Current Affairs Jun 17

Deep Ocean Mission

Why in News?

  • The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs chaired by Prime Minister has approved the proposal of Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES) on “Deep Ocean Mission”, with a view to explore deep ocean for resources and develop deep sea technologies for sustainable use of ocean resources.
  • The estimated cost of the Mission will be Rs. 4077 crore for a period of 5 years to be implemented in a phase-wise manner.


  • Deep Ocean Mission with be a mission mode project to support the Blue Economy Initiatives of the Government of India.
  • Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES) will be the nodal Ministry implementing this multi-institutional ambitious mission.

The Deep Ocean Mission consists of the following six major components:

  1. Development of Technologies for Deep Sea Mining, and Manned Submersible: A manned submersible will be developed to carry three people to a depth of 6000 metres in the ocean with suite of scientific sensors and tools.
  • Only a very few countries have acquired this capability.
  • The exploration studies of minerals will pave way for the commercial exploitation in the near future, as and when commercial exploitation code is evolved by the International Seabed Authority, an UN organization.
  • This component will help the Blue Economy priority area of exploring and harnessing of deep sea minerals and energy.
  1. Development of Ocean Climate Change Advisory Services: A suite of observations and models will be developed to understand and provide future projections of important climate variables on seasonal to decadal time scales under this proof of concept component. This component will support the Blue Economy priority area of coastal tourism.
  2. Technological innovations for exploration and conservation of deep-sea biodiversity: Bio-prospecting of deep sea flora and fauna including microbes and studies on sustainable utilization of deep sea bio-resources will be the main focus. This component will support the Blue Economy priority area of Marine Fisheries and allied services.
  3. Deep Ocean Survey and Exploration: The primary objective of this component is to explore and identify potential sites of multi-metal Hydrothermal Sulphides mineralization along the Indian Ocean mid-oceanic ridges. This component will additionally support the Blue Economy priority area of deep sea exploration of ocean resources.
  4. Energy and freshwater from the Ocean: Studies and detailed engineering design for offshore Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) powered desalination plant are envisaged in this proof of concept proposal. This component will support the Blue Economy priority area of off-shore energy development.
  5. Advanced Marine Station for Ocean Biology. This component is aimed as development of human capacity and enterprise in ocean biology and engineering. This component will translate research into industrial application and product development through on-site business incubator facilities. This component will support the Blue Economy priority area of Marine Biology, Blue trade and Blue manufacturing.
  • Considering importance of the oceans on sustainability, the United Nations (UN) has declared the decade, 2021-2030 as the Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development. India has a unique maritime position.
  • Its 7517 km long coastline is home to nine coastal states and 1382 islands.
  • The Government of India’s Vision of New India by 2030 enunciated in February 2019 highlighted the Blue Economy as one of the ten core dimensions of growth.




Smart Enforcement App for Trucks to reduce compliance Logistics costs

Why in News?

  • As a strategy to reduce logistics costs on road transportation, the Government of India, Department of Commerce, Logistics Division has developed a risk-based approach on the implementation of smart enforcement of rules and regulations related to road-based violations by trucks.
  • It has also developed an IT based solution to make enforcement mechanism technology driven.

The key features of the integrated smart solution are:

  1. An IT application that would fetch data related to goods being carried on the truck from the existing Goods and Services Tax Network (GSTN) database, and the information related to the vehicle from the VAHAN database
  2. Make this data available to enforcement officers on the road in advance for approaching trucks
  3. Based on a risk matrix that uses historical patterns, the app assigns a risk profile to the truck helping the officers decide whether to stop it for further scrutiny
  4. It requires the officer to issue all fines, penalties, or any other punitive measure through the app, ensuring transparency
  5. The app includes features that keep records and help reduce ad-hoc implementation of these rules and regulations
  6. The application would have the ability to integrate with all the sensors, Weigh in Motion, and cameras available with the state government or National Highway Authority to allow remote enforcement.
  7. This would significantly reduce the need to deploy officers on the ground since the app would be able to alert officers whenever a vehicle is in violation.

The benefits that would accrue from the adoption of the App will be as follows:

  1. Lead to decrease in number of physical checks of commercial vehicles by the enforcement officers
  2. Overall reduction in the number of cash challan by issuing e-challan using the system
  3. Reduction in deployment of work-force on Roads leading to better manpower utilization
  4. Higher revenue collection due to reduced human intervention
  5. Improved targeting of offenders
  6. Reduction in Logistics Cost (currently at 13% of GDP).




National Maritime Heritage Complex (NMHC)

Why in News?

  • The Ministry of Culture (MoC) and Ministry of Ports, Shipping and Waterways (MoPSW) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for ‘Cooperation in Development of National Maritime Heritage Complex (NMHC) at Lothal, Gujarat’.
  • NMHC is to be developed as a first of its kind in the country dedicated to the legacy of Maritime Heritage of India, to showcase India’s rich and diverse maritime glory.
  • National Maritime Heritage Complex, a world-class facility is to be developed in the vicinity of the ASI site of Lothal, located about 80 kms away from Ahmedabad, Gujarat.
  • NMHC would be developed as an international tourist destination, where the maritime heritage of India from ancient to modern times would be showcased and an edutainment approach using the latest technology would be adopted to spread awareness about India’s maritime heritage.
  • The unique feature of NMHC is the recreation of ancient Lothal city, which is one of the prominent cities of the ancient Indus valley civilization dating to 2400 BC.
  • Apart from that, the evolution of India’s Maritime Heritage during various eras would be exhibited through various galleries.




Cold desert Ladakh

Why in News?

  • Scientists have shown that the cold desert of Ladakh Himalaya once experienced large floods that rose much above the present-day river level.
  • It implies that in the scenario of global warming, when the higher Himalaya regions are expected to respond dramatically, flood frequency in Ladakh may increase, which may call for serious urban and rural planning.
  • Large floods that naturally occur in major rivers of India fed by melting snow and glaciers and a continental scale precipitation regime of Indian Summer Monsoon (ISM) and Westerlies and East Asian Summer Monsoon (EASM) significantly modify the landscape and impact lives and economy of all that encroached into its geomorphic domain.
  • These floods are of various kinds and origin (Glacial/landslide lake outbursts, cloud bursts, excessively strong monsoon) and have different forcing factors and frequencies and therefore add large uncertainty in flood prediction models.
  • A team of students and scientists lead by the Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology at Dehradun, travelled through the tough terrains of Zanskar and Indus drained Himalaya and looked minutely into geological signatures of past floods in Ladakh region that date between 15-3 thousand years before present.
  • Flood leaves a stack of fine sand and silts at places along its channel where the flood energy drastically reduces, for example, wider segments of river valleys, confluences, behind rock embayments which is called as Slack Water Deposits (SWDs).
  • The SWDs were located at several locations along the Zanskar and Indus rivers, counted vertically for the number of floods, and were dated using technology called Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL) and Accelerator Mass Spectrometry of 14C. The flood deposits were also analysed for their source.
  • This analysis showed that the cold desert once experienced a large flood that rose to more than 30 m above the present-day river level.
  • The chronology of the flood deposits pointed towards three phases of increased flooding occurred in Ladakh after the period called Last Glacial Maximum.
  • These were times when due to warming, the Indian summer monsoon was active in Ladakh as well.

Optically stimulated luminescence (OSL)

  • It is a method for measuring doses from ionizing radiation. It is used in at least two applications:
  1. Luminescence dating of ancient materials: mainly geological sediments and sometimes fired pottery, bricks etc., although in the latter case thermoluminescence dating is used more often
  2. Radiation dosimetry, which is the measurement of accumulated radiation dose in the tissues of health care, nuclear, research and other workers, as well as in building materials in regions of nuclear disaster




Ordnance Factory Board (OFB)

Why in News?

  • The Union Cabinet approved a plan to corporatise the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB), which has 41 factories, into seven fully government owned corporate entities on the lines of Defence Public Sector Undertakings (DPSU).
  • Once implemented, the OFB, the establishment of which was accepted by the British in 1775, will cease to exist.
  • Currently, the Kolkata headquartered OFB functions as a department under the Department of Defence Production.
  • There have been several recommendations by high-level committees in the past for corporatising it to improve efficiency and accountability.
  • All employees of the OFB (Group A, B and C) belonging to the production units would be transferred to the corporate entities on deemed deputation initially for a period of two years without altering their service conditions as Central government employees.
  • The 41 factories would be subsumed into seven corporate entities based on the type of manufacturing.




Decoding sneeze reflex

  • A small tickle in nose, exposure to irritants and viral infections can cause sneezing.
  • But the cellular pathways and neurons behind them have been hardly understood.
  • A new study has shown that a molecule named neuromedin B (NMB) was important for sneezing. When this molecule was blocked, the test mice did not sneeze in spite of being exposed to allergens.




Snail survival skills

  • About 40 years ago, humans brought the North American rosy wolf snail to the island of Tahiti.
  • This snail was a predator and it led to the extinction of over 50 species of native snails. But surprisingly one species survived, the white-shelled Partula hyalina.
  • Now by sticking extremely small sensors to the shells of the snail, scientists have understood how it survived.
  • hyalina could tolerate more sunlight than its predator, so it was able to live undisturbed in the sunlit parts of the forest.




Methane eating microbes

  • By studying sediments from seven seafloor seeps, researchers have found that these sites house several methane-oxidising microbes.
  • These microbial communities showed high rates of methane consumption.
  • Understanding these anaerobic methane-eating microbes, can help in bioremediation in other situations like landfills with methane leaks.




Bizarre lizard

  • By studying amber collected from Myanmar, researchers have described a new lizard that lived 99 million years ago.
  • The team named it Oculudentavis naga.
  • Oculudentavis is derived from oculus = eye, dentes = teeth, and avis = bird and Naga is the name of one of the many ethnic tribes living in the Burmese amber mines area.




Sediment secrets

  • An international team of researchers has now discovered several bacteria that use DNA as a food source.
  • They were found in the sediments of the Atlantic Ocean.
  • From the bacteria’s perspective, DNA is particularly nutritious.
  • It’s essentially a fertilizer. After all, it is a chain of millions of pieces of sugar and phosphorus- and nitrogen-containing bases.




Hallmarking of gold

Why in News?

  • The government announced the phased implementation of mandatory hallmarking of gold jewellery with effect from June 16.
  • In the first phase, gold hallmarking will be available in only in 256 districts and jewellers having annual turnover above Rs 40 lakh will come under its purview.

What is hallmarking of gold?

  • The Bureau of Indian Standard (BIS), which operates gold and silver hallmarking scheme in India, defines hallmarking as the “accurate determination and official recording of the proportionate content of precious metal in precious metal articles.”
  • So, it is a “guarantee of purity or fineness” of precious metal articles.

Which metals are covered hallmarking in India?

  • The government, through a notification issued on June 14, 2018, notified two categories—gold jewellery and gold artefacts; and silver jewellery and silver artefacts—under the purview of hallmarking.
  • According to the Department of Consumer Affairs, “Export and re-import of jewellery as per Trade Policy of Government of India — Jewellery for international exhibitions, jewellery for government-approved B2B domestic exhibitions will be exempted from mandatory Hallmarking.”
  • Watches, fountain pens and special types of jewellery such as Kundan, Polki and Jadau will be exempted from hallmarking.

Are all jewellers covered under the purview of hallmarking?

  • Jewellers with annual turnover up to Rs 40 lakh will be exempted from mandatory hallmarking.

What are the purity standards for gold and silver under the hallmarking scheme?

  • As per BIS standards, there are three categories of hallmarking based on purity of gold—22 carat, 18 carat and 14 carat.
  • However, the ministry recently announced that “Gold of Additional carats 20, 23 and 24 will also be allowed for Hallmarking.”

What was the need of making hallmarking mandatory?

  • India is the biggest consumer of gold. However, the level of hallmarked jewellery is very low in the country. According to the ministry, at present, only 30% of Indian gold jewellery is hallmarked.
  • One of the reasons responsible for low level of hallmarked jewellery is non-availability of sufficient assaying and hallmarking centres (A&HC).




Regular glasses into night vision goggles

Why in News?

  • A transparent metallic film allowing a viewer to see in the dark could one day turn regular spectacles into night vision googles.
  • The ultra-thin film, made of a semiconductor called gallium arsenide, could also be used to develop compact and flexible infrared sensors.
  • The film was developed by a team of Australian and European researchers, works by converting infrared light – which is normally invisible to humans – into light visible to the human eye.
  • The material was hundreds of times thinner than a strand of human hair.
  • The gallium arsenide is arranged in a crystalline structure only several hundred nanometres thick, which allows visible light to pass through it.
  • One likely advantage of this film over existing technologies is weight: bulky helmet-mounted night vision goggles have previously been associated with neck pain in airforce pilots.
  • Photons of infrared light have very low energy, which means that electronic night vision devices can be affected by random fluctuations in signal.
  • To minimise these fluctuations, many infrared imaging devices use cooling systems, sometimes requiring cryogenic temperatures.
  • The advantage of the nanofilm is that it works at room temperature.
  • If a person were to wear glasses fitted with the film during the day, they would still be able to see what is normally visible to the naked eye.




Child Marriages

  • The novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has impacted the lives and livelihoods of people across rural Rajasthan. With incomes under threat, families are increasingly likely to get their daughters married before they come of age.
  • Recent estimates by United Nations Children’s Fund projected that an additional 10 million girls globally will be at risk of child marriages over the next decade due to COVID-19.
  • These numbers are in addition to the 100 million girls who were already at risk of child marriage in the next decade, before the threats of pandemic loomed over.
  • The risks associated with child marriage do not end with girls who are married before 18: it leads to an intergenerational cycle of poverty that adversely impacts the economy.
  • It puts girls at risk of being denied access to education, which impacts their autonomy and their access to health care.
  • Child marriages perpetuate gender discrimination, which in turn lead to malnutrition and reproductive health issues.
  • The ongoing pandemic has undermined the progress made towards achieving gender rights and educational parity for girls.
  • The Rajasthan government recently appointed additional officials in all 33 districts of the state to check child marriages.
  • India is home to the largest number of child brides in the world, accounting for one-third of child marriages globally. Nearly 1 in 4 girls were married by the age of 18 years in India (27 per cent), accounting for at least 1.5 million girls each year, according to the fourth National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4) in 2015-16.
  • The numbers in Rajasthan are even more alarming, with the NFHS-4 data stating that 1 in 3 girls were married by age 18 years in the state (35 per cent). Among adolescent girls aged 15-19 years in the state, six per cent have already begun childbearing.




Dexamethasone directly to inflamed lungs

  • Nanoengineers have developed immune cell-mimicking nanoparticles that target inflammation in the lungs and deliver drugs directly where they’re needed.
  • Inflammation was completely treated in mice given the nanoparticles, at a drug concentration where standard delivery methods did not have any efficacy.
  • What’s special about these nanoparticles is that they are coated in a cell membrane that’s been genetically engineered to look for and bind to inflamed lung cells.
  • when endothelial cells become inflamed, they overexpress a protein called VCAM1, whose purpose is to attract immune cells to the site of inflammation.
  • In response, the immune cells express a protein called VLA4, which seeks out and binds to VCAM1.
  • Rersearchers engineered cell membranes to express the full version of VLA4 all the time.
  • These membranes constantly overexpress VLA4 in order to seek out VCAM1 and the site of inflammation.
  • These engineered cell membranes allow the nanoparticle to find the inflamed sites, and then release the drug that’s inside the nanoparticle to treat the specific area of inflammation.



Mystery of Betelgeuse’s dip in brightness solved

  • When Betelgeuse, a bright orange star in the constellation of Orion, became visibly darker in late 2019 and early 2020, the astronomy community was puzzled.
  • A team of astronomers have now published new images of the star’s surface, taken using the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (ESO’s VLT), that clearly show how its brightness changed.
  • The new research reveals that the star was partially concealed by a cloud of dust, a discovery that solves the mystery of the Great Dimming of Betelgeuse.
  • Betelgeuse’s surface regularly changes as giant bubbles of gas move, shrink and swell within the star.
  • The team concludes that some time before the Great Dimming, the star ejected a large gas bubble that moved away from it.
  • When a patch of the surface cooled down shortly after, that temperature decrease was enough for the gas to condense into solid dust.