. “People live in Houston, Miami and Atlanta because they live in air conditioning through the hot summers. If people are rich enough to air-condition their lives, they can watch whatever is the successor to Game of Thrones on TV, as the natural world decays around them,” he says. But he points out that while richer people risk a loss to their quality of life, the poorer risk their actual lives.

So how might we give all of humanity the best chance?

Our best hope lies in cooperating as never before to radically reorganise our world: decoupling the political map from geography. However unrealistic it sounds, we’d need to look at the world afresh and see it in terms of where the resources are and then plan the population, food and energy production around that. It would mean abandoning huge tracts of the globe and moving Earth’s human population to the high latitudes: Canada, Siberia, Scandinavia, parts of Greenland, Patagonia, Tasmania, New Zealand and perhaps newly ice-free parts of the western Antarctic coast. If we allow 20 sq m of space per person – more than double the minimum habitable space allowed per person under English planning regulations – 11 billion people would need 220,000 sq km of land to live on. The area of Canada alone is 9.9m sq km and, combined with all the other high-latitude areas, such as Alaska, Britain, Russia and Scandinavia, there should be plenty of room for everyone.

Food production will need to be more intensive. This will be a mostly vegetarian world, devoid of fish and livestock

These precious lands, with tolerable temperatures and access to water, would also be valuable food-growing areas, as well as the last oases for many species, so people would need to be housed in compact, efficient high-rise cities with reflective roofs and resource-recycling systems. That risks raising local temperatures to intolerable levels, because compact cities function as heat islands, so solar-powered cooling or even artificial winds would be needed to counteract this. There is also an increased risk of epidemics in such densely populated spaces.

Peter Cox, a climatologist at the University of Exeter, thinks this is viable, but would require a massive programme of infrastructure to manage waste, air quality and water needs. City-scale underground reservoirs could supply domestic needs and efficient recycling would keep water – and other resources – circulating in the population for years rather than hours. Post-fossil fuels, we will require unprecedented electricity production. This could come from vast arrays of solar- and wind-power plants in a belt across the uninhabitable desert regions. High-voltage direct current transmission lines could relay this power to the cities or it could be stored as thermal energy in molten salts and transported in hydrogen – after solar energy is used to split water to provide hydrogen for fuel cells.Advertisement

Hydrogen production will be on an industrial scale and it could be used for nonelectric transport, for instance. Wave farms, nuclear fission (and potentially fusion) and solar power will help meet our electricity needs. In the meantime, the effective capture from the air of today’s carbon emissions will with luck be a reality; they can be stored or used in the manufacture of materials.

Food production will need to be more intensive, efficient and industrial. This will be a mostly vegetarian world, largely devoid of fish and without the grazing area or resources for livestock. Poultry may be viable on the edges of farmland and synthetic meats and other foods will meet some of the demand. Heat-tolerant, drought-resistant crop varieties, such as cassava and millet, will replace many of our current unmodified staples such as rice and wheat and they will grow faster and with greater water efficiency because of the high COlevels.

One problem is that almost all of our agriculture will need to be at higher latitudes, because the tropics will be too dry or too hot for farmworkers. And that means less land and less sunlight in winter. “Global agriculture could be limited by the geometry of Earth’s orbit around the sun,” Cox says. “However, studies have shown that crops thrive with artificial light delivered by LEDs at exactly the right frequencies for photosynthesis. This means we could grow crops through the winter months, hydroponically in smaller spaces, stacked up in warehouses or even underground, leaving valuable land surfaces for other uses.”

Cultivation of algal mats and crops grown on floating platforms and in marshland could also contribute, while crops could potentially be grown in uninhabitable regions, farmed and processed remotely by artificial farmers. Either way, we would need to use far more precise nutrient and irrigation systems to avoid polluting more fertile ecosystems and reduce food loss and waste.