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Environment

Ocean oxygen levels drop endangering marine life: Report

The loss of oxygen from the ocean due to climate change and nutrient pollution risks “dire effects” on sea life, fisheries and coastal communities, a global conservation body has warned

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) said on Saturday that about 700 sites had been identified globally with low oxygen levels – up from only 45 in the 1960s.

In the same period, the group warned in the largest peer-reviewed study to date that the volume of anoxic waters – areas totally devoid of oxygen – have quadrupled.

“What we are seeing is a decline of 2 percent in the global oxygen level [in the oceans]. It doesn’t sound like a lot but this small change will have enormous ramifications,” Minna Epps, the IUCN’s global marine and polar programme director, told Al Jazeera.

“Deoxygenation will have an impact on biodiversity, on biomass of commercially important species and on vulnerable rare species. It will also have an impact on habitats. We are seeing species migrating because of this,” she added.

The report found that the loss of oxygen is increasingly threatening fish species such as tuna, marlin and sharks, all particularly sensitive to low levels of the life-giving gas due to their large size and energy demands.

“To curb ocean oxygen loss alongside the other disastrous impacts of climate change, world leaders must commit to immediate and substantial emission cuts.”

Dr Grethel Aguilar, IUCN Acting Director General

Read our new report on ocean deoxygenation http://ow.ly/p0L350xtz3Q 

View image on Twitter

The ocean absorbs about a quarter of all fossil fuel emissions, but as global energy demand continues to grow there are fears that the world’s seas will eventually reach saturation point.

On current trends, oceans are expected to lose 3-4 percent of their oxygen globally by 2100.

However, most of that loss is predicted to be in the upper 1,000 metres (3,281 feet) – the richest part of the ocean for biodiversity.

“With this report, the scale of damage climate change is wreaking upon the ocean comes into stark focus,” Grethel Aguilar, the IUCN’s acting director, said.

“As the warming ocean loses oxygen, the delicate balance of marine life is thrown into disarray.”

The report on ocean oxygen loss concluded that deoxygenation is already altering the balance of marine life to the detriment of species across the food chain. The biomes that support about a fifth of the world’s current fish catch are formed by ocean currents that bring oxygen-poor water to coastlines.

These areas are especially vulnerable to even tiny variations in oxygen levels.

“Impacts here will ultimately ripple out and affect hundreds of millions of people,” the IUCN said.

The group this year issued a landmark assessment of the world’s natural habitats, concluding that human activity was threatening up to one million species with extinction.

Ocean life is already battling warmer temperatures, rampant overfishing and plastic pollution.

The World Meteorological Organization this week said that due to man-made emissions growth, the ocean is now 26 percent more acidic than before the Industrial Revolution.

“Ocean oxygen depletion is menacing marine ecosystems already under stress from ocean warming and acidification,” said Dan Laffoley, a senior marine science adviser at the IUCN.

“To stop the worrying expansion of oxygen-poor areas, we need to decisively curb greenhouse gas emissions as well as nutrient pollution from agriculture and other sources.”

The IUCN report also found that pollution around coastlines was having a significant effect on oxygen levels, with fertiliser and agricultural runoff promoting more algae growth, which in turn depletes oxygen as it decomposes.

World leaders will gather in Marseille in June for the IUCN’s World Conservation Congress.

Policymakers are currently in negotiations at the COP25 climate summit in Madrid charged with ratifying a comprehensive rulebook for the 2015 Paris accord.

“Decisions taken at the ongoing climate conference will determine whether our ocean continues to sustain a rich variety of life, or whether habitable, oxygen-rich marine areas are increasingly and irrevocably lost,”  Epps said from the Spanish capital.

Environment, Pollution

Strategic solutions to deal with global deluge of plastic pollution

By the year 2050, there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish.  Expressing this grave concern Asia Pacific Regional Bureau of UNESCO says the point was driven home again in recent days after a dead sperm whale washed ashore in Indonesia. Just a few months after a pilot whale died off Thailand after injesting 80 plastic bags, the 9.5-metre sperm whale had nearly six kilograms of plastic in its stomach.

Plastic pollution has reached an all-time high. According to the UNESCO with a global plastic production amounting to about 300 million tons a year – and an estimated 9.1 billion tons produced to date – 8 million tons is dumped into the oceans every year. “Due to the nature of our throw-away society, almost half of the plastic we use is disposed of after being used only once. A plastic bag, for example, has an average working life of 15 minutes but can remain in the ocean for up to 20 years. Other plastics need hundreds of years to fully decompose” the agency says.

The grisly finds involving dead cetaceans is only a warning sign of far larger problem. Many marine organisms are consuming plastics, mistaking it for food, leading to plastic entering the human food chain through the consumption of fish and other seafood. In the Asia-Pacific, the problem is particularly acute with the majority of plastic waste that ends up in the ocean coming from the region.

Recognizing the urgency of this problem, and marking World Science Day for Peace and Development, UNESCO in partnership with the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT), Thailand’s National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA) and the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) hosted two events at UNESCO Bangkok’s office and the AIT campus on 12 and 13 November to confront and find solutions to the global issue of plastic pollution, with a particular emphasis on engaging a new generation of students.

Accorrding to An Nguyen Hue, from Viet Nam’s Department of Science, Technology and International Cooperation Vietnam is very concerned with the gravity of the problem including marine plastic waste. And Viet Nam is truly working on dealing with it.

There are clear models worldwide for reducing waste, as presentations from speakers from China, Germany, India and Rwanda illustrated at the two events. Representatives from Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Singapore also reiterated the regional challenges. As the deaths of the two whales in Indonesia and Thailand have occupied global headlines, there is a growing understanding in the general public about the threat posed by plastic pollution not only to the environment but to human health as well.

Henning Schwarze, a German entrepreneur and tourism professional who spoke at the event says that raising awareness is a key combating the global plastic problem. Nonetheless regulations needs to be implemented, to reduce plastic consumption in additional sectors and economies, eg, in the construction industry.

Consumer and retail patterns are also under the microscope, with recent news in Thailand focusing on the prevalence of single-use plastics in the name of ‘convenience’. An individual snack portion, for example, is already packaged in plastic and then typically placed in another plastic bag, along with a disposable spoon, again in its own plastic wrapping. The sheer volume of plastic detritus distributed over the counter every day is staggering – and unnecessary.

The European Parliament recently approved a union-wide ban on single-use plastics, including items such as cutlery, cotton buds and straws, since there are already alternatives available. The ban is meant to be achieved by 2021, with a further goal that 90% of plastic bottles will be collected for recycling by 2025. Rwanda has already banned plastic bags completely since 2008, and the capital, Kigali, has since been recognized as the cleanest city in Africa and quite possible in the world. Among the displays at the World Science Day events was the NSTDA’s biodegradable packaging as an alternative to plastic, as countries in this region consider similar measures.

As the soft launch of UNESCO’s Plastic Initiative to gather ideas for plastic waste management, particularly by engaging youth, and testing projects in the 152 UNESCO Biosphere Reserves, the recent events marked a new commitment to a comprehensive, strategic approach to a worldwide problem. Young people from across the Asia-Pacific region are encouraged to participate and bring innovative ideas to the table, with project viability evaluated by a young people and professionals, and crowdfunding conducted over the course of coming years.

“Do not wait until 2050, when our oceans will have become veritable rubbish bins. A commitment to combating plastic pollution requires strategic solutions and the participation of every one of us” Unesco said.

by JCK Duarah

plastic%20event%20group.png

‘In the last two days, we all have been alerted about the emergency of addressing plastic waste, including marine plastic waste. No doubt, my country is partly responsible for it. And Viet Nam is truly working on dealing with it. We are ready to tackle this issue together with other Asian countries and to engage with all stakeholders.’

An Nguyen Hue, from Viet Nam’s Department of Science,
Technology and International Cooperation

 

 

Environment

Nearly 17,000 Migratory Birds died in Rajasthan needs high level inuiry

On November 10, thousands of birds, including Northern Shoveler, Ruddy Shelduck, Plovers, Avocets, were found dead in the 5-7 km area around Sambhar Lake.

PTI

Nearly 17,000 Migratory Birds Dead In Rajasthan's Sambhar Lake

Nearly 8,500 birds have died so far in Jaipur itself, Jagroop Singh Yadav said.

SAMBHAR: Thousands of migratory birds of about ten species were found dead around Sambhar Lake, the country’s largest inland saltwater lake near Jaipur, sending shock waves among locals and authorities.

Officials said they suspect water contamination as one of the reasons for the deaths but were awaiting viscera test reports. Though the official toll was 1,500, locals claimed the number of dead birds could be as high as 5,000.

“We have never seen anything like that. Over 5,000 birds died mysteriously all over the place,” 25-year-old Abhinav Vaishnav, a local bird-watcher, told PTI.

When Vaishanav went on a stroll along the edge of the lake on Sunday, he took the hundreds of dark lumps strewn across the marshy land for cow dung. But it didn’t take him and his fellow bird watchers Kishan Meena and Pavan Modi to realise the lumps were bodies of hundreds of lifeless migratory birds.

Carcasses of hundreds of dead birds including plovers, common coot, black winged stilt, northern shovelers, ruddy shelduck, and pied avocet were scattered on the edge of 12-13 km of the catchment area of the lake, leading to a possible number of over 5,000, they said.

Forest ranger Rajendra Jakhar said a possible reason could be the hailstorm that hit the area a few days back.

“We estimate about 1,500 birds of about 10 species have died. We are also looking at other possibilities like toxicity of the water, bacterial or viral infection,” he said.

A medical team from Jaipur has collected a few carcasses and water samples are being sent to Bhopal for further examination.

Ashok Rao, a veterinary doctor and part of the team, said that while the exact reason for the deaths was uncertain, he ruled out the possibility of bird flu.

“At initial examination we did not find any sort of secretion from the birds, which is a giveaway in the cases of bird flu,” he said.

R G Ujjwal, nodal officer, animal husbandry department, joined Rao and listed possible reasons behind the mysterious calamity.

“Their could be some sort of contamination in the water. The increased salinity of the water could also be another reason, as it increases salt concentration in the blood, which can further lead to slow blood flow and the internal organs like the brain may stop working,” Ujjwal said.

The lake is also a favourite of flamingos, stilts, stints, garganey, gulls and a number of other species of birds.

Jakhar informed that the lake every year hosts approximately 2-3 lakh birds, which include about 50,000 flamingos and 1,00,000 waders.

The strange episode has left villagers and people of the forest department baffled for the lack of a sensible explanation.

“I have never seen such a thing in 40 years of my service in the forest department. First I thought it could be because of the hail, but that occurs every year. There is no chemical waste in this water either,” said Ramesh Chandra Daroga, a local working with the forest department.

Ashok Sharma, joint director, State Disease Diagnostic Centre, said that once the reason was ascertained further steps will be taken.

“We don’t think it is a case of infection, but if it turns out to be the case we will take further steps to make sure it doesn’t spread,” he assured.

Meanwhile, the carcasses were collected in a tractor-trolley and buried in a ditch. A total of 669 dead birds were buried while hundreds lay strewn around as the forest staff hesitated to venture into the slippery muddy areas.

This is the second such incident in the state within a week. Last Thursday, 37 demoiselle cranes were found dead in Jodhpur‘s Khinchan area. Their viscera too have been sent for investigation and reports are awaited.

sambhar birds

Birds found dead at Sambhar lake (PTI)

Environment

What happens when the roof of the world melts?

Top 10 Gorgeous Lakes in the Himalayas

The ice that has long defined South Asia’s mountain ranges is dissolving into massive new lakes, raising the specter of catastrophic flooding.

Gokyo village, nestled beside a lake fed in part by Nepal’s Ngozumba Glacier, doesn’t face immediate danger from flooding, but other Himalayan communities are threatened by rising glacial lakes.

It’s a landscape like no other on the planet—the colossal glaciers of the Himalaya, which for millennia have been replenished by monsoons that smother the mountains in new snow each summer.

But take that same jet trip 80 years from now, and those gleaming ice giants could be gone.

Earlier this year, the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development published the most comprehensive analysis to date of how climate change will affect the glaciers of the Himalaya, Hindu Kush, Karakoram, and Pamir mountains, which together form an arc across Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, India, Nepal, Bhutan, and Myanmar. The study warned that, depending on the rate of global warming, one-third to two-thirds of the region’s approximately 56,000 glaciers will disappear by 2100.

DANGEROUS LAKES

Scientists say the accelerated melting of Asia’s estimated 56,000 glaciers is creating hundreds of new lakes across the Himalaya and other high mountain ranges. If the natural dam holding a glacial lake in place fails, the resulting flood could wipe out communities situated in the valleys below. Engineers in Nepal are looking at ways to lower the most dangerous lakes to reduce the threat.

This is a dire prediction for some 1.9 billion South Asians, who rely on the glaciers for water—used not only for drinking and sanitation but also for agriculture, hydroelectric power, and tourism. But the survey also looked at a more immediate question: As the glaciers rapidly melt, where will all the water—more than a quadrillion gallons of it, roughly the amount contained in Lake Huron—go?

The answer is that the Himalaya, long defined by its glaciers, is rapidly becoming a mountain range defined by lakes. In fact, another study found that from 1990 to 2010, more than 900 new glacier-fed lakes were formed across Asia’s high mountain ranges. Because of the remote locations, scientists must rely on satellites to count them, and new lakes appear to be growing so quickly that it’s difficult for scientific teams to agree on the precise number.

“It’s all happening much faster than we expected it to even five or 10 years ago,” says Alton Byers, a National Geographic explorer and mountain geographer at the University of Colorado Boulder.

To understand how these lakes form, think of a glacier as an ice bulldozer slowly plowing down the side of a mountain, scraping through the earth, and leaving a ridge of debris on either side as it pushes forward. These ridges are called moraines, and as glaciers melt and retreat, water fills the gouge that remains, and the moraines serve as natural dams.

“They start as a series of meltwater ponds,” Byers explains, and “they coalesce to form a single pond, then a larger lake. And year by year they get larger and larger, until you have a lake with millions of cubic meters of water.”

And as the lake fills up, it can overspill the moraines holding it in place or, in the worst-case scenario, the moraines can give way. Scientists call such an event a glacial lake outburst flood, or GLOF, but there’s also a Sherpa word for it: chhu-gyumha, a catastrophic flood.

One of the most spectacular Himalayan GLOFs occurred in the Khumbu region of Nepal on August 4, 1985, when an ice avalanche rumbled down the Langmoche Glacier and crashed into the mile-long, pear-shaped Dig Lake.

The lake was likely less than 25 years old—a photo taken in 1961 by Swiss cartographer Edwin Schneider shows only ice and debris at the foot of Langmoche. When the avalanche hit the lake, it created a wave 13 to 20 feet high that breached the moraine and released more than 1.3 billion gallons—about the equivalent of 2,000 Olympic-size swimming pools—of water downstream.

The Sherpa who saw it described a black mass of water slowly moving down the valley, accompanied by a loud noise like many helicopters and the smell of freshly tilled earth. The flood destroyed 14 bridges, about 30 houses, and a new hydroelectric plant. According to some reports, several people were killed. By a benevolent twist of fate, the flood happened during a festival celebrating the coming harvest, so there were few local residents near the river that day, which undoubtedly saved lives.

“There have always been GLOF events,” Byers says. “But we’ve never experienced so many dangerous lakes in such a short amount of time. We know so little about them.” The Dig Lake flood focused attention on the risks posed by other lakes across the Himalaya. Chief among them were Rolpa Lake, in the Rolwaling Valley of Nepal, and Imja Lake, near the foot of Everest, directly upstream from several villages along the popular trekking route to Everest Base Camp.

In the late 1980s teams of scientists began to study those two lakes. Satellite imagery revealed that Imja Lake had formed after Dig Lake, sometime in the 1960s, and was expanding at an alarming rate. One study estimated that from 2000 to 2007, its surface area grew by nearly 24 acres.TODAY’SPOPULAR STORIES

“The challenge with glacial lakes is that the risks are constantly changing,” says Paul Mayewski, director of the Climate Change Institute at the University of Maine and leader of the 2019 National Geographic Society and Rolex expedition to study Nepal’s glaciers. For example, many moraines holding back glacial lakes are naturally reinforced with chunks of ice, which help stabilize the overall structure. If the ice melts, a once solid moraine may fail.

Other threats lurk beneath the ice. As melting occurs, large caves can be hollowed out inside a retreating glacier and can fill with water. These hidden reservoirs sometimes link via conduits in the ice to surface ponds. When an escape path for this reservoir suddenly melts out, dozens of linked ponds may drain at once, converging to create a major deluge. Though smaller and less destructive than GLOFs, this type of event—known to scientists as an englacial conduit flood—happens more frequently. Little is known about these floods. “Figuring out how water flows through glaciers is not so trivial,” Mayewski says.

But for the moment, GLOFs remain the primary worry. Byers points to the moraine at the foot of the Khumbu Glacier, where a cluster of small ponds currently sit. “That’s the next big lake,” he says, noting that the moraine towers above the trekking village of Tugla. “It’s only a matter of time before it turns into a potential risk.”

It’s difficult for scientists to assess the danger without conducting fieldwork, which often requires days of hiking to reach the remote lakes, but a 2011 study identified 42 lakes in Nepal as being at either very high risk or high risk of flooding. Across the entire Greater Himalaya region, the number could be more than a hundred.

Another nation with a long history of dealing with rising glacial lakes is Peru, a mountainous country that has lost up to 50 percent of its glacial ice in the past 30 to 40 years and has seen thousands of people killed in GLOF events. After a devastating flood from Lake Palcacocha wiped out a third of the city of Huaraz, killing some 5,000 people, Peruvians began to pioneer innovative ways to partially drain dangerous glacial lakes. Today dozens of lakes in Peru have been dammed and lowered—creating hydroelectric plants and irrigation channels in the process.

But there are major obstacles to implementing some of those solutions in Nepal. Namtso2

The big difference between Peru and the Himalaya is the logistics, explains John Reynolds, a British geo-hazards specialist who helped direct an effort that lowered Rolpa, considered by many to be the most dangerous lake in Nepal. “In Peru you could virtually drive to within a day’s walk of the lake,” he says. In Nepal, “it could take five, six days to walk to the site from the nearest roadhead.”

Rolpa Lake is so remote that heavy machinery had to be helicoptered to the lake in pieces and then reassembled. After constructing a small dam with sluice gates, engineers slowly began releasing water and drawing down the lake. “If you draw the water down too quickly, it can actually destabilize the valley flanks, particularly the lateral moraines that impounded it,” Reynolds says. Ultimately, the water level of Rolpa Lake was lowered by more than 11 feet—the first mitigation project in the Himalaya.

In 2016 the Nepalese Army participated in an emergency project that drained Imja Lake by a similar amount. Neither measure has completely relieved the respective flood risks, but both represent, along with the installation of warning systems, a positive step.

Not all glacial lakes pose an equal threat, and as scientists continue to develop new ways to study the lakes, they are learning how to assess the true level of risk each lake poses. In some instances, they’ve found that the perceived risk was overstated, including in the case of Imja Lake. “There is no actual relationship between causality of a GLOF and lake size,” Reynolds says. “What’s critical is how the lake body interacts with the dam itself.”

And it’s not just the large lakes that pose threats, says Nepali scientist Dhananjay Regmi. “We are concerned more about big lakes, but most of the disasters in recent years have been done by relatively small lakes, which we never suspected.”

Whether the lakes are small or large, there’s little doubt that conditions for setting off floods are increasing. Reynolds points out that as the permafrost begins to thaw, massive rockfalls and landslides will become more common, and if they hit vulnerable lakes, they could trigger floods similar to the 1985 Khumbu Valley flood.

“We need to be conducting integrated geo-hazard studies of these valleys,” Reynolds says. “GLOFs are just a piece of it.”

Regmi considers the growth of lakes an opportunity for development. “Every lake has its own characteristics, and each needs to be treated differently,” he explains, noting that some might be good sources of mineral water and some might be good for generating hydropower or tourism, while others might be reserved for religious purposes.

Alton Byers is optimistic about the progress already made. “It’s not just the big infrastructure projects, like lowering Imja. People who live in remote high-mountain regions are quietly going about developing their own technology to adapt.”

This story appears in the December 2019 issue of National Geographic magazine.  

Tsomgo-Photo by fashionplate

Environment

Man Feeding Water to Burnt Koala

 

The koala received severe burns and was dehydrated so staff at Koala Hospital Port Macquarie tried their best to revive the animal.

Heartbreaking Video of Man Feeding Water to Burnt Koala is Symbol of Australia's Bushfire Crisis

Animal welfare activists,, rescuers and doctors have been working round the clock to help and koalas and other animals that have been affected by the raging bushfires in Australia this week. As the historic fired raged through over 2.5 million hectares of forest land, several areas with heavy koala populations were torched, causing hundreds of koala deaths.

While an estimated 350 koalas are being presumed dead in the fires, heartbreaking stories of rescued koalas has made the plight internationally viral. One such video surfaced recently where a badly burnt koala named Kate was being fed water by a man in Bellangry State Forrest.

The animal had received severe burns in the bushfires and arrived at the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital completely dehydrated.

Taking to Facebook, the hospital share a vide of the marsupial drinking water from the hands of the man who rescued her, named Darrel.

According to Koala Hospital’s post, the koala who had “burns to hands, feet, face and full singeing of her body,” had been rescued by Darrel who fed her water when her came across her.

They further added, “She arrived very dehydrated and is now in the 5 star service burns ward at the Koala Hospital.”

In the video, the man can be heard saying, “There you go, you’re so badly singed aren’t you?” as he helps the poor marsupial drink some water.

The man wrapped up the koala and brought her in for treatment.

As soon as the video was posted, a number of people took to Facebook to comment on the act of kindness and forwarder inquiries if they could help.

One user wrote, “Aww the poor thing! Is there anywhere we can donate to help our wild life?”

While another posted, “Great job rescuing her Darrel. Glad she is being treated and looked after. Love your work Koala hospital!”

A third user went on to write, “It is very upsetting to see this but so glad this beautiful girl is in the amazing hospital getting the care she needs.”

Meanwhile, fires continue to rage in Australia with crews still battling over 120 blazes in several areas including Queensland and New South Wales. Four fire related deaths ave already occurred

Environment

ACID RAIN IN GUWAHATI

A view of Guwahati along the Brahmaputra. Pic: Anushila Bharali/Wikimedia Commons

by Sahana Ghose: As rapidly-expanding Guwahati, northeast India’s largest metropolis, gears up to clean its air under the National Clean Air Policy (NCAP), a study suggests a cocktail of natural and man-made pollutants wafting through the air is tinkering with the city’s rainwater quality.

Guwahati in Assam is among the 122 ‘non-attainment’ cities identified for implementing mitigation actions under the national policy, which means it does not meet the National Ambient Air Quality Standards. Researchers said pinpointing critical sources of air pollution and their contributions to the problem are essential to crafting effective city and region-specific air pollution control plans.

Connecting the dots between the origin of raindrops, the chemical makeup of the rainwater and air pollutants, an IIT Guwahati-led study, from June 2016 to June 2017, shows that 64 percent of the rainfall during monsoon was acidic, which means the rainfall in this form is damaging the environment. Acid deposition, or acid rain, is the term used when the pH of precipitation drops below 5.6.

“We examined rainwater samples during June 2016-June 2017 and found that 75 percent of rainwater samples collected were acidic,” Rajyalakshmi Garaga, a research scholar at IIT Guwahati and study author, told Mongabay-India.

Garaga said such acidic rain events occurred throughout the year, with a frequency of 64 percent and 87 percent during monsoon and non-monsoon seasons, respectively.

The study identified particles from the sea (sea salt or marine source), dust, industrial and vehicular emissions, and coal combustion as the major sources that turn the rainfall acidic.

“Our study shows that both natural (marine source) and man-made air pollutants (emissions) are turning the rainfall acidic in the northeast Indian state of Assam. And while we can’t tweak the natural causes we can mitigate emissions stemming from human activities,” Garaga said.

One of the fastest-growing cities in India, Guwahati lies on the south bank of the Brahmaputra river. Map from study.

Gases such as sulfur dioxide (SO2) and oxides of nitrogen (NOx), which are also PM2.5 precursors, generated from the combustion of coal, oil, and natural gas are the primary emissions responsible for acid deposition. These combustion compounds react with water, oxygen and other substances in the atmosphere to form sulfuric and nitric acid, which are transported downwind before they settle on earth.

Acid rain can occur as wet or dry deposition. When the airborne pollutants settle on earth from the atmosphere in the form of rain or snow the phenomenon is known as wet deposition. Dry deposition is when gases and dust particles become acidic.

When too much acid accumulates, it impacts soil chemistry, plant activities and the acidity of aquatic bodies such as lakes, water, streams. Breathing in acid particles can cause lung and respiratory problems. It can damage buildings and historic monuments. One example is the yellowing of the Taj Mahal from industrialisation and subsequent acid rain.

Greenpeace report shows India as the top emitter of sulfur dioxide in the world, contributing more than 15 percent of the global anthropogenic sulfur dioxide emissions from the point sources tracked by NASA.

Garaga explained the Assam-based project began with the collection of rainwater to analyse its chemical characteristics and to tease apart the emission sources using an air quality model for this region. To pinpoint the source origin of rain droplets, a technique called isotopic fingerprinting was used to understand whether the rain was due to evaporation of water inland or on the ocean.

Assam sits between the great Himalayas and vast flood plains of the Brahmaputra, one of India’s major transboundary rivers. Guwahati, the largest urban corridor of northeast India, lies on the south bank of the river. The city is set to get a makeover to transform into a Smart City with an aim to have healthy air quality, among other targets.

“The current levels of particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5) in Guwahati and other cities of Assam are alarming and show increasing trends. Zeroing in on the critical sources of air pollution and their contributions to the problem is essential to building an effective air pollution control plan for the cities and regions,” explained Sharad Gokhale, study co-author, and IIT-Guwahati scientist.

Coarse dust particles (PM10) are particulate matter ranging from 2.5 to 10 micrometers in diameter. Sources include sea salt, pollen, combustion activities such as motor vehicles, industrial processes, crushing or grinding operations and dust stirred up by vehicles on roads.

PM2.5 are fine inhalable particles, with diameters that are generally 2.5 micrometres and smaller. This means the average human hair is 30 times larger than the largest fine particle. Sources of PM2.5 pollutants include human activity-derived particles (such as black carbon, organic carbon, sulfates, nitrates, and ammonia) and fine dust.

Besides Guwahati, four other cities in Assam (Nagaon, Nalbari, Sibsagar, Silchar) are labeled as ‘non-attainment’ cities in the NCAP for violating prescribed ambient air quality standards. These are cities where particle levels (PM10) exceed the annual average (60 micrograms per cubic meter) ambient air quality standards. Assam has 24 air quality monitoring stations, including six in Guwahati, under the National Air Quality Monitoring Programme.

Under the national policy, the state is all set to prepare city-specific interventions and action plans, targeting about 20 to 30 percent reduction of PM 2.5 and PM10 concentrations by 2024, according to an agreement between the Pollution Control Board Assam and IIT-Guwahati.

“Once we know what are the sources we can target the sectors specifically for emission reduction. This is necessary if we want cities to attain prescribed air quality standards,” said Gokhale, adding that this is where studies such as the current one come in handy.

Multiple actors at play in ruining rainwater quality

For the study, rainwater and PM 2.5 sampling was carried out in urban and non-urban areas in the city of Guwahati. Non-urban areas have relatively fewer vehicles but several small factories said Gokhale. The presence of a liquid petroleum gas (LPG) bottling plant in the city premises has further aggravated the worsening of air quality.

Running through the year (2016-2017) the study identified particles from the sea, dust, industrial and vehicular emissions, and coal combustion as the major sources that are turning the rainfall acidic.

“Marine sources appear to have a significant impact on rainwater quality. These sources refer to the salt particles such as chloride, nitrate that are blown inland from the ocean and contribute to the acidity of the atmosphere. When the rain washes or scrubs these particles out, these particles interact with the raindrops and increase the acidity of the rainwater,” Gokhale said.

Because of the interplay of meteorological factors such as humidity, temperature, and rainfall, the part played by each of these sources (natural to man-made) in making the rainfall acidic see-saws over the year.

For example, the authors note that in rainwater samples collected during monsoon, marine source (40 percent) and vehicular emissions (36 percent) were the major contributors in lowering the pH (increasing acidity) while in the pre-monsoon phase the contributions from the marine source decreased by 16 percent and industrial emissions increased by 20 percent.

“For one thing, the decreasing difference between day and night-time temperatures may be responsible for the quick conversion of precursor gases into sulfates and nitrates,” noted Gokhale. This quick conversion could possibly explain why the gaseous pollutants (such as SO2 and NOx) have remained in the low pollution level category in the state, as documented by the Pollution Control Board Assam.

Further, the acid neutralising capacity in this region was negligible, the researchers said. “This is because the levels of sulfates and nitrates are much higher than the neutralising elements such as calcium, magnesium and potassium ions. And there is a huge imbalance of anions and cations in the atmosphere,” said Gokhale.

The other important finding is the moisture source during monsoons and non-monsoon periods.

While the southwest monsoon arriving from the Bay of Bengal branch brings in the largest share of moisture during the summer monsoon phase, in-land water bodies in the state and transpiration from surrounding green cover result in maximum rain during the rest of the year, the researchers said.

Jaideep Baruah of Assam Science Technology and Environment Council batted for long-term monitoring and research to flesh out acid rain issues in the state.

“One of the problematic areas in Assam is the heavy load of dust stirred up vehicular movement and also from denudation of hills,” Baruah told Mongabay-India, referring to the contribution of dust particles revealed in the study.

Assam is rich in its minerals deposit and is well-known for its fertile land, contributing $46 billion to the nation’s total gross domestic product (GDP), and engaging 69 percent of the state’s population in agriculture, the study said. However, the soil of the state is acidic which restricts the productivity potential necessitating investigation to understand the cause of acidic nature, said Garaga.

Binoy K. Saikia, a scientist in CSIR-North East Institute of Science and Technology, who studies coal chemistry, and who was not associated with the current study, highlighted that the research also reveals the significance of coal combustion activities in the surrounding regions which are responsible for emission of SOx and NOx, the precursor of acid rain.

“The coke oven near Guwahati may be one of the cause for the SOx if they use the feed coals from the northeast region since coal from this part of the country are high in sulfur, particularly organic sulfur,” Saikia told Mongabay-India, stressing on regulatory control and monitoring of emissions.

Sprucing up monitoring and building onto research data

Under the agreement between IIT-Guwahati and the state’s pollution control board, one of the areas researchers are looking at is evaluating the air quality monitoring stations in the state.

“They are not scientifically stationed. For instance, you may not find the monitors in areas where there is heavy traffic congestion but where there is a relatively low volume of traffic. They are arbitrarily stationed so they do not reveal the true nature of the air quality,” said Gokhale.

“We may also restructure the network of these monitors and also convert them to automated systems,” he said.

As for the research component, Garaga said the scientists are also working on a dry deposition study, which means collecting particulate matter on a filter paper and subjecting them to a similar analysis as the wet deposition (acid rain) work.

“Thereafter, the results will be compared and sources contributing to such high concentrations will be identified in order to inform policymakers in designing better mitigation strategies,” she signed-off.

 

Environment

Elephant trade may resume in Sonepur Fair

by ANIRBAN ROY

As the Asia’s oldest and biggest cattle fair, the Sonepur fair began in Bihar’s Saran district on Monday, conservationists are worried that the fair may resume trade of elephants.

The fear is obvious because the Bihar government has constituted a nine-member committee to invite elephant owners from all over Bihar, Uttar Prdaesh and Jharkhand to the Sonepur Fair.

Arrival of elephants at Sonepur fair had stopped after a ban on sale in 2000. In 2018, only one elephant arrived at the fair.

Munmun Singh, a member of the committee said they are expecting at least 50 elephants at the Sonepur fair this year.

Sonepur Fair is held on the eve of Kartik Poornima in the month of November- December on the confluence of river Ganges and Gandak. This year, the fair will be from November 11 to December 11.

The Sonepur Fair existed when Chandragupta Maurya (340 – 297 BCE) used to buy elephants and horses across the river Ganges. The biggest attraction of the fair was the Haathi Bazaar where elephants used to be lined up for sale.

Elephants used to be openly sold at the fair. As per records, 92 elephants were sold in Sonepur Fair in 2001. The highest of 354 elephants were sold in 2004.

Most of the elephants sold in the Sonepur Fair were originally from Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, and had buyers from other states, mostly Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.

Conservationists in Assam are now worried with the Bihar governments decision to invite elephants to the Sonepur fair. “This is illegal,” one of them, said.

“It would open a floodgate, and poachers would go all out to catch juvenile elephants from in the jungles in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh,” he added.

It was reported that 167 elephants were transported to Bihar and Uttar Pradesh from Assam between 2005 and 2008, and almost all of them were reportedly sold at the infamous Sonepur fair.

As per the record, 77 elephants were transported in 2006 from Assam, the highest in the conservation history of the state.

While captive elephants from Assam were the victims of the smuggling network, a significant number of them were caught from the wild.

The elephants caught from the wild were transported from Assam with forged documents and that too, in connivance with a section of corrupt forest officials.

But, as per the law, any such sale of elephants is illegal. The transportation could have been justified and supported with adequate documentation, but the sale was totally illegal.

As per She Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, sale, purchase or transfers of captive elephants from one person to another for monetary consideration or any other profitable gain, is totally illegal.

Unfortunately, the Assam Forest Department never tried to locate the elephants which were transported outside the state and did not try to bring them back. (This story first published in NE Now)

Environment

24 killed as Cyclone Bulbul lashes India, Bangladesh

At least 24 people were killed and more than 2 million others spent a night huddled in storm shelters as Cyclone Bulbul smashed into the coasts of India and Bangladesh with fierce gales and torrential rains, officials said Sunday.

The cyclone made landfall at 9 p.m. local time (1530GMT) on Saturday in Indian West Bengal, near Sagar Island. The cyclone packed winds of up to 120 kilometers (75 miles) per hour, forcing the closure of ports and airports in both countries.

Ten people were killed in India’s West Bengal state, the Press Trust of India reported, including two after uprooted trees fell on their homes and another after being struck by falling branches in Kolkata.

Two others died in nearby Odisha state, PTI reported.

Ayesha Akter, an emergency official in Bangladesh, confirmed 12 people had died in the storm, adding that she feared the death toll will rise until Monday morning.

According to Bangladesh’s Health Directorate report issued on Sunday night casualties have been reported from eight districts in the country’s southern coastline.

Five others are missing after a fishing trawler sank in squally weather on Meghna river near the southern island of Bhola, district administrator Masud Alam Siddiqui told AFP.

AFP Photo

AFP Photo

The cyclone also damaged some 4,000 mostly mud and tin-built houses, disaster management secretary Shah Kamal told AFP.

In coastal Khulna, the worst-hit district in Bangladesh, trees swayed violently and were ripped from the ground in the fierce storm, blocking roads and hampering access to the area.

Some low-lying parts of the district were flooded, Disaster Management Minister Enamur Rahman told AFP.

Authorities said the cyclone was weakening as it moved inland.

“It has turned into a deep depression, causing heavy rainfall,” Bangladesh weather bureau deputy chief Ayesha Khatun told AFP.

Bulbul hit the coast at the Sundarbans, the world’s largest mangrove forest which straddles Bangladesh and India, and is home to endangered species including Bengal tigers and Irrawaddy dolphins.

The mangroves shielded the coast from the storm’s full impact, Khatun said.

Some 2.1 million people across Bangladesh were relocated to cyclone shelters.

AFP Photo

AFP Photo

Troops were sent to coastal districts while tens of thousands of volunteers went door-to-door and used loudspeakers to urge people to evacuate their villages.

“We spent the night with another 400 people,” said Ambia Begum, who arrived at a shelter in the port town of Mongla late Saturday along with her family.

“I am worried about my cattle and the straw roof of my house. I could not bring them here. Allah knows what is happening there,” the 30-year-old mother of three told AFP.

Around 1,500 tourists were stranded on St. Martin’s island off southeastern Bangladesh after boat services were cancelled.

In India, nearly 120,000 people who were evacuated started to return home as the cyclone weakened, authorities said.

“The storm has left a trail of destruction as it’s crossed the coastline of West Bengal,” the state’s Urban Development Minister Firhad Hakim said.

In Odisha, crops in coastal regions were extensively damaged by the cyclone, officials told AFP.

Bangladesh’s low-lying coast, home to 30 million people, and India’s east are regularly battered by cyclones.

Hundreds of thousands of people living around the Bay of Bengal have been killed in cyclones in recent decades.

While the frequency and intensity of the storms have increased, partly due to climate change, the death tolls have come down because of faster evacuations and the building of thousands of coastal shelters.

Cyclone Fani was the most powerful storm to hit the area in years when it struck in May, killing 12 people.

Environment

Mandalay steps up food safety drive with focus on chemicals

U Khin Maung Myint, a member of the pulses wholesale centre, underscored the need to stabilise their prices and expand the market.

He said a tonne of mung beans is worth about K1 million (US$660), and a 96-kilogram bag sells for K95,000 at Mandalay Market.

U Khin Maung Myint added that planting hybrid varieties could further increase the yield.

“The prices of white, red and yellow chickpeas have declined in the market because of the entry of green peas from China,” he said. “This resulted in local chick peas being pushed out of the market.”

U Hla Than Win, a leader of a local sugar association, said a flood of foreign sugar on the local market had pushed down the price of sugar. Also, there are sugar storage problems because of foreign sugar, with the start of the local cane harvest only two months away.

The legislators hope to continue the dialogue with local farmers to increase cooperation on improving farmers’ production and livelihoods.

The Mandalay government is implementing a food safety plan to ensure that farm produce is free of dangerous chemicals and meets international standards.

A trader said that to fetch a good price, local produce must be grown organically and supported by the government with good seeds and soft loans. – Translated