Volcano erupts on Japan’s Kuchinoerabu Island

A volcano has erupted on a remote island in southern Japan, spewing ash and smoke into the air over the sparsely-populated area but causing no damage or injuries.

About 80 residents initially took refuge at a shelter on the island but have since started to return home after an evacuation advisory was lifted.

The same peak erupted explosively in 2015, sending ash and smoke thousands of meters into the sky and releasing potentially deadly pyroclastic flows that reached the sea.

The island’s entire population was evacuated at the time but eventually returned. Some 100 people now live there.

Japan has 110 active volcanoes and monitors 47 constantly.

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Scientists warn Earth’s magnetic North Pole has begun moving ‘erratically’ at speeds so fast they are having to issue an emergency update to maps used by electronic navigation systems

Earth’s magnetic fields are shifting – and scientists are unsure why.

Researchers say the magnetic North Pole is  ‘skittering’ away from Canada, towards Siberia.

The problem has got so bad, researchers around the world are scrambling to update a global model of the fields.

Called the World Magnetic Model, it underlies all modern navigation, from the systems that steer ships at sea to Google Maps on smartphones.

Impact on World Magnetic Model:

The problem has got so bad, researchers around the world are scrambling to update a global model of the fields. Called the World Magnetic Model, it underlies all modern navigation, from the systems that steer ships at sea to Google Maps on smartphones.

WHY ARE THE EARTH’S MAGNETIC FIELDS MOVING?

The problem lies partly with the moving pole and partly with other shifts deep within the planet.

Liquid churning in Earth’s core generates most of the magnetic field, which varies over time as the deep flows change.

In 2016, for instance, part of the magnetic field temporarily accelerated deep under northern South America and the eastern Pacific Ocean. Satellites such as the European Space Agency’s Swarm mission tracked the shift.

WHAT IS THE WORLD MAGNETIC MODEL?

The charts, known as the World Magnetic Model (WMM), are used to convert between compass measurements of magnetic north and true north and can be found in the navigation systems of ships and airplanes as well as geological applications (such as drilling and mining).

The WMM is also part of map applications in smartphones, including the Google Maps App.

Researchers from the U.S.’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) maintain the WMM.

WHAT COULD HAPPEN TO EARTH IF ITS POLES FLIPPED?

Scientists in recent years have predicted that Earth’s magnetic field could be gearing up to ‘flip’ – a shift in which the magnetic south pole would become magnetic north, and vice versa. Such an event could have catastrophic effects, wreaking havoc on the electric grid and leaving life at the surface exposed to higher amounts of solar radiation.

Electric grid collapse from severe solar storms is a major risk. As the magnetic field continues to weaken, scientists are highlighting the importance off-the-grid energy systems using renewable energy sources to protect the Earth against a blackout.

Very highly charged particles can have a deleterious effect on the satellites and astronauts.

The Earth’s climate could also change. A recent Danish study has found that the earth’s weather has been significantly affected by the planet’s magnetic field.

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Government rejects separate time zone for northeastern States citing strategic reasons

A panel, formed to examine having a separate time zone for the northeastern States, recommended against it for “strategic reasons”, the government informed the Lok Sabha on December 20. In a written response to a question on demands from the northeastern States for having a separate time zone, Union Science and Technology Minister Harsh Vardhan said such requests have been made on the ground that sunrise and sunset timings in these parts are much earlier than official working hours.

The debate for a separate time zone for the northeast has been in existence for as long as the history of modern India goes. Amidst the pros and cons of having two time zones for the country, no implementable solution has been proposed so far.

Back in October this year, the CSIR-National Physical Laboratory (CSIR-NPL) and the National Measurement Institute (NMI) of India explored the possibility and also proposed an implementable solution.

Proposed time zones: IST-I and IST-II:

The custodian of Indian Standard Time (IST) proposed two time zones IST-I and IST-II for the country as follows:

IST-I would be same as current IST, that is, UTC +5:30.

IST-II would be UTC +6:30 owing to the difference of one hour between the eastern and western part of the country.

The borderline between two time zones would have been 89°52’E, the narrow border between Assam and West Bengal. States west of this line would have followed IST-I (UTC +5:30) while states east of this line (Assam, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura, Andaman & Nicobar Islands) would have followed IST-II (UTC +6:30).

Earth is divided into 360 vertical lines or the longitudes. A shift in every longitude gives a time difference of four minutes; so, the planet is divided into 24 time zones.

Longitude is the angular distance between a point on any Meridian and the prime meridian in Greenwich. The time at Greenwich is called as Greenwich Mean Time (GMT).

Need for two time zones:

India extends from 68°7’E to 97°25’E, with the spread of 29 degrees, which amounts to almost two-hours from the geographical perspective. For decades, legislators, activists, industrialists and ordinary citizens from India’s northeast have complained about the effect of IST on their lives.

Following are the factors which compelled the people from northeast to demand a different time zone:

Loss of daylight hours and excess electricity usage. A different time zone would allow sunsets to take place later, allowing the citizens to better use their daylight hours.

Effect on biological clocks of citizens. The longitudinal extremes of the country are assigned a single time zone which not only creates the loss of daylight hours but also creates problems relating to the biological clock.

Concerns:

India has a huge population; if the country were divided into two time zones, there would be chaos at the border between the two zones. It would mean resetting clocks with each crossing of the time zone. There is scope for more dangerous kinds of confusion. Railway signals are not fully automated and many routes have single tracks. Trains may meet with major accidents owing to human errors. Just one such accident would wipe out any benefits resulting from different time zones in the country.

Partitioning the already divided country further into time zones may also have undesirable political consequences. Moreover, research shows that the energy saving from creating two time zones is not particularly large.

With a time difference of one hour in the mornings and in the evenings, there would be nearly 25% less overlap between office timings in the two zones. This could be important for banks, offices, industries and multinational companies which need to be constantly interconnected. This will be further detrimental to productivity and to the interests of the eastern region.

There is already a sense of alienation between the relatively prosperous and industrialized western zone and the less developed eastern zone. The people in the Northeast since a distance from the mainland and separateness in clock time may accentuate it.

Having a separate time zone for the eastern region will provide no energy or other benefits to the rest of the country. Moreover, India will continue to be in off-set time zones, five and a half hours in the west and six and a half in the eastern region ahead of.

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Shortest Day of the Year in the Northern Hemisphere

The December solstice can be on December 20, 21, 22, or 23.

The North Pole is tilted furthest from the Sun.

It is the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, where it is the darkest day of the year.

In the Southern Hemisphere, it is the summer solstice and the longest day of the year.

The winter solstice happens every year when the Sun reaches its most southerly declination of -23.5 degrees. In other words, it is when the North Pole is tilted farthest away from the Sun, delivering the fewest hours of sunlight of the year.

The Sun is directly overhead of the Tropic of Capricorn in the Southern Hemisphere during the December solstice and is closer to the horizon than at any other time in the year.

The day after the winter solstice marks the beginning of lengthening days, leading up to the summer solstice in June.

In the Southern Hemisphere, the opposite is true. Dawn comes early, and dusk comes late. The sun is high and the shortest noontime shadow of the year happens there. In the Southern Hemisphere, people will experience their longest day and shortest night.

Does the winter solstice always occur on December 21st?

While it more often than not falls on December 21st, the exact time of the solstice varies each year. In the Northern hemisphere, the winter solstice is the shortest day of the year, because it is tilted away from the sun, and receives the least amount of sunlight on that day.

However, the earliest sunset does not occur on the solstice, because of the slight discrepancy between ‘solar time’ and the clocks we use.

The shortest day of the year often falls on December 21st, but the modern calendar of 365 days a year – with an extra day every four years – does not correspond exactly to the solar year of 365.2422 days.

The solstice can happen on December 20, 21, 22 or 23, through December 20 or 23 solstices are rare. The last December 23 solstice was in 1903 and will not happen again until 2303.

The term ‘solstice’ derives from the Latin word ‘solstitium’, meaning ‘Sun standing still’. On this day the Sun seems to stand still at the Tropic of Capricorn and then reverses its direction as it reaches its southernmost position as seen from the Earth. Some prefer the more Teutonic term ‘sunturn’ to describe the event.

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Indonesia’s Soputan volcano erupts, ejecting thick ash

A volcano in central Indonesia has erupted, ejecting columns of thick ash as high as 7,500 meters (24,606 feet) into the sky.

Mount Soputan, located on the northern part of Sulawesi island, erupted twice Sunday morning, said the national disaster agency’s spokesman, Sutopo Purwo Nugroho.

Indonesia sits along the Ring of Fire region, an area where most of the world’s volcanic eruptions occur. The Ring of Fire has seen a large amount of activity in recent days, but Indonesia has been hit hard due to its position on a large grid of tectonic plates.

Indonesia is at the meeting point of three major continental plates – the Pacific, the Eurasian and the Indo-Australian plates – and the much smaller Philippine plate. As a result, several volcanoes on the Indonesian islands are prone to erupting, with Bali’s Mt Agung taking the headlines last year and in 2018. Indonesia is home to roughly 400 volcanoes, out of which 127 are currently active, accounting for about a third of the world’s active volcanoes.

What is the Ring of Fire?

The Ring of Fire is a Pacific region home to over 450 volcanoes, including three of the world’s four most active volcanoes – Mount St. Helens in the USA, Mount Fuji in Japan and Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines. It is also sometimes called the circum-Pacific belt.

Around 90% of the world’s earthquakes occur in the Ring of Fire, and 80% of the world’s largest earthquakes. The 40,0000-kilometre horse-shoe-shaped ring loops from New Zealand to Chile, passing through the coasts of Asia and the Americas on the way.

It stretches along the Pacific Ocean coastlines, where the Pacific Plate grinds against other, smaller tectonic plates that form the Earth’s crust – such as the Philippine Sea plate and the Cocos and Nazca Plates that line the edge of the Pacific Ocean.

The people most at risk from activity in the Ring of Fire are in the US west coast, Chile, Japan and island nations including the Solomon Islands. These areas are most at risk because they lie on so-called subduction zones – which are boundaries that mark the collision between two of the planet’s tectonic plates.

The Ring of Fire is the result from subduction of oceanic tectonic plates beneath lighter continental plates. The area where these tectonic plates meet is called a subduction zone.

The world’s deepest earthquakes happen in subduction zone areas as tectonic plates scrape against each other – and the Ring of Fire has the world’s biggest concentration of subduction zones.

As energy is released from the earth’s molten core, it forces tectonic plates to move and they crash up against each other, causing friction. The friction causes a build-up of energy and when this energy is finally released it causes an earthquake. If this happens at sea it can cause devastating tsunamis.

Tectonic plates usually only move on average a few centimetres each year, but when an earthquake strikes, they speed up massively and can move at several metres per second.

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Ground Water Extraction: Government notifies revised guidelines; to levy fee on water extraction from June 2019

The Central Ground Water Authority of the Union Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation on December 12, 2018 notified revised guidelines for ground water extraction.

The guidelines were revised in the wake of the directions issued by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) to address various shortcomings in the existing guidelines of ground water extraction.

The revised guidelines, which will be effective from June 1, 2019, aim to ensure a more robust ground water regulatory mechanism in the country.

Concept of Water Conservation Fee

One of the important features of the revised guidelines is the introduction of the concept of Water Conservation Fee (WCF), the fee charged on extraction of ground water.

The WCF payable varies with the category of the area, type of industry and the quantum of ground water extraction.

The fee may progressively increase from safe to over-exploited areas and from low to high water consuming industries as well as with increasing quantum of ground water extraction.

The high rates of WCF are expected to discourage setting up of new industries in over-exploited and critical areas as well as may limit large scale ground water extraction by industries, especially in over-exploited and critical areas.

The WCF would also compel industries to adopt measures relating to water use efficiency and discourage the growth of packaged drinking water units, particularly in over-exploited and critical areas.

Salient features of the revised guidelines

  • Encourage use of recycled and treated sewage water by industries
  • Provision of action against polluting industries
  • Mandatory requirement of digital flow meters, piezometers and digital water level recorders, with or without telemetry depending upon quantum of extraction
  • Mandatory water audit by industries abstracting ground water 500 m3/day or more in safe and semi-critical area and 200 m3/day or more in critical and over-exploited assessment units
  • Mandatory roof top rain water harvesting except for specified industries
  • Measures to be adopted to ensure prevention of ground water contamination in premises of polluting industries/ projects

Exemptions under the revised guidelines

  • The revised guidelines exempt the requirement of NOC for agricultural users, users employing non-energised means to extract water, individual households (using less than 1 inch diameter delivery pipe) and Armed Forces Establishments during operational deployment.
  • Other exemptions have been granted to strategic and operational infrastructure projects for Armed Forces, Defence and Paramilitary Forces Establishments and Government water supply agencies.

Ground water extraction in India

– Ground water extraction in India is primarily for irrigation in agricultural activities, accounting for nearly 228 BCM (Billion Cubic Meter), which amounts to 90 percent of the annual ground water extraction.

– The remaining 10 percent of extraction that is 25 BCM is for drinking , domestic as well as industrial uses.

– The industrial use is estimated to account for only about 5 percent of the annual ground water extraction in the country.

– India is the largest user of ground water in the world, extracting ground water to the tune of 253 BCM per year, which is about 25 percent of the global ground water extraction.

Categorisation of water extraction units

Out of the total 6584 assessment units, 1034 are categorised as ‘Over-exploited’, 253 as ‘Critical’, 681 as ‘Semi-Critical’ and 4520 as ‘Safe’.

The remaining 96 assessment units have been classified as ‘Saline’ due to non-availability of fresh ground water due to salinity problem.

The Central Ground Water Authority (CGWA), constituted under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, has the mandate of regulating ground water development and management in the country.

CGWA has been regulating ground water development for its sustainable management in the country through measures such as issue of advisories, public notices, granting No Objection Certificates (NOC) for ground water withdrawal.

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Hold public meeting in Polavaram affected areas: SC to Centre


The Supreme Court, hearing a petition on the status of Polavaram multi-purpose project, ordered the Centre on November 29 to hold a public hearing in the project affected area in Odisha and Chhattisgarh. The Centre replied saying it was ready to appoint an independent agency to conduct the same.

The SC bench, led by Justice Madan B. Lokur, also said that the project will only move forward after the public hearings are held. The court was hearing a petition filed by the non-profit Readiness for Empowerment through Legitimate Action (RELA) and the Odisha government.

The Polavaram project was accorded national status in 2014 in the Andhra Pradesh Bifurcation Act and its design was changed. The petitioner had told the court that since the dam design has been changed and new components were added, it’d require a new environmental clearance.

Polavaram Project is a multi-purpose irrigation project. The dam across the Godavari River is under construction located in West Godavari District and East Godavari District in Andhra Pradesh state and its reservoir spreads in parts of Chhattisgarh and Orissa States also.

The project is multipurpose major terminal reservoir project on river Godavari for development of Irrigation, Hydropower and drinking water facilities to East Godavari, Vishakhapatnam, West Godavari and Krishna districts of Andhra Pradesh.

The project is likely to displace over 1.88 lakh people across 222 villages and so far, 1,730 persons in six villages have been rehabilitated by the government.

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Lancet urges response to heat wave exposure surge

Indian policymakers must take a series of initiatives to mitigate the increased risks to health, and the loss of labor hours due to a surge in exposure to heat wave events in the country over the 2012-2016 periods, the Lancet Countdown 2018 report recommends.

From 2014-2017, the average length of heat waves in India ranged from 3-4 days compared to the global average of 0.8-1.8 days, and Indians were exposed to almost 60 million heat wave exposure events in 2016, a jump of about 40 million from 2012, the report released

From 2014-2017, the average length of heat waves in India ranged from 3-4 days compared to the global average of 0.8-1.8 days, and Indians were exposed to almost 60 million heat wave exposure events in 2016, a jump of about 40 million from 2012.

A recent report has placed India amongst the countries who most experience high social and economic costs from climate change. Overall, across sectors, India lost almost 75,000 million hours of labor in 2017, from about 43,000 million hours in 2000.

The agriculture sector was more vulnerable compared to the industrial and service sectors because workers there were more likely to be exposed to heat.

The India Meteorological Department had reported that from 1901 to 2007, there was an increase of more than 0.5°C in mean temperature, with considerable geographic variation, and climate forecasts by research groups project a 2.2-5.5°C rise in temperatures in northern, central and western India by the end of the 21st century.

Important recommendations (Lancet Study):

Identify “heat hot-spots” through appropriate tracking of meteorological data.

Promote “timely development and implementation of local Heat Action Plans with strategic inter-agency coordination and a response which targets the most vulnerable groups.”

Review existing occupational health standards, labor laws and sectoral regulations for worker safety in relation to climatic conditions.

Heatwave is considered if maximum temperature of a station reaches at least 40°C or more for Plains, 37°C or more for coastal stations and at least 30°C or more for Hilly regions.

Following criteria are used to declare heat wave:

  • Based on Departure from Normal:
  • Heat Wave: Departure from normal is 4.5°C to 6.4°C.
  • Severe Heat Wave: Departure from normal is >6.4°C.

Based on Actual Maximum Temperature (for plains only):

Heat Wave: When actual maximum temperature ≥ 45°C

Severe Heat Wave: When actual maximum temperature ≥47°C

To declare heat wave, the above criteria should be met at least in 2 stations in a Meteorological sub-division for at least two consecutive days and it will be declared on the second day.

Higher daily peak temperatures and longer, more intense heat waves are becomingly increasingly frequent globally due to climate change.

India too is feeling the impact of climate change in terms of increased instances of heat waves which are more intense in nature with each passing year and have a devastating impact on human health.

Health Impacts of Heat Waves: The health impacts of Heat Waves typically involve dehydration, heat cramps, heat exhaustion and/or heat stroke.

Children, the elderly and those with pre-existing morbidities are particularly vulnerable.

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Scientists weigh up stratospheric sunlight barrier to curb warming

Spraying sun-dimming chemicals high above the Earth to slow global warming could be “remarkably inexpensive”, costing about $2.25 billion a year over a 15-year period, according to a study by U.S. scientists.

This geoengineering technique known as a stratospheric aerosol injection (SAI) could limit rising temperatures that are causing climate change.

Stratospheric sulfur aerosols are sulfur-rich particles which exist in the stratosphere region of the Earth’s atmosphere. The layer of the atmosphere in which they exist is known as the Junge layer, or simply the stratospheric aerosol layer.

These particles consist of a mixture of sulfuric acid and water. They are created naturally, such as by photochemical decomposition of sulfur-containing gases, e.g. carbonyl sulfide.

Sulfur aerosols are common in the troposphere as a result of pollution with sulfur dioxide from burning coal, and from natural processes.

Volcanoes are a major source of particles in the stratosphere as the force of the volcanic eruption propels sulfur-containing gases into the stratosphere.

What is Stratospheric Aerosol Injection (SAI)?

Under SAI delivery of precursor sulfide gases such as sulfuric acid, hydrogen sulfide (H2S) or sulfur dioxide (SO2) are sprayed by artillery, aircraft, and balloons.

It would involve the use of huge hoses, cannons or specially designed aircraft to spray large quantities of sulphate particles into the upper layer of the atmosphere to act as a reflective barrier against sunlight.

Total costs estimated to launch a hypothetical SAI effort 15 years from now would be $3.5 billion and average annual operating costs would be about $2.25 billion a year over 15 years.

Discounting other methods of deployment because of cost and feasibility, the research assumes a special aircraft can be designed to fly at an altitude of about 20 km and carry a load of 25 tonnes.

This proposed method could counter most climatic changes, take effect rapidly, have very low direct implementation costs, and be reversible in its direct climatic effects.

Benefits of the SAI:

  • Mimics a natural process. It is technologically feasible. The method is economically feasible and efficient.
  • Possible side effects:
  • Tropospheric Ozone depletion.
  • Whitening of the sky.
  • Tropopause warming and the humidification of the stratosphere.
  • Involves Health effects.
  • Stratospheric temperature rise and circulation change.

Excess rainfall causing Kerala floods a result of climate change: IMD chief

The India Met Department chief KJ Ramesh said Friday that excessive rainfall that led to floods in Kerala was a result of climate change. He also spoke of a new technology that has been developed to assess the rise of water levels in rivers and reservoirs due to rain which can help state government minutely monitor the impact of rainfall.

The technique is designed to forecast the expected impact as a result of expected weather. Hazard and vulnerability are taken into consideration in this forecast approach.

The heavy downpour had led to floods in Kerala and was the result of climate change. State Government had blamed IMD for lapses in its part for wrong rain forecast. IMD had forecasted estimated 98.5 mm rain in the state between 9 and 15 August 2018 but Kerala received was 352.2 mm of rainfall resulting in severe flooding.

The pre-event scenario will help state governments authorities to minutely monitor the impact of rainfall and take real-time decisions. It will help to avoid a disastrous situation similar to Kerala floods. It can generate scenario to help take decisions to release water or not from reservoirs after a heavy downpour. It will be helpful for every state authority to take a decision. This system can be run in the pre-event scenario.

India Meteorological Department (IMD):

It is national meteorological service of the country and chief government agency dealing in everything related to meteorology, seismology and associated subjects. It was formed in 1875. It functions under the Ministry of Earth Sciences. It is headquartered in New Delhi.

Undertake meteorological observations and provide current information and forecasting information for most favorable operation of weather-dependent activities such as irrigation, agriculture, aviation, shipping etc.

Offer to warn against severe weather phenomenon such as tropical cyclones, norwesters, dust storms, heat waves, cold waves, heavy rains, heavy snow, etc.

Provide met-related statistics needed for agriculture, industries, water resources management, oil exploration, and any other strategically important activities for the country.

Engage in research in meteorology and allied subjects.

Detect and locate earthquakes and evaluate of seismicity in various parts of the country for developmental projects.

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RIMES terms Titli cyclone ‘rarest of rare’

The Regional Integrated Multi-Hazard Early Warning System (RIMES) for Africa and Asia, a 45-nation international organization on disaster warning, has termed ‘Titli’, the severe cyclonic storm that devastated Odisha in October, as ‘rarest cyclone’.

More than 200 years of cyclone track history in the Odisha coast reveals that the Titli cyclone is the rarest of rare in terms of its characteristics such as recurvature after landfall and retaining its destructive potential after landfall and recurvature away from the coastal areas for more than two days.

Earlier, India Meteorological Department had called the formation of Titli as a ‘rarest of rare’ occurrence. The severe cyclone had changed its path after landfall.

The Odisha State Disaster Management Authority (OSDMA)faced challenges in anticipating and managing Titli’s impact due to lack of impact-based actionable early warning information and prior experience not only in India but also elsewhere. The OSDMA, by learning the lessons from Titli cyclone, could evolve measures to minimize impacts in both coastal and non-coastal regions more effectively in future.

The RIMES has recommended that a detailed risk assessment has to be carried out for Odisha to understand the risks in the light of the Titli devastation.

About RIMES:

RIMES is an inter-governmental body registered under the United Nations. It is being owned and managed by 45 collaborating countries in the Asia Pacific and Africa Region. The programming unit of the agency is located in Thailand. At present, India is chairing RIMES.

RIMES evolved from the efforts of countries in Africa and Asia, in the aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, to establish a regional early warning system within a multi-hazard framework for the generation and communication of early warning information and capacity building for preparedness and response to trans-boundary hazards.

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