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Current Affairs 03 October 2023

CONTENTS

  1. Geospatial Intelligence
  2. Nobel Prize in Medicine 2023
  3. Parliamentary Committee’s Report on Protected Monuments
  4. Gravity Battery
  5. Insurance Surety Bonds
  6. Sastra Ramanujan Prize
  7. Staghorn coral

Geospatial Intelligence


Context:

During the summer of 2023, the United States experienced a string of exceptional natural disasters, including extreme heat, Canadian wildfires, severe flooding, and a powerful hurricane. The application of geospatial intelligence could prove instrumental in alleviating these crises.

Relevance:

GS III: Space Technology

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Geospatial Intelligence
  2. Significance of Geospatial Intelligence
  3. Growing Need for Geospatial Intelligence
  4. Government Initiatives to Promote Geospatial Technology in India
  5. Challenges in Geospatial Intelligence

Geospatial Intelligence

Geospatial intelligence leverages tools like Geographic Information System (GIS), Global Positioning System (GPS), and Remote Sensing for geographic mapping and analysis.

Spatial Data Collection

These tools capture spatial information linked to the geographical location on Earth, often referred to as geotagging.

Location data can be categorized as:

  • Static: Examples include road positions, earthquake events, or malnutrition rates in specific regions.
  • Dynamic: This category covers data related to moving entities such as vehicles, pedestrians, or the spread of diseases.
Intelligent Mapping
  • Geospatial technology can be employed to generate intelligent maps, aiding in the identification of spatial patterns within extensive datasets.
Supporting Decision Making
  • Geospatial intelligence aids decision-making processes by prioritizing and allocating scarce resources based on their significance and urgency.

Significance of Geospatial Intelligence

Cyclone Monitoring and Response

  • Geospatial intelligence is essential for the National Hurricane Center to track cyclone formation, location, and trajectory.
  • This information is crucial for resource allocation, issuing warnings, and managing evacuations.

Disaster Response and Relief

  • After the 7.8 magnitude earthquake in Turkey and Syria (February 2023), geospatial intelligence identified damage and helped locate survivors.
  • It facilitated the setup of aid stations and distribution of emergency supplies.

Climate-Related Event Prediction

  • Monitoring temperature, precipitation, snowpack, and polar ice assists in predicting and preparing for climate change-induced extreme weather events.

Border Management

  • Satellite images provide critical information, such as tracking Russian ground forces in the Ukrainian conflict and monitoring border infiltrations.

Supply Chain Management

  • GPS technology and geospatial data enhance the efficiency of global supply chain management, providing vital cargo movement information to governments and businesses.

Urban Development

  • High-resolution imagery aids city planners in designing safer and more efficient communities, including features like bicycle lanes and traffic management.

Autonomous Vehicles

  • Geospatial intelligence supports the development of autonomous vehicles by providing detailed ground-level data, contributing to safer and smarter transportation systems.

Digital Twins and Modeling

  • Digital twins, virtual replicas of real systems, are used for modeling and predicting outcomes, proving effective in simulating weather and terrain in conflict settings.

Growing Need for Geospatial Intelligence

Climate Change and Urbanization

  • Rising temperatures and rapid urbanization have heightened the demand for geospatial intelligence.
  • It assists in safeguarding communities and adapting to evolving environmental conditions.

Economic Growth in the Industry

  • The geospatial intelligence industry is on a trajectory of substantial growth, with forecasts predicting an increase from $61 billion in 2020 to over $209 billion by 2030.
  • This growth reflects its pivotal role in shaping a safe and informed future.

Data-Driven Agriculture

  • Agriculture is becoming increasingly data-driven, with geospatial intelligence playing a vital role.
  • It empowers farmers to make informed decisions regarding crop management, soil quality, irrigation, and pest control.
  • In a country like India, where agriculture contributes around 18% of GDP and employs 48% of the workforce, this technology becomes particularly significant.

Government Initiatives to Promote Geospatial Technology in India

  • Geospatial Information Regulation Bill, 2021: The government introduced the Geospatial Information Regulation Bill, 2021, which aimed to regulate the acquisition, dissemination, and use of geospatial information in India. It focused on setting guidelines for mapping and geospatial data collection, with a particular emphasis on national security concerns.
  • National Geospatial Policy, 2022: The government launched the National Geospatial Policy, 2022, designed to streamline the utilization of geospatial intelligence and promote its various applications in the country.
Challenges in Geospatial Intelligence
  • Limited Demand Awareness: There is a lack of significant demand for geospatial services and products in India, primarily due to insufficient awareness among potential users in both the government and private sectors.
  • Skills Gap: The shortage of skilled manpower at all levels within the geospatial industry poses a significant challenge.
  • Data Availability: The unavailability of high-resolution foundation data is a constraint. This data forms the basis for various applications and services.
  • Data Sharing and Collaboration: A lack of clarity regarding data sharing and collaboration inhibits co-creation and asset maximization.
  • Lack of Tailored Solutions: There is a dearth of ready-to-use solutions specifically tailored to address India’s unique challenges and requirements in the geospatial domain.

-Source: The Hindu


Nobel Prize in Medicine 2023


Context:

The 2023 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine has gone to scientists Katalin Kariko and Drew Weissman, whose work enabled the development of mRNA vaccines against Covid-19.

Relevance:

GS III: Science and Technology

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. mRNA Vaccines and Their Significance During Covid-19
  2. Karikó and Weissman’s Contribution
  3. Background on Karikó and Weissman

mRNA Vaccines and Their Significance During Covid-19

  • Traditionally, vaccines have involved introducing dead or weakened viruses into the body to trigger an immune response. This process prepares the immune system to fight the actual virus when exposed to it. Later, vaccines started using a part of the viral genetic code instead of the whole virus.
  • However, large-scale development of traditional vaccines requires cell culture and takes time. During the Covid-19 pandemic, speed was crucial in finding a weapon against the fast-spreading virus. This is where mRNA (messenger Ribonucleic Acid) technology played a pivotal role.
  • mRNA vaccines use genetically engineered mRNA to instruct cells to produce the protein needed to fight a specific virus, rather than introducing the virus itself.
  • Traditional vaccines can take longer to develop because they rely on growing cells and producing inactivated viruses.
  • mRNA technology, known since the 1980s, had not been perfected at a scale suitable for vaccine production until recently.

Karikó and Weissman’s Contribution

  • Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman made significant contributions to the development of mRNA vaccines:
  • They recognized that lab-grown genetically engineered mRNA was seen as foreign by the body’s dendritic cells, leading to an unwanted inflammatory response.
  • To address this, they introduced chemical modifications to the mRNA bases to mimic the altered bases found in RNA from mammalian cells. This greatly reduced the inflammatory response.
  • Their findings, published in 2005, paved the way for mRNA vaccine development.
  • Moderna and Pfizer used this technology to develop Covid-19 vaccines.

Background on Karikó and Weissman

  • Katalin Karikó is from Szolnok, Hungary. She received her PhD from Szeged University and later worked at the University of Pennsylvania. She then became a vice president at BioNTech RNA Pharmaceuticals and is currently a professor at Szeged University.
  • Drew Weissman, born in Lexington, Massachusetts, USA, earned MD and PhD degrees from Boston University. He established his research group at the University of Pennsylvania, where he is the Roberts Family Professor in Vaccine Research and Director of the Penn Institute for RNA Innovations.

-Source: Indian Express


Parliamentary Committee’s Report on Protected Monuments


Context:

A Parliamentary Committee report tabled during the recent special session aims to prune the list of protected monuments in India.

Relevance:

GS II: Polity and Governance

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Reviewing the List of Centrally Protected Monuments (CPMs)
  2. Other Major Recommendations of the Committee
  3. Central Authorities Involved in Regulating Monuments

Reviewing the List of Centrally Protected Monuments (CPMs)

Background:

  • The 359th report on the functioning of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) was prepared by the department-related Parliamentary Standing Committee on Transport, Tourism & Culture.
  • The committee noted that among the 3,691 Centrally Protected Monuments (CPMs), many are considered “minor” monuments with no significant national importance.
Committee’s Recommendations:
  • The committee recommended the need to “rationalize and categorize” the list of CPMs based on their architectural and heritage value, as well as their overall significance.
  • It pointed out instances where protected monuments, such as the graves of colonial-era soldiers or officials, may not hold substantial heritage value in the present context.
  • The report highlighted that some minor monuments receive the same level of protection as iconic sites like the Red Fort or the Taj Mahal.
  • Consequently, the committee suggested the rationalization of the CPM list in India based on national significance.
Removal of Monuments from the Protected List:
  • The list of Protected Monuments is governed by the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Rules, 1959 (AMASR Act).
  • This Act safeguards monuments and sites that are over 100 years old, encompassing various structures and objects of historical significance, including temples, cemeteries, inscriptions, forts, and more.
  • To remove specific monuments from the CPM list, an amendment to the AMASR Act must be passed in Parliament.

Other Major Recommendations of the Committee

ASI’s Functioning:
  • The committee raised concerns about the overall functioning of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), particularly regarding administration, security, restoration work, and the general upkeep of heritage sites.
  • It noted that to date, approximately 531 monuments, roughly 14.4% of all Centrally Protected Monuments (CPMs), have been encroached upon. However, encroachments have been removed from only nine monuments since 2015.
  • The committee recommended that the ASI should support families affected by encroachment removal by helping them transition to alternative livelihoods.
  • It advocated the adoption of advanced technologies such as LiDAR, ground-penetrating radar, and 3D scanning to enhance the accuracy and efficiency of excavation work.
Bifurcation of ASI:
  • The report suggested dividing the ASI based on cerebral and managerial functions.
  • The ASI would handle core mandates like exploration, excavation, and conservation.
  • The India Heritage Development Corporation (IHDC) would manage revenue-related aspects, such as ticket collection and auctions.
Restrictions on Monuments:
  • Currently, the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Rules, 1959 (AMASR Act), stipulate a 100-meter prohibited area and a 300-meter regulated area around all ASI-protected monuments.
  • These restrictions prohibit and regulate various activities, including mining and construction, in the designated areas around protected monuments.
  • The committee found that these restrictions often inconvenience the public, especially when entire villages are located within a 300-meter radius of a monument, making it challenging for residents to carry out repairs on their houses.

Central Authorities Involved in Regulating Monuments

National Monuments Authority (NMA):
  • The National Monuments Authority is a statutory body established under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains (AMASR) (Amendment and Validation) Act, 2010.
Functions of NMA:
  • NMA is responsible for making recommendations to the Central Government regarding the grading and classification of protected monuments and areas declared as of national importance.
  • It oversees the functioning of Competent Authorities.
  • NMA assesses the impact of large-scale development projects, including those related to the public and projects essential to the public, proposed in regulated areas. It then makes recommendations to the competent authority regarding these projects.
  • NMA also recommends actions to the competent authority for granting permission for certain activities.
Difference between NMA & ASI:
  • The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) is another statutory body established under the AMASR Act, 1958.
  • ASI is primarily responsible for archaeological research and the conservation and preservation of cultural monuments in India. It conducts archaeological surveys, explorations, and excavations.
  • In contrast, NMA’s primary duty is to protect and preserve monuments and sites. It does not conduct archaeological surveys or excavations.
  • Applications for construction-related work in prohibited and regulated areas are submitted to NMA, not ASI.
  • NMA regulates the AMASR Act, 2010, while ASI regulates both the AMASR Act, 1958, and the Antiquities and Art Treasure Act, 1972.

-Source: Indian Express


Gravity Battery


Context:

As countries step up renewable energy capacity addition, there is growing urgency to develop long-duration energy storage systems. Gravity batteries are emerging as the best bet in solving renewable energy’s biggest problem – intermittency.

Relevance:

GS III: Science and Technology

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. What is a Gravity Battery?
  2. Development of Long-duration Energy Storage Systems
  3. Gravity Batteries vs Lithium-ion Batteries
  4. India’s Renewable Energy Push and Challenges

What is a Gravity Battery?

A gravity battery is a type of electricity storage device that operates on the principle of gravitational potential energy.

Working Principle:
  • Gravity batteries store energy in the form of gravitational potential energy, which is the energy an object possesses due to its height relative to the Earth’s surface.
  • These batteries work by using excess energy, typically generated from sustainable sources, to raise a mass, such as water or a heavy object, to a higher elevation. This process converts electrical energy into gravitational potential energy.
  • When electricity is needed, the elevated mass is lowered, and as it descends, the stored potential energy is converted back into electrical energy using an electric generator.
Common Types:
  • The most common type of gravity battery is used in pumped-storage hydroelectricity (PSH). In PSH systems, water is pumped to higher elevations during times of excess energy production and released through water turbines to generate electricity when demand is high.
  • Another form of a gravity battery involves lowering a mass, such as a concrete block, to generate electricity.
Global Capacity and Significance:
  • As of 2019, the total global capacity for pumped-storage hydroelectricity (PSH) was 168 GW (gigawatts).
  • The United States alone had a PSH capacity of 23 GW, accounting for nearly 2% of the country’s energy supply system and representing 95% of utility-scale energy storage in the US.
  • Gravity-based pumped-storage electricity is currently the largest form of grid energy storage worldwide, playing a crucial role in stabilizing electrical grids and managing energy fluctuations.

Development of Long-duration Energy Storage Systems

As countries expand their renewable energy capacity, the need for long-duration energy storage systems becomes increasingly crucial. These systems help balance the variability in renewable power generation, which may not always align with electricity demand. Energy Vault, a Swiss company founded in 2017, offers a proprietary gravity-based storage solution called the ‘EVx’ platform.

How the ‘EVx’ Platform Works:
  • The ‘EVx’ platform utilizes gravity and a mechanical elevator system to stack 35-tonne blocks made of a composite material at the top of a towering structure.
  • During periods of low electricity demand, surplus electricity from the grid or renewable plants is used to raise these blocks and stack them at the top of the structure.
  • When electricity demand increases, the blocks are lowered one by one, releasing kinetic energy that powers a generator to produce electricity, which can then be fed back into the grid.
Advantages of the ‘EVx’ Platform:

The ‘EVx’ platform offers several advantages, including its potential to address challenges in countries like India:

  • Grid Balancing: It helps balance the variability of renewable energy generation, ensuring a more reliable power supply.
  • Storage for Non-Sunny or Windy Periods: It provides a solution for storing energy generated during sunny or windy periods for use when these resources are not available.
  • Circular Economy: The platform supports the transition to a circular economy by efficiently storing and utilizing energy resources.
  • Clean Energy Transition: It facilitates the shift towards clean energy sources by ensuring that renewable energy can be effectively stored and utilized.

Energy Vault’s ‘EVx’ platform represents an innovative approach to long-duration energy storage, addressing one of the key challenges in the broader adoption of renewable energy.

Gravity Batteries vs. Lithium-ion Batteries

While gravity batteries offer a promising solution for renewable energy storage, lithium-ion batteries dominate the market. Some experts also advocate for green hydrogen. Let’s compare gravity batteries with lithium-ion batteries:

Gravity Batteries:

Advantages:

  • Free and Clean: Gravity is a free and clean energy source, easily accessible without the complexities of hydrogen production or environmental concerns related to lithium mining.
  • Durability: Gravity systems consist of robust components that have a longer lifespan compared to lithium-ion batteries.

Challenges:

  • Scale and Efficiency: Gravity batteries may require larger installations for the same energy storage capacity as lithium-ion batteries, impacting their scalability.
Lithium-ion Batteries:

Advantages:

  • Market Dominance: Lithium-ion batteries are widely used and readily available, making them the current market standard for energy storage.
  • Efficiency: They are known for their high energy density and efficiency, suitable for various applications.

Challenges:

  • Capacity Degradation: Lithium-ion batteries tend to lose capacity over time with repeated charging and discharging.

India’s Renewable Energy Challenges:

  • India is a significant producer of renewable energy, with nearly 40% of electricity capacity coming from non-fossil fuel sources.
  • However, the rapid growth of renewables presents grid management challenges, including operational sustainability.
  • Policymakers are exploring viable energy storage options, including hydrogen and hybrid generation models with off-stream pumped storage.
  • Developments in Gravity Battery Storage in India:
  • India’s push for large-scale renewable power necessitates energy storage solutions.
  • Energy Vault, a gravity-based storage technology company, is in discussions with major Indian energy companies, including NTPC, Tata Power, and ReNew Power, to collaborate on deploying its EVx energy storage technology.
  • NTPC has signed an MoU for a strategic partnership with Energy Vault, highlighting the growing interest in gravity battery storage systems in India.

-Source: The Hindu


Insurance Surety Bonds


Context:

Recently, some of the leading general insurers like New India Assurance, SBI General Insurance etc. have announced their plans to issue Surety Bonds, but nobody has been able to do so due to lack of supporting elements.

Relevance:

GS III: Indian Economy

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Insurance Surety Bonds
  2. Advantages of Insurance Surety Bonds

Insurance Surety Bonds:

  • Insurance surety bonds are written agreements that guarantee compliance, payment, or performance of a specific act.
  • Role of Insurance Companies: These bonds involve insurance companies acting as “Surety,” providing a financial guarantee that a contractor will fulfill its obligations according to agreed terms.
  • Three-Party Agreement: Surety bonds involve a unique three-party agreement.
Parties Involved:
  • Principal: The party purchasing the bond, committing to fulfill a promised action.
  • Surety: The insurance company guaranteeing the performance. If the principal fails, the surety becomes liable for losses.
  • Obligee: The party requiring the bond, often a governmental organization for most surety bonds.

Advantages of Insurance Surety Bonds

  • Security for Infrastructure Projects: Offers security for infrastructure projects, protecting both contractors and principals.
  • Diverse Contractor Coverage: Meets the needs of various contractors, especially in today’s volatile environment.
  • Contractual Guarantee: Provides a contractual guarantee that business deals will adhere to agreed-upon terms.
  • Loss Recovery: If the contractor fails to meet terms, the principal can make a claim on the surety bond to recover incurred losses.
  • Minimal Collateral: Unlike bank guarantees, surety bond insurance doesn’t require substantial collateral, freeing up funds for contractors’ business growth.
  • Debt Reduction: Helps reduce contractors’ debts, addressing financial concerns.

-Source: The Hindu


Sastra Ramanujan Prize


Context:

Ruixiang Zhang, Assistant Professor, University of California, Berkeley, USA will be awarded with the 2023 SASTRA Ramanujan Prize for his outstanding contributions in mathematics.

Relevance:

Facts for Prelims

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Sastra Ramanujan Prize
  2. Contributions of Ruixiang Zhang

Sastra Ramanujan Prize

  • Instituted in 2005, the Sastra Ramanujan Prize is awarded annually by SASTRA University in Tamil Nadu, India, on December 22, Ramanujan’s birth anniversary.
  • The prize recognizes mathematicians from around the world who are under 32 years of age and work in fields influenced by the work of the renowned mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan.
  • The age limit of 32 is chosen to honor Ramanujan’s exceptional contributions made in a relatively short life span.
  • The prize includes a citation and a cash award of $10,000, and it has gained international recognition since its establishment.
  • Past recipients of this prestigious prize include Manjul Bhargava and Akshay Venkatesh.

Contributions of Ruixiang Zhang

  • Ruixiang Zhang is a young mathematician known for his significant work spanning areas such as analytic number theory, combinatorics, Euclidean Harmonic Analysis, and geometry.
  • Zhang’s notable achievement includes a collaboration with Shaoming Guo, where they proved a multivariable generalization of Vinogradov’s Mean Value Theorem, based on his Princeton PhD thesis.
  • This groundbreaking work, published in Inventiones Mathematicae in 2019, is considered a major milestone in the field of mathematics.

-Source: The Hindu


Staghorn coral


Context:

A genome-wide survey of highly endangered staghorn coral in the Caribbean has identified 10 genomic regions associated with resilience against white band disease.

Relevance:

GS III: Environment and Ecology

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Staghorn Coral
  2. White Band Disease

Staghorn Coral

  • Staghorn coral is a vital coral species found in the Caribbean region.
  • Along with elkhorn coral and star corals, it has played a crucial role in building Caribbean coral reefs over the past 5,000 years.
  • These corals can form dense clusters called “thickets” in shallow waters, serving as essential habitat for various reef creatures, especially fish.
Appearance
  • Staghorn coral colonies have a golden tan or pale brown color with white tips, deriving their hues from the algae residing within their tissues.
  • They have distinctive antler-like branches that radiate from a central trunk and curve upwards.
  • Each colony consists of numerous individual polyps that grow together. These corals obtain nutrients from photosynthetic algae within their cells and also capture plankton with their tentacles.
Distribution
  • Staghorn coral thrives in clear, shallow waters, typically found at depths of 15 to 60 feet. Its habitat stretches across the Bahamas, Florida, and the Caribbean.
  • Its northernmost Atlantic range extends to Palm Beach County, Florida, although it remains relatively rare in this region.
  • Staghorn coral inhabits various coral reef environments, including spur and groove, bank reef, patch reef, transitional reef, limestone ridges, terraces, and hard bottom habitats.
Lifespan & Reproduction
  • These corals reach reproductive maturity when they are around 7 inches tall.
  • Staghorn coral is a simultaneous hermaphrodite, producing both eggs and sperm. However, it usually avoids self-fertilization.
  • Reproduction occurs once annually after the full moon in late summer when colonies release eggs and sperm into the water (broadcast spawning). Fertilized eggs develop into larvae, settle on hard surfaces, and establish new colonies.
Threats
  • Climate Change: Staghorn coral faces the impacts of climate change, including rising sea temperatures and ocean acidification.
  • Diseases: It is particularly susceptible to diseases like white band and white plague.
  • Unsustainable Fishing Pressure: Overfishing can harm the reef ecosystem, affecting staghorn coral indirectly.

White Band Disease

  • White band disease is a common coral tissue loss disease.
  • Although studies suggest it is caused by a communicable agent, a specific pathogen responsible for the disease has not yet been definitively identified.

-Source: The Hindu


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