1. GLOBAL WARMING WILL LIKELY SOON CROSS 1.5º C
TAGS: GS 3: ENVIRONMENT
THE CONTEXT: The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has predicted that there is a greater than 66% probability that at least one of the years from 2023 to 2027 will witness a global mean surface temperature rise of 1.5 o C above the average in the years 1850-1900.
- Models are less skilled at forecasting precipitation than at forecasting temperatures. The forecasted rainfall for 2022 has wider error margins than those for the temperatures, including over India.
What are atmospheric models?
- Specialists forecast the weather the fast changes in the order of hours to days using atmospheric models that work with the sea surface temperature fixed.
- Atmospheric modeling is an important method to generate physical and numerical measurements of climate parameters, quantify the spatiotemporal changes of atmospheric phenomena over space and time, and predict their occurrences.
- With simulated data sets from atmospheric models, scientists are able to examine the driving forces of atmospheric phenomena and perform advanced analysis.
- Weather forecasts also need the atmosphere to be ‘initialised’ to be able to make predictions.To ‘initialise’ means to have the best estimates of temperature, humidity, winds, and so on at each point of the computer model, using data from weather balloons, satellites, radiosondes, and such.
What are ocean-atmosphere models?
- The weather model becomes chaotic after a few days since fast-moving air, with its low heat capacity, tends to shed the memory of the initial conditions.
- Climate, on the other hand, is largely driven by the slow changes in the ocean temperature and its heat content.
- As a result, the climate forecasts, such as for the El Niño and the monsoons, are made with ocean-atmosphere models.
- This model is at the core of numerical climate models. There is an extraordinarily broad class of coupled atmosphere-ocean models ranging from sets of equations that can be solved analytically to highly detailed representations of Nature requiring the most advanced computers for execution.
- The models are applied to subjects including the conceptual understanding of Earth’s climate, predictions that support human activities in a variable climate, and projections aimed to prepare society for climate change.
- The ocean is initialised using data from satellites, ships, moorings in the ocean, and so on.
- Some climate modes, such as those for the El Niño, can be predicted six to nine months in advance.
- A land model is also always included at all timescales, going from weather to climate to climate change.
- Weather and climate prediction models do not worry about changes in the concentrations of greenhouse gases since they integrate their inputs just for a few days to a few seasons.
- IPCC projections for the forthcoming decades are ocean-atmosphere models, initialised typically starting from the concentrations of greenhouse gases from the pre-industrial era and integrated forward, into the 21st century and beyond.
- These models need to account for changes in the concentrations of greenhouse gases as well as sunspot changes and volcanic eruptions, along with land use changes. These integrations capture the global mean temperatures very well, since they are mostly driven by greenhouse gases.
Short term prediction models:
- Only in 2017, the WMO recognised the need for shorter term predictions to fill a gap between seasonal forecasts and climate projections.
- A number of modelling centres around the world were entrained to issue decadal forecasts, which are initialised similar to the seasonal climate forecast models.
- They also accommodate the evolution of greenhouse gases and solar radiative forcing (i.e., changes in solar radiation that affect our climate).
- Global warming is the gradual increase in the average temperature of the planet over a long period of time.
- As our population has grown, so has our reliance on fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas. These fuels emit greenhouse gasses such as carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide, which trap heat from the sun in the Earth’s atmosphere. This creates what is known as the greenhouse effect.
World Meteorological Organization (WMO):
- It is a specialized agency of the United Nations, with a membership of 193 Member States and Territories.
- It originated from the International Meteorological Organization (IMO), the roots of which were planted at the 1873 Vienna International Meteorological Congress.
- It is dedicated to international cooperation and coordination on the state and behaviour of the Earth’s atmosphere, its interaction with the land and oceans, the weather and climate it produces, and the resulting distribution of water resources.
WMO facilitates and promotes:
- the establishment of an integrated Earth System observation networkto provide weather, climate and water-related data
- the establishment and maintenance of data management centres and telecommunication systemsfor the provision and rapid exchange of weather, climate and water-related data
- the creation of standards for observation and monitoringin order to ensure adequate uniformity in the practices and procedures employed worldwide and, thereby, ascertain the homogeneity of data and statistics
- the provision of weather, climate and water-related services- through the application of science and technology in operational meteorology and hydrology – to reduce disaster risks and contribute to climate change adaptation, as well as for sectors such as transport (aviation, maritime and land-based), water resource management, agriculture, health, energy and other areas
- activities in operational hydrology as well as closer cooperation between National Meteorological and Hydrological Services in states and territories where they are separate
- the coordination of researchand training in meteorology and related fields.
2. REUSABLE LAUNCH VEHICLES
TAGS: GS 3: SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
THE CONTEXT: Inching closer to a fully reusable launch vehicle, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) successfully carried out the landing experiment of the Reusable Launch Vehicle-Technology Demonstration (RLV-TD) programme.
- ISRO executed the landing experiment at the Aeronautical Test Range in Challakere, C The RLV was dropped by an Indian Air Force (IAF) Chinook helicopter from an altitude of 4.5 km.
- The vehicle performed approach and landing manoeuvres on the runway autonomously, under the conditions in which a re-entry vehicle from space might return at high speed and without human inputs to achieve a stable landing.
- ISRO’s mission to develop a fully reusable launch vehicle is a part of its vision to enable low-cost access to space.
- Currently, ISRO has three active launch vehicles: the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV), and the Launch Vehicle Mark-III (LVM3). The PSLV has four stages while the GSLVs have three stages each. Each stage has a different fuel, and is jettisoned when the fuel is expended as the rocket ascends.
Reusable Launch Vehicle:
- Primarily, launch vehicles comprise three or four stages apart from the payload, which needs to be launched into a polar or a geosynchronous orbit, depending on a mission’s requirements.
- In ISRO’s three-stage rockets,
- first or lowermost stage has a motor fuelled by solid fuel (in the GSLV, this can also be augmented by up to four liquid strap-on boosters)
- second stage has the Vikas engine powered by liquid fuel
- third and uppermost stage has a cryogenic engine which uses liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen.
- In the four-stage PSLV
- first stage has a motor using solid fuel (augmentable with up to six solid-fuel strap-on boosters)
- second stage has a Vikas engine
- third stage again has a solid-fuel motor
- fourth stage has two liquid engines.
- The RLV that ISRO is building has only two stages to propel the vehicle into orbit. Once the fuel in the first stage has been expended, the vehicle will shed it, and carry on with the second stage.
- Once it has been shed, the first stage will re-enter the atmosphere and land in an autonomous fashion at a pre-determined location. After some maintenance, it will be available for reuse.
Have RLVs been used in the past?
- Since the 1960s, experts have conceived reusable rockets as a way to lower the cost of space missions. In the most idealised version, they imagined a single-stage-to-orbit rocket that could take off and land vertically.
- The American aerospace manufacturing company McDonnell Douglas realised this dream in 1993, building the Delta Clipper (DC-X) to demonstrate lift-off, maintain altitude, and a landing on its tail. The project was later transferred to NASA’s Reusable Launch Vehicle program after the cost of each test flight proved to be too expensive. In its twelfth flight in 1996, the DC-X crashed and burned on landing, extensively damaging its exterior chassis.
- NASA later shelved the project due to budgetary constraints, bringing this chapter of the single-stage to-orbit launch vehicle to an end.
What reusable technologies are currently in play in spaceflight?
- It is currently being used by Blue Origin and SpaceX who are developing rockets with reusable parts, especially the first stage, rather than the whole vehicle being reusable.
- It was also used in Falcon 9 in 2010, a 54-metre-tall two-stage rocket with nine engines, capable of transporting cargo and crew to the International Space Station (ISS). Instead of using parachutes to recover the first stage, the Falcon 9 was equipped with retrograde thrusters, using which the first stage could come back down to a designated spot using its engines themselves.
- In addition to these companies, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), the United Launch Alliance (ULA), the European Space Agency (ESA), and ISRO have also been undertaking R&D on other aspects of reusable launch systems.
What is ISRO working on?
- In 2010, ISRO began developing a winged reusable rocket, taking the first step towards realising a two-stage-to-orbit (TSTO) launch vehicle that could be fully reusable. In 2016, the winged vehicle successfully flew at hypersonic speed. It also withstood fiery re-entry temperatures as it re-entered, qualifying its thermal protection systems, before it touched down at a pre-determined site 425 km east of Sriharikota, in the Bay of Bengal.
- While several other related technologies have been tested through the years, ISRO’s RLV’s autonomous landing was only tested successfully on April 2, 2023.
- Currently, ISRO is working on the ‘Orbital Re-entry Experiment’ (ORE), which will be taken to orbit by a modified launch vehicle comprising existing GSLV and PSLV stages. The vehicle will stay in orbit for a stipulated period, re-enter, and finally land autonomously on a runway, with landing gear.
3. HUMAN PANGENOME MAP
TAGS: GS 3: SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
THE CONTEXT: A new study published in issue of the Nature journal describes a pangenome reference map, built using genomes from 47 anonymous individuals (19 men and 28 women), mainly from Africa but also from the Caribbean, Americas, East Asia, and Europe.
What is a genome?
- The genome is the blueprint of life, a collection of all the genes and the regions between the genes contained in our 23 pairs of chromosomes.
- Each chromosome is a contiguous stretch of DNA string. Our genome consists of 23 different strings, each composed of millions of individual building blocks called nucleotides or bases.
- The four types of building blocks (A, T, G and C) are arranged and repeated millions of times in different combinations to make all of our 23 chromosomes.
- Genome sequencing is the method used to determine the precise order of the four letters and how they are arranged in chromosomes.
- Sequencing individual genomes helps us understand human diversity at the genetic level and how prone we are to certain diseases.
What is a reference genome?
- When genomes are newly sequenced, they are compared to a reference map called a reference genome.
- This helps us to understand the regions of differences between the newly sequenced genome and the reference genome.
- First reference genome was made in 2001 and it helped scientists discover thousands of genes linked to various diseases; better understand diseases like cancer at the genetic level; and design novel diagnostic tests.
- Although a remarkable feat, the reference genome of 2001 was 92% complete and contained many gaps and errors. Additionally, it was not representative of all human beings as it was built using mostly the genome of a single individual of mixed African and European ancestry.
- Since then, the reference genome map has been refined and improved to have complete end-to-end sequences of all the 23 human chromosomes.
What is a pangenome map?
- Unlike the earlier reference genome, which is a linear sequence, the pangenome is a graph.
- The graph of each chromosome is like a bamboo stem with nodes where a stretch of sequences of all 47 individuals converge, and with internodes of varying lengths representing genetic variations among those individuals from different ancestries.
- To create complete and contiguous chromosome maps in the pangenome project, the researchers used long-read DNA sequencing technologies, which produce strings of contiguous DNA strands of tens of thousands of nucleotides long.
- Using longer reads helps assemble the sequences with minimum errors and read through the repetitive regions of the chromosomes which are hard to sequence with short-read technologies used earlier.
Why is a pangenome map important?
- Although any two humans are more than 99% similar in their DNA, there is still about a 0.4% difference between any two individuals.
- This may be a small percentage, but considering that the human genome consists of 3.2 billion individual nucleotides, the difference between any two individuals is a whopping 12.8 million nucleotides.
- A complete and error-free human pangenome map will help us understand those differences and explain human diversity better.
- It will also help us understand genetic variants in some populations, which result in underlying health conditions.
- The pangenome reference map has added nearly 119 million new letters to the existing genome map and has already aided the discovery of 150 new genes linked to autism.
- Although the project is a leap forward, genomes from many populations are still not a part of it. For example, genomes from more people from Africa, the Indian sub-continent, indigenous groups in Asia and Oceania, and West Asian regions are not represented in the current version of the pangenome map.
4. INDIAN-SPACE-POLICY 2023
TAGS: GS 3: SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
THE CONTEXT: Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) released the Indian Space Policy 2023 which has been received positively by industry. However, it needs to be followed up with suitable legislation, accompanied by clear rules and regulations.
- Until the early 1990s, India’s space industry and space economy were defined by ISRO.
- Private sector involvement was limited to building to ISRO designs and specifications.
- The Second Space Age began with the licensing of private TV channels, the explosive growth of the Internet, mobile telephony, and the emergence of the smartphone.
- Broadband, OTT and 5G promise a double-digit annual growth in satellite-based services. It is estimated that with an enabling environment, the Indian space industry could grow to $60 billion by 2030, directly creating more than two lakh jobs.
- To streamline matters, a draft Space Activities Bill was brought out in 2017, which went through a long consultative process. It lapsed in 2019 with the outgoing Lok Sabha. The government was expected to introduce a new Bill by 2021, but it appears to have contented itself with the new policy statement.
Reasons for the policy:
- The first satellite communication policy was introduced in 1997, with guidelines for foreign direct investment (FDI) in the satellite industry that were further liberalised but never generated much enthusiasm.
- A remote sensing data policy was introduced in 2001, which was amended in 2011; in 2016, it was replaced by a National Geospatial Policy that has been further liberalised in 2022. Yet, Indian users including the security and defence agencies spend nearly a billion dollars annually to procure earth observation data and imagery from foreign sources.
Indian Space Policy 2023:
- It is qualitatively different from previous efforts. It is a short 11-page document, which includes three pages devoted to definitions and abbreviations.
- The ‘Vision’ is to “enable, encourage and develop a flourishing commercial presence in space” that suggests an acceptance that the private sector is a critical stakeholder in the entire value chain of the space economy.
- It makes five key points which defines its role in India’s “socio-economic development and security, protection of environment and lives, pursuing peaceful exploration of outer space, stimulation of public awareness and scientific quest”.
- First, The focus for security purposes is on civilian and peaceful applications. Considering that space-based intelligence, reconnaissance, surveillance, communication, positioning and navigation capabilities are increasingly seen as mission critical by the defence services.
- Second, the policy lays out a strategy and roles of the Department of Space, ISRO, the Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (IN-SPACe) and the NewSpace India Limited (NSIL) under the Department of Space as the commercial arm of ISRO to replace the now defunct Antrix.
- Thirdly, ISRO will transition out of the existing practice of being present in the manufacturing of operational space systems. ISRO shall focus on R&D in advanced technology, proving newer systems and realisation of space objects for meeting national prerogatives. ISRO aims to “share technologies, products, processes and best practices with NGEs (non-government entities) and/or Government companies”.
- Fourth, the NGEs are allowed to undertake end-to-end activities in the space sector through establishment and operation of space objects, ground-based assets and related services, such as communication, remote sensing, navigation, etc.
- Finally, IN-SPACe is expected to create a stable and predictable regulatory framework that will ensure a level playing field for the NGEs. It will act as a promoter by setting up industry clusters and as the regulator, issue guidelines on liability issues.
Gaps in the policy:
- The policy sets out an ambitious role for IN-SPACe but provides no time frame for the necessary steps ahead.
- There is no indicative timeline for ISRO’s transitioning out of its current practices nor is there a schedule for IN-SPACe to create the regulatory framework.
- The policy framework envisaged will need clear rules and regulations pertaining to FDI and licensing, government procurement to sustain the new space start-ups, liability in case of violations and an appellate framework for dispute settlement.
- A regulatory body needs legislative authority. The Reserve Bank of India was set up by the 1934 RBI Act, the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) by the 1992 SEBI Act, and the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) by the 1997 TRAI Act. IN-SPACe is expected to authorise space activities for all, both government and non-government entities. Currently, its position is ambiguous as it functions under the purview of the Department of Space. The Secretary (Space) is also Chairman of ISRO, the government entity to be regulated by IN-SPACe.
5. NATIONAL MEDICAL DEVICES POLICY, 2023
TAGS: GS 2: HEALTH ISSUES
THE CONTEXT: Union Cabinet approved the National Medical Devices Policy, 2023. The policy endeavours to facilitate an orderly growth of the sector and in turn, achieve the public health objectives of access, affordability, quality and innovation.
- It is expected to help the domestic medical devices sector market grow from $11 billion to $50 billion by 2030 alongside achieving a 10-12% global market share over the next 25 years.
- The aim is to provide the required support and direction, and help the sector become “competitive, self-reliant, resilient and innovative” to cater not only to domestic but global needs.
- The policy will help boost manufacturing, help traders and importers to start investing in factories and end the import dependency forced upon.
- The policy endeavours to facilitate an orderly growth of the sector and in turn, achieve public health objectives of access, affordability, quality and innovation.
- The most significant of the introduced measures entail regulatory streamlining.
- The policy enhances the role of the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) along with designing a coherent pricing regulation.
- Pricing regulation is particularly important for addressing a broader challenge in the domestic device manufacturing sector as some private hospitals give higher priced products instead of available low-cost options.
- It aims to monitor MRP of imports and compared with imports’ landed prices and steps taken to control when found irrationally excessive.
- Streamlining endeavour will also create a single window clearance system for licensing of medical devices, combining relevant departments like the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB), MeitY and the Department of Animal Husbandry and Dairying (DAHD).
- This would complement the Department’s proposed National Policy on Research and Development alongside innovation in the pharma-MedTech sector in India.
- The policy also seeks to establish and strengthen large medical device parks and clusters with quality infrastructure facilities close to economic zones with requisite logistics connectivity.
- This is expected to be a collaborative venture with the State governments and industry, resulting in better convergence and backward integration with the industry.
- Ensuring an ecosystem to encourage private investments, series of funding from venture capitalists and potential public-private partnerships (PPP) is a key component of this endeavour.
- This will also be supplemented intervention programs such as Make in India, Ayushman Bharat, Heal-in-India and Start-up mission.
Export Promotion Council:
- As per the Indian Brand Equity Foundation (IBEF), a huge gap still exists in the current demand and supply of medical devices from U.S., China and Germany; India has an overall 70-80% import dependency on medical devices.
- The policy envisages the creation of a dedicated Export Promotion Council for the sector under the Department of Health.
- This would be a forum to deal with varied market access issues, while also combining and sharing stakeholders’s knowledge and expertise.
Current status of domestic market:
- The domestic industry comprises a combination of large multinationals, small and mid-sized companies.
- As per the IBEF, India is the fourth largest Asian medical market after Japan, China and South Korea and is among the top 20 globally.
- It is estimated to grow at a CAGR of 15% two-and-half times the global growth rate.
- Exports of medical devices stood at $2.90 billion in FY 2022 and this is estimated to scale to $10 billion by FY 2025. Key export countries include U.S., France, Singapore, China, Turkey, Brazil, the Netherlands, Iran and Belgium.
- India’s major medical clusters are Gujarat, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Haryana, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. Their manufacturing expertise varies from pharmaceuticals, medical electronics, stents and implants to low-end medical consumables.