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Unusual mini-ozone hole opens over the Arctic

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Mini Ozone Hole

London, April 10 : As the world fights the new coronavirus pandemic, climate change is back to threaten us as over the last month, a new unusual hole in the ozone layer has started to form over the Arctic.

According to the European Space Agency, the ozone layer over the North Pole has been depleted plenty of times in the past.

Scientists using data from the Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite have noticed a strong reduction of ozone concentrations over the Arctic.

Unusual atmospheric conditions, including freezing temperatures in the stratosphere, have led ozone levels to plummet — causing a ‘mini-hole’ in the ozone layer, the ESA said in a statement.

While the ESA scientists expect it to close up later this month, it’s a troubling update on the planet’s environmental health.

The ‘ozone hole’ most commonly referenced is the hole over Antarctica, forming each year during autumn.

In the past weeks, scientists from the German Aerospace Center (DLR) have noticed the unusually strong depletion of ozone over the northern polar regions.

Using data from the Tropomi instrument on the Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite, they were able to monitor this Arctic ozone hole form in the atmosphere.

“The ozone hole we observe over the Arctic this year has a maximum extension of less than 1 million sq km. This is small compared to the Antarctic hole, which can reach a size of around 20 to 25 million sq km with a normal duration of around 3 to 4 months,” said Diego Loyola from the German Aerospace Center.

Arctic temperatures do not usually plummet as low as in Antarctica. However, this year, powerful winds flowing around the North Pole trapped cold air within what is known as the ‘polar vortex’ — a circling whirlpool of stratospheric winds.

By the end of the polar winter, the first sunlight over the North Pole initiated this unusually strong ozone depletion — causing the hole to form.

However, its size is still small compared to what can usually be observed in the southern hemisphere, informed ESA.

Claus Zehner, ESA’s Copernicus Sentinel-5P mission manager, said: “The Tropomi total ozone measurements are extending Europe’s capability of the continuous global ozone monitoring from space since 1995. In this time, we have not witnessed an ozone hole formation of this size over the Arctic.”

In the past, mini ozone holes have occasionally been spotted over the North Pole, but the depletion over the Arctic this year is much larger compared to previous years.

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Cyclone Amphan, a link with climate change

Aerosols, from human-caused air pollution, can partly reduce the strength of cyclones in various ways.

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Bhubaneswar Cyclone Fani

New Delhi, May 19 : Cyclone Amphan is gathering momentum to become the strongest storm on record in the Bay of Bengal with sustained wind speeds of 270 km per hour, making it stronger than the 1999 super cyclone and the joint strongest on record in the North Indian Ocean.

It has a link with climate change, experts said on Tuesday.

Amphan intensified from a category I cyclone to category V in a short span of 18 hours.

Studies say human activities may have influenced Amphan in several ways.

Climate change is increasing the damage that cyclones cause in many ways, including increasing sea surface temperatures that raise the maximum potential energy that a storm can reach; increasing the rainfall that drops during the storm; rising sea levels, which increases the distance inland that storm surges reach; and causing storms to gain strength more quickly.

Scientists are discovering a complex relationship between air pollution and cyclones and it is possible that reductions in air pollution in the region, due to the Covid-19 restrictions, may have influenced Cyclone Amphan.

Although they agree this requires further investigation.

Aerosols, from human-caused air pollution, can partly reduce the strength of cyclones in various ways.

One factor is that aerosols reduce the amount of sunlight reaching the earth’s surface, cooling it slightly. Reductions in air pollution may have slightly increased sea surface temperatures in the Bay of Bengal, adding to the effect of climate change.

In addition, aerosols can make clouds produce rain more easily, which limits the formation of cyclones. These factors suggest that reductions in air pollution would tend to increase cyclone strength.

But another factor that influences cyclone strength, wind shear, has the opposite relationship with air pollution. Higher air pollution tends to reduce wind shear, which generally allows stronger cyclones to form.

So reduced air pollution could, in this respect, limit cyclone strength.

So while there may be a relationship between the reduction in air pollution, due to the Covid-19 restrictions, and Cyclone Amphan, it is too soon to say exactly what influence cleaner air has had on the storm.

Roxy Mathew Koll, a scientist with the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology and lead author of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) oceans and cryosphere, said: “Our research shows that high ocean temperatures are conducive for rapid intensification of cyclones in the North Indian Ocean.

“In the current case, the Bay of Bengal has been particularly warm, which may have had some role in the rapid intensification from a depression to a cyclone and then to a super cyclone in a very short time.

“For example, some of the buoys in the Bay of Bengal registered maximum surface temperatures of 32-34 degrees Celsius consecutively, for the first two weeks of May. These are record temperatures driven by climate change we have never seen such high values until now.”

Koll said these high temperatures could super charge a cyclone since tropical cyclones primarily draw their energy from evaporation at the ocean surface.

V. Vinoj, Assistant Professor with the School of Earth, Ocean and Climate Sciences at the Indian Institute of Technology in Bhubaneswar, said global warming is leading to an increase in the heat content of the upper oceans around the globe.

“This is also true for the oceanic regions around the Indian region. This is one of the causes of the increasing number of cyclonic activities in our region during pre-monsoon times. However, what is different now than the past is the world’s largest Covid-19 lockdown in the south Asian region led by India.

“This lockdown has significantly reduced human emissions into the atmosphere. This decrease means that surface warming due to the removal of human-made aerosols has increased and atmospheric warming (due to those absorbing aerosols such as black carbon) has decreased significantly during this time,” he said.

“This surface warming extends over the waters in the Bay of Bengal. Therefore, the global warming effect which tends to increase the strength of cyclones, if any, is now amplified due to this human-induced lockdown effect. This may be the reason why Amphan has strengthened into a super cyclone, a second one only to the 1999 super cyclone,” Vinoj said in a statement.

“Overall, I feel lockdown may have strengthened this cyclone due to the additional warming of the ocean waters over the Bay of Bengal. This will need to be investigated in the future,” he added.

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Disaster

Govt warned of another COVID-like zoonotic disease from elephants

The letter also alluded to various studies which time and again have pointed towards the imminent threat of transmission.

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elephant

New Delhi, May 14 : In the wake of growing threat from emerging zoonotic diseases, like the deadly coronavirus, an animal right organisation has urged Union Minister Giriraj Singh to ban elephants from being exhibited or trained for performances, as high prevalence of tuberculosis among them can pose a threat to public health.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) knocked on the doors of the Union Minister of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairying and called for his attention to another imminent zoonotic threat — tuberculosis — faced by captive elephants in the country.

In a letter, Giriraj Singh was apprised that tuberculosis, which can be transmitted from elephants to humans, has been detected in elephants in the country.

“Many captive elephants in the country suffer from TB,” the letter stated. PETA noted that captive elephants who have tested reactive for TB have been used for rides at Amer Fort near Jaipur and that those used in circuses, films, TV shows, festivals, parades, and other spectacles could also be putting the public at risk.

“It is high time we unshackle all elephants and allow them to live freely, as nature intended. Banning their use in performances would bring us closer to that goal and protect the public from this source of tuberculosis. COVID-19 has shown us that zoonotic disease risks must be taken seriously,” says PETA India CEO and veterinarian Dr Manilal Valliyate.

Continued use of elephants could have severe consequences for public health, tourism, and the overall economy, as the nation has rightly learned from the current pandemic.

“The Ministry can issue a central notification in the official Gazette of India banning the exhibition and training of elephants as performing animals,” the letter written to the minister stated.

Although protected under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, elephants are unreasonably excluded from the ban imposed by the central government which prohibits the use of various wildlife species, including bears, monkeys, tigers, panthers, and lions, for performances.

The letter also alluded to various studies which time and again have pointed towards the imminent threat of transmission.

An April 2018 evaluation report of captive elephants in Jaipur by the Animal Welfare Board of India – a central government statutory body – revealed that 10 per cent of the elephants, which are used for rides and other tourist attractions near Jaipur, were found to be reactive in a rapid serological test for TB.

Another scientific study conducted on 600 elephants in Karnataka, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu published in 2012 found “evidence for high prevalence of asymptomatic tuberculosis infection in Asian elephants in a captive Indian setting”.

A study published in 2013 discovered “two probable cases of cross-species transmission of M. tuberculosis between mahouts and captive elephants. First is the case of human-to-elephant (transmission) and second is a case of elephant-to-human transmission of M. tuberculosis”.

Besides this, a paper published in 2016 stated, “There is evidence to suggest cross-species tuberculosis transmission,” based on one-time screenings of nearly 800 elephants and their mahouts over a period of three years.

In 2008, the Ministry of Defence had decided to prohibit the use of elephants during Republic Day parades by concluding that there are serious safety concerns associated with the risk that frustrated elephants could become violent – and that uncertainties exist regarding the legality of their ownership.

In 2010, the government declared elephants a National Heritage Animal in order to strengthen measures to protect them. Based on a detailed study report that highlighted the suffering endured by captive elephants in India in 2016, AWBI had then recommended that the central government ban the exhibition and training of elephants for performances.

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Disaster

Assam not to cull pigs despite ASF killing over 13,000

According to the 2019 census, Assam had over 21 lakh pigs, which could have increased to around 30 lakh.

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African Swine Fever pigs

Guwahati, May 11 : Despite the central government’s advice and death of over 13,000 pigs following the African Swine Fever’s (ASF) outbreak in 10 of the 33 Assam districts, the state government has decided against culling pigs, according to a top official here on Monday.

Assam’s Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Department Director Pulin Das told IANS over phone the state government had no plans to cull pigs. The department had taken steps to deal with the outbreak of the infectious disease, Das added.

“We have told the central government in case of culling we will have to pay huge amounts to farmers and firm owners as compensation. Thus, for culling we need huge financial support from the central government,” Das said.

Terming the situation serious, Assam Animal Husbandry, Veterinary and Agriculture Minister Atul Bora said 13,033 pigs died in 10 districts in the past several weeks.

The Kaziranga National Park authority has dug a two-km long and six-feet deep trench to protect wild boars (also known as ‘wild swine’) from the ASF infection. The Minister also visited the Kaziranga National Park and adjoining villages to review the steps taken to protect the wild boars.

Bora told the media in Guwahati his department had been working to deal with the highly infectious disease with 90-100 per cent mortality rate.

“We have taken steps, including creation of containment zones, within one km radius of an infected area, and surveillance zone within 10 km, to prevent ASF’s spread. We have set up a committee, comprising officials, experts, specialists and pig farmers and following its advice,” he said.

According to the 2019 census, Assam had over 21 lakh pigs, which could have increased to around 30 lakh.

Due to ASF, pig mortality is also being reported from 9 districts of Arunachal Pradesh. After the outbreak, all eight northeast states have sounded high alert and asked people, especially owners of piggeries, to refrain from bringing pigs from other states.

Animal resource experts suspect Tibet to be the source of ASF.

The northeast’s annual pork business is worth around Rs 8,000-10,000 crore, with Assam being the largest supplier. It’s one of the most common and popular meats consumed by tribals and non-tribals in these states.

According to experts, pigs are generally affected by the classical fever, porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome besides ASF, which was first detected in 1921 in Kenya. No vaccines or medicines have been discovered so far.

According to some experts, humans don’t get infected by ASF, but they could be the carriers of the virus.

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