Melting Arctic sea, a ticking economic time bomb?

Tracking Methane From the Arctic Ocean (Image courtesy: NASA)

Tracking Methane From the Arctic Ocean (Image courtesy: NASA)

The cost of climate change, caused by melting of the Arctic Shelf, could be to the tune of 60 trillion US dollars, equivalent to the 2012 global economy, a research study reveals. Researchers Gail Whiteman of Erasmus University, Rotterdam, Chris Hope and Peter Wadhams of University of Cambridge warn “the cost of a melting Arctic will be huge, because the region is pivotal to the functioning of earth systems such as oceans and the climate.”

The study released on July 24, 2013 warns “The release of methane from thawing permafrost beneath the East Siberian Sea, off northern Russia, alone comes with an average global price tag of $60 trillion in the absence of mitigating action – a figure comparable to the size of the world economy in 2012 (about $70 trillion). The total cost of Arctic change will be much higher.”

The researchers warned, “as the amount of Arctic sea ice declines at an unprecedented rate, the thawing of offshore permafrost releases methane. A 50-gigatonne (Gt) reservoir of methane, stored in the form of hydrates, exist on the East Siberian Arctic Shelf. It is likely to be emitted as the seabed warms, either steadily over 50 years or suddenly. Higher methane concentrations in the atmosphere will accelerate global warming and hasten local changes in the Arctic, speeding up sea-ice retreat, reducing the reflection of solar energy and accelerating the melting of the Greenland ice sheet. The ramifications will be felt far from the poles.’

Methane is about 25 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide and therefore, large-scale releases of it threaten to dramatically increase the speed and severity of global warming.  Methane emerging in a sudden burst could linger for longer in the atmosphere and trigger more rapid temperature changes than if the gas were released gradually.

Arctic Sea Ice (Image Courtesy: NASA)

Arctic Sea Ice (Image Courtesy: NASA)

According to the researchers, developing countries will have to bear much of the cost of Arctic warming as they will face extreme weather, poorer health and lower farm output.  Though the economic consequences will be distributed around the globe, poorer economies of Africa, Asia and South America will be the worst sufferers. The extra methane magnifies flooding of small-island states and low-lying cities like New York by rising seas. Europe and the United States could witness extreme winter and spring weather, as this year’s protracted cold spell in Europe.

The study highlights urgent need for global action to curb climate change. The researchers feel, world leaders should consider the economic time bomb beyond short term gains from shipping and extraction. This region, which experienced a heightened level of interest during the Cold War, is now receiving more serious global attention. The environment and ecosystems in the Arctic are both remarkable and vulnerable; however, it is the inanimate components that attract the global powers.

Arctic sea ice has plunged to the lowest level since satellite records began in the 1970s, to less than 3.5 million square kilometers. It is considered to be home to 30% of the world’s undiscovered gas and 13% of its undiscovered oil.  Rising demand for hydrocarbons and minerals are pushing suppliers towards new extraction locations, as they are commercially viable. Besides hydrocarbons and minerals, fisheries and shipping and tourism could generate an investment of US $ 100 billion or more in the region over the next decade.

Mars Mission to put India on interplanetary orbit

Mars - with water-ice clouds, polar ice, polar regions, and geological features

Mars – with water-ice clouds, polar ice, polar regions, and geological features (Image Courtesy- NASA)

The forthcoming Mars mission will demonstrate India’s prowess in space technology and conduct meaningful experiments to explore signs of life, study Martian environment and take pictures of the red planet. ISRO Chief K. Radhakrishnan scoffed at criticism of the huge cost involved in the forthcoming voyage and said it is not to show off pride.

“It’s not for pride because the exploration of Mars has its own scientific value and possibly a future habitat which people are talking about…. May be 20 years…30 years from now… it’s possible,” said the ISRO Chief referring to the colonization angle.

India’s Mars satellite is scheduled to launch later this year on board Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV-XL). The spacecraft will carry five instruments like Methane Sensors, MARS Colour Camera, and TIR imaging spectrometer, totaling a mass of 15 kg, to study Martin surface composition, detect presence of Methane and study its upper atmosphere and mineralogy.

“We want to look at environment of Mars for various elements like Deuterium-Hydrogen ratio. We also want to look at other constituents – neutral constituents,” Radhakrishnan added.

Curiosity Mars Rover Passes Kilometer of Driving (Image Courtesy-NASA)

Curiosity Mars Rover Passes Kilometer of Driving (Image Courtesy-NASA)

The 1350 kg. spacecraft is planned to enter into a 372 km x 80,000 km elliptical orbit around Mars by September 2014, after cruising in deep space for about 10 months using its own propulsion system.

Mars Orbiter Mission is ISRO’s first interplanetary mission, with a spacecraft designed to orbit Mars in an elliptical orbit and it is India’s challenging technological mission out of the earth’s gravitational field.

“If we succeed, it positions India into group of countries who will have the ability to look at Mars,” said the ISRO Chief. India will be the sixth country to launch a mission to Mars after the US, Russia, Europe, Japan and China.

The Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle PSLV will inject the spacecraft from Sriharikota in the 250 x 23000 km orbit.

Radhakrishnan said a number of technological challenges need to be negotiated for a successful Mars mission.

“Most important thing is we must have the insertion of this spacecraft in the Martian orbit”, he said.

The Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) (Image Courtesy - NASA)

The Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) (Image Courtesy – NASA)

The major demands will be critical mission operations and stringent requirement on propulsion, communications and other bus systems of the spacecraft. The primary driving technological objective of the mission is to design and realize a spacecraft with a capability to reach Mars (Martian Transfer Trajectory), and to orbit around Mars (Mars Orbit Insertion) which will take about nine months time. Yet another challenge before ISRO engineers and scientists is to realize deep space mission planning and communication management at a distance of nearly 400 million kms.

The mission would help ISRO understand the possible existence of life and future colonization of Mars, which has most resemblance to earth.

Mars Mission would also see Indo-US collaboration in the field of space technology. NASA is providing deep space navigation and tracking support services.  India and the US had signed a framework agreement in 2008 establishing the terms for cooperation between ISRO and NASA in the exploration and use of outer space for peaceful purposes.

Forty-five years of Man’s Moon mission

Apollo-11 crew - Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins (Image courtesy NASA)

Apollo-11 crew – Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins (Image courtesy NASA)

“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish,” US President John F Kennedy told a joint session of Congress on May 25, 1961.

And the mission was accomplished in July 1969, a little over eight years. Three astronauts – Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins boarded the three-stage, 363-foot rocket that propelled them into space and history. It took just 12 minutes for the rocket to reach the Earth orbit. After one and a half orbits, Apollo 11 got into translunar injection – heading for the moon. It took three days for the crew to reach the lunar orbit. On July 20, Neil Armstrong planted the first human foot on another world.

With more than half a billion people watching on television, he climbed down the ladder and proclaimed: “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”On July 24, they returned safely home after walking on the moon.

Flight controllers celebrate the successful conclusion of the Apollo 11 lunar landing mission on July 24, 1969, at NASA, Houston (Image courtesy: NASA)

Flight controllers celebrate the successful conclusion of the Apollo 11 lunar landing mission on July 24, 1969, at NASA, Houston (Image courtesy: NASA)

After the first attempt by the United States to fly to the Moon on August 17, 1958, which ended in just 77 seconds after liftoff, when the rocket’s first stage exploded, 33 attempts were made to explore the Moon by five major space powers – China, India, Japan and the erstwhile USSR.

The latest Moon mission by the United States – GRAIL (Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory) consisting two small spacecraft GRAIL A (Ebb) and Grail B (Flow) was launched on September 10, 2011. It’s mision objectives included mapping the structure of the lunar crust and lithosphere, understanding the asymmetric thermal evolution of the Moon, determining the subsurface structure of impact basis and the origin of lunar mascons among other things. 

India’s first satellite on Moon mission – Chandrayaan — was launched on October 22, 2008, but lost contact on August 29, 2009. The mission was intended to expand India’s space capabilities as also to map radioactive isotopes across the Moon.Chandrayaan-2 is expected during the current year, but attempts to launch heavy Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicles (GSLV) for injecting heavy communication satellites weighting more than one tonne has not been successful so far.

India on guard against MERS

MERSIndian health authorities have put international airports and seaports on alert for possible spread of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV), a deadly virus that has claimed 45 deaths since 2012.

The disease was first reported in September 2012 in Saudi Arabia, but has spread to several countries including Italy, France and UK. According to WHO, 88 lab-confirmed cases of the infection has been reported globally, with six additional cases from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

“The first case is a 26-year-old man who is a close contact with a previously laboratory-confirmed case and the second case is a 42-year-old woman who is a health care worker. In the UAE, the four cases are health care workers from two hospitals in Abu Dhabi who took care of an earlier laboratory-confirmed patient. Of these, two cases, a 28-year-old man and 30-year-old woman, did not develop symptoms of illness. The other two cases, both women of 30 and 40 years old, had mild upper respiratory symptoms and are in stable condition,” said a release by WHO.

Mumbai AirportTens of thousands of Indians work in the middle-east and they could be possible carriers of the deadly virus. So far, there is no report of any case of MERS from India.

The deadly virus can cause illness ranging in severity from common cold to SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrom) or H1N1 or Swine Flu. It is thought to be of animal origin but so far has it has not been identified in any animal species. The specific types of exposures that result in infection are also unknown. MERS-CoV infection generally presents as pneumonia, but has also caused kidney failure. The most common symptoms observed are fever, cough and breathing difficulties, while atypical symptoms such as diarrhea have also been reported. Currently there is no vaccine available for the disease.

Nine countries have reported cases of human infection with MERS-CoV, including France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and UAE and the common link is from Middle East.

Ban on smoking and higher taxes could save 9 million lives in India, study

Cigarette India could prevent 9 million deaths over the next 10 years, if it bans smoking and resort to heavy tax on tobacco products. A study by a team of scientists led by Sanjay Basu at Stanford University, USA finds a combination of tobacco control policies and pharmacological interventions alone could avert upto a third of these deaths.

The study on the ‘Effect of Tobacco Control Measures during a period of rising Cardiovascular Disease Risk in India,” by researchers found cardiovascular diseases (CVD) accounts for over three quarters of all global deaths from heart diseases and stroke in low and middle-income countries, with India topping the list. More than one in three CVD deaths in India occur among young and working-age people, leading to substantial economic and societal costs.

“Smoking has been estimated to be responsible for about one in 20 deaths among women and one in five deaths among men between the age of 30 to 69 in India, many due to CVD,” notes the study. “Over the next decade, CVD deaths in India are expected to increase by 12%”.

Though India enacted a national legislation to control smoking in public places in 2003, its provisions remain poorly implemented or enforced. As a result one in every three adults are exposed to smoking at work in 2009 and 2010 varying from 15.4% in Chandigarh to 67.9 per cent in Jammu and Kashmir. Tobacco cessation programmes have received limited government financial support and cessation advice by healthcare professionals is provided infrequently.

Tobacco taxation remains very low in India, at around 38% on cigarette and 9% on bidi, far below the minimum of 70% recommended by World Health Organisation (WHO). Taxation has direct impact on consumption – a 10% increase in cigarette prices reduced consumption by 3.4% in rural areas and 1.0% in urban areas and the corresponding consumption rate for bidi was 9.2% and 8.5%.

A ban on smoking is expected to avert approximately 0.7 million myocardial infarction deaths or deaths due to heart attacks and 0.4 million stroke deaths over a decade. By comparison, a 300% increase in taxes on cigarette is anticipated to avert one million heart attack deaths and 0.6 million stroke deaths over a decade. A similar tax hike on bidis would save 0.8 million deaths due to heart attacks and 0.5 million due to strokes. A 300% tax hike on both the products is anticipated to avert approximately 2.1 million heart attack deaths and 1.0 million stroke deaths over a decade in India.

The authors suggest besides ban on smoking and higher taxes, a provision for brief cessation advice by healthcare providers, mass media campaigns and increased access to aspirin, antihypertensive drugs and statins could reduce deaths due to heart attacks and strokes. However, ban on smoking and higher taxes are likely to be the most effective strategies for reducing heart attack and stroke deaths over the next decade, according to the researchers.

The authors say, full implementation of the UN Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in India would yield substantial reduction in mortality from heart attacks and stroke. Despite evidence of links tobacco use to CVD, its consumption in India and several other countries is on the rise. Vigorous implementation of tobacco control policies is expected to avert 25% of all predicted CVD deaths – equivalent to over 9 million averted deaths over the decade beginning 2013.

Indian drug regulator asks pharma companies to disclose restrictions abroad

India’s federal drug regulator swung into action, to ensure “quality, safety and efficacy of the drugs available in the country,” with some pharma companies coming under the scanner of United States and UK.  Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) has asked drug manufacturers to notify any “restrictions/alerts issued by any drug regulatory authorities abroad, in respect of drugs manufactured and exported from India”.

drugsRanbaxy Laboratories agreed to pay a penalty of 500 million US dollars after US Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) found its drugs were ‘adulterated’.  Ranbaxy had pleaded guilty of charges of falsification of data and marketing adulterated drugs in the US. Another drug manufacturer – Wockhardt is also facing an import alert.

Drug Controller General has asked state drug controllers to ask pharma companies in their respective states to bring details of any restrictions or alerts to the notice of DCGI, so that its “impact in Indian scenario can be assessed and necessary action is taken to ascertain the quality, safety and efficacy of the drugs available in the country.”

Ranbaxy is also facing probe in UK after the revelations in US. However, a spokesperson of Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) of UK said, “We have no evidence that any of the products on the UK market manufactured by Ranbaxy are or have been of unacceptable quality.  There is no evidence that patients in the UK have been put at risk.”

“In light of the recent declaration made by Ranbaxy, we are consulting with other EU and international regulators including the FDA to review whether any further action is deemed appropriate,” added the spokesman in a statement issued earlier in June.

Ranbaxy is also facing the heat in the domestic market, with Mumbai-based Jaslok Hospital asking its doctors to be careful in prescribing Ranbaxy products. Drug-chain Apollo Pharmacy has also put Ranbaxy products on the watch list, though it has not stopped sale of products manufactured by the pharma major.

FDA had also issued an import alert against drugs manufactured by Wockhard at its Waluj facility in Maharashtra.

India successfully tests the Naval version of its indigenous LCA Tejas

Light Combat Aircraft Tejas (Image courtesy: DRDO)

The naval version of India’s light combat aircraft Tejas made its maiden flight successfully after almost two years of its roll-out.  The ‘four-plus’ generation Carrier Borne fly-by-wire STOBAR (Ski Take Off But Arrested Recovery) aircraft was put through various maneuvers, including low speed handling and close formation flying at slow speed with another aircraft, during the 22 minute test flight in Bangalore.

The two-seater LCA Navy NP1 completed intensive ground testing regimen like low speed taxi trials (LSD), high speed taxi trials (HSD), ground vibration test (GVT), structural coupling test (SCT) and extensive system integration tests with power plant using state-of-the-art facilities at Bengaluru’s Hindustan Aeronautics airport.

LCA Tejas before test flight at HAL's Bengaluru airport (Image courtesy: DRDO)

Tejas is the first attempt to provide a complete marine force multiplier that will give a unique punch to the Naval aviation arm. LCA Navy is the second STOBAR carrier borne aircraft in the world after the Russian deck based aircraft. But this will be the only Carrier borne fighter aircraft in the light category.

The design and development of the aircraft was done by Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) under the Defence Research Development Organisation (DRDO) alongwith a host of organizations, both state-owned and private.  With this India achieved self-reliance in taking up more Naval aircraft projects.

Navy is now setting up a shore-based test facility in Goa, replicating an aircraft carrier with a ski-jump for launch and arresting gear for deck recovery. The test facility is expected to be ready by the end of the year.