Environmental Sustainability, Evolution and Natural Selection

Truly. We are the fittest species till date but if we mess up with the nature that we have to live in, no adaptation, no survival instinct can save us.

SafeNEPAL

Environmental conservation and its sustainability have been increasingly important issue throughout the world. The ecology friendly environment is one of the burning needs of today’s world if we want to sustain the human species and the quality of living on this planet. Although the effects of the human on the environment may not be clearly seen in day to day life, the accumulated impact over the time is quite evident. The ozone layer depletion, rapidly changing weather patterns and rising earth’s temperature are some of the obvious negative impacts caused by humanity.

Conservation of ecological system comes hand in hand with environmental sustainability. There are numerous known and unknown factors which help preserve a sound ecological system of which we human are just a small part. Every part of the ecosystem is equally important for every species in it to live and thrive in harmony, call it environment if you…

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सम्पदा स‍ंरक्षणको अद्‌भूत नमूना : ठाउँ नै सारेर पनि यसरी जोगाइयो — Mysansar

– सुबिक कार्की (इजिप्टबाट फर्केर) – गत वर्ष वैशाखको महाभूकम्पले नेपालका थुप्रै सम्पदा भत्किएका छन्। त्यसको पुननिर्माण अझै हुन सकेको छैन। सम्पदा संरक्षणको चिन्ता जागिरहेको बेला यहाँ म एउटा सम्पदा संरक्षणको अदभूत नमूना प्रस्तुत गर्दैछु। एघार देश भएर सुडानबाट इजिप्ट हुँदै भूमध्यसागरमा विसर्जन हुने संसारकै सबैभन्दा लामो नाइल नदीको इजिप्ट खण्डमा सन् १९५४ मा […]

via सम्पदा स‍ंरक्षणको अद्‌भूत नमूना : ठाउँ नै सारेर पनि यसरी जोगाइयो — Mysansar

Understanding Hazard, Risk, Vulnerability and Disaster- Through Football!

Last week I took a class of Engineering Geology (finally getting into something practically useful in the beginning of fourth year). I will give brief definitions and examples of the terms used. Then before you get bored, I will get into a funny way to remember the technical terms using football (soccer).

Prior to that class, I thought hazard and disaster were the same. However, technically, they are different. Let’s take a look at the definitions I studied.

Hazard: Probability of occurrence of an event or phenomenon which can damage lives and properties.

Disaster: The actual occurrence of a dangerous phenomenon which damages lives and property.

When seismologists say, “Nepal lies in a seismically active zone,” they are talking about the probable damages an earthquake can cause (hazard). When they talk about the damage caused by the earthquake in Nepal last year, they are saying something about disaster the earthquake brought up.

Let us also look at two more terms- risk and vulnerability.

Risk: The consequences in terms of “potential losses” for some particular cause, time and place. Specific risk is the product of hazard and vulnerability (Johnson and Degraff, 1988).

Vulnerability: The degree of risk a community is at due to various factors. For example, poor designing and construction of a house makes it vulnerable for a disaster and people living in it are at risk.

I am done with the definitions. Let’s use football- in particular, a famous footballer to understand the above defined terms. The footballer is (as you might already have realized) Eden Hazard.

E. Hazard is a hazard to his opponent team because he has the capacity to score a goal although he may not score in every match. In this match we are talking of, Hazard attacked several times but did not succeed. E. Hazard remained a hazard until 88th minute.

In the eighty-ninth minute of the match, when no goal has not yet occurred, E. Hazard gets a pass from his teammate and he dribbles ahead. His skill allows him to get through the defenders of opposition team. Their defence which had been vulnerable by previous attacks, is now exposed and is at a greater risk (due to the combined effects of Hazard and vulnerability) Hazard shoots and when the opponent goalkeeper cannot save the goal. Hazard has brought a disaster to his opposition. A draw would have made the opposition the league winner. But Hazard’s goal changes the equation. The other team is damaged psychologically.

Reduce Risk! Save Lives!!

Prey v/s Predator: An Easy Victory for Arachnid

Nature is brutally beautiful. It keeps us alive but does not let live forever. This is the story of  a battle in nature I witnessed on May 13.

Spring was gradually being replaced by summer. Every year during this time, in the evenings, we see these strange creatures. We call them ‘chhichimira’. I don’t know what it is but my parents used to tell that they are winged-ants. Because the queen and the  males fly to mate, it might be true, although I cannot surely say if ants mate during the evening or if a certain species follows the pattern. All I know is that they are attracted to light just like moths and they have extremely short life. They stick on to electric bulbs, fluorescent lamps and LED bulbs as well. They fly for about fifteen minutes and they shed their transparent wings; then fall off dead. I usually examine them at that stage and they do look like ants. But I haven’t seen any of them fly away alive (the saddest part). I will call them winged-ants for the sake of convenience.

That evening, I was sitting in my room bored after long hours of exam preparation. The curtains had been pulled down to avoid the entrance of insects (It’s compulsory during spring and summer.) because of which the room was getting hot. Two insects of the kind I have mentioned above came into the room, however. (Failure of the curtains!) I just kept staring at them as if there was no work to do. They danced up and down and around the LED bulb on the wall in front of me. As I was watching them, I noticed a small movement on the right. From behind the tube light (it was not being used at that time because of the power cut off), a spider, too had been watching the movements of the insects.

It turned out to be the smartest between them. As soon as one of the insects had flown upwards, the spider rushed (crawling on the wall) and pounced upon it. All these (from my first sight of the spider to its pouncing upon the helpless winged-ant) had happened within three seconds! I could not believe my eyes. I had seen an extraordinary sight. Yet I had presence of mind because I got the later struggled captured on my camera.

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The predator had grabbed the prey’s head. The prey wanted to get out. It flapped it’s wings for a while in vain. Sometime later, it gave up struggling and the spider started dragging its meal upwards. It was a difficult task. Firstly, it had to climb a vertical wall backwards carrying its prey. Secondly, the partner of the insect which had been pounced upon was luring the spider to drop its meal. The another winged-ant tried frantically to reach the spider but it never went very close. Two or three times, it had reached near the spider, I thought the spider would leave the one on its mouth and grab the other instead. But the spider did not leave the grip on its food. Neither did it give any attention to the second one. For it had flown for long already and its attempt (if I can call it, though it was nothing of the sort) of saving its friend had weakened it. After some minutes of it flight (the longest among these insects I have ever seen), it gave up. Most probably, it died.

Some more pics of the brutal predator and an almost dead prey.

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Zika Viral Infection- What is it?

As I was scrolling down the Facebook page on my phone, I came across a news on Image Khabar, which shocked me. It said that the World Health Organization (WHO) had warned the Americans not to conceive children. I also saw something new- Zika virus. (I first thought Jika because the news is in Nepali!) I immediately googled to get some information on it.

History
The Zika virus was first discovered in the rhesus monkeys in the year 1947 in the Zika forest of Uganda. The monkey in which the virus was discovered had suffered from mild fever. The first reported case in humans was in 1952 from Uganda and Tanzania. Since then, the disease was believed to be a mild one but the WHO now classifies it as an “emerging” disease. Recent outbreaks have occurred at French Polynesia (2013) and Brazil (2015).

Mode of Transmission
The disease transmits through the vector Aedes aegyptii, the mosquito also responsible for dengue. Recently, it has also been found to have transmitted sexually.

Symptoms
According to the WHO, the symptoms are similar to that of Dengue. Mild fever, rashes on the skin, conjunctivitis, headache lasting for 2-7 days are the major symptoms. In children, microcephaly occurs hampering the mental growth. The virus can be detected on blood culture.

Treatment
There is no vaccines or medicines developed for the treatment of the disease. Paracetamol can be used for the symptoms above.

Warnings
The WHO has warned that the disease might spread fast in the USA and in the peripheral nations. It has also warned of pregnancy during the outbreak of the disease.

Conclusion
Adaptation and evolution of the vector and the virus is spreading a “new” disease as an epidemic every year. Last year, it was Ebola, this year it is Zika. There might be another outbreak next year. The WHO and the media should be active to spread information about the recent outbreaks. Had the WHO not warned the USA, no one would have known about the disease. This situation should be changed. There should be an immediate breaking news once an outbreak is known. Preventive measures should be taken before the disease turns into an epidemic.

References
1. www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/zika/en/
2. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zika_virus
3. mobile.nytimes.com/2016/01/26/health/two-cases-suggest-zika-virus-could-be-spread-through-sex.html

Tianjin Chemical Blast – The Cause and The Concerns

A chemical explosion on August 12, 2015 in China’s port-city, Tianjin, released a high amount of toxic wastes. What triggered the explosion has not been found out yet, though a series of chemical reactions that could have intensified the explosion have been worked out. This explosion has also created several concerns in China, and even in other nations, regarding the storage of chemicals near the residential areas. This is what has been discovered until 29th August, 2015.

The Explosion

On the night of August 12, a warehouse owned by Ruihai Logistics in one of the most populated parts of Tianjin caught fire and exploded. According to the news in the BBC, the first explosion was equivalent to that of three tonnes of TNT and the second explosion was much larger – the power equivalent to that of twenty-one tonnes of TNT explosion. It affected 15 million residents of Tianjin.

The first fire of Tianjin Explosion. Source: Wikipedia
The first fire of Tianjin Explosion. Source: Wikipedia
The Cause

The definite trigger of the explosion has not yet been understood. Since the warehouse stored hundreds of explosive chemicals, this would be even more difficult for the scientists to work out. According to whatever scientists have understood, it has been said that the water thrown over the already burning warehouse brought up a greater destruction. The reaction of calcium carbide with water forming acetylene is believed to have increased strength of the explosion.

The Effect

The blast was explosive enough to be seen from space and was recorded as seismic activity. At the blast site, a crater was created. According to the Tianjin Tanggu Environmental Monitoring Station, the chemicals stored by the company included sodium cyanide (NaCN), toluene diisocyanate (TDI) and calcium carbide (CaC2), all of which are dangerous to human health. NaCN particular is highly toxic – two teaspoonful of it can kill an adult within two minutes; and CaC2 and TDI react violently with water and produce extremely reactive chemicals, with increasing risk of explosion.

The chemical explosion turned a significant amount of goods stored at and around the port, in the Binhai New District to ashes and dust. According to the BBC, large shipping containers were tossed into the air like matchsticks and were crumpled by the blasts.

A logistics park containing several thousand cars was consumed by the fireball created due to the explosion. Renault says some 1,500 of its cars were lost, while Hyundai said it had around 4,000 cars on the site – although it has not yet assessed the level of damage.

About 700 tonnes of sodium cyanide was reported at the site, the BBC says. Sodium cyanide is soluble in water and, when dissolved or burned, it releases the highly poisonous gas hydrogen cyanide. The rain that came after the explosion was followed by people complaining of rashes and burns. Though meteorologists had assured the public that the rain would not add troubles, Environment Protection Board suggested that the rain could have mixed with cyanide present in the atmosphere and the soil, bringing about hazards.

Concerns for Public Safety

The blast not only destroyed the town, but also exposed negligence of the concerned company over the safety of people. The storage site has to be at least one kilometer away from the residential area – the law China says. The law was challenged by the corrupted officials and the company, who set up a chemical storage site within 200 metres of the major residential area. The most depressing thing in this, is that the people never knew what hazards could be brought about by the chemicals stored in that warehouse.

Was this ignorance among the public deliberate? We are not sure. If they were being hidden from the truth, we can imagine how negligent the concerned authorities had been. The scientific causes of the explosion may point out towards hazardous chemicals, the social causes, however are corruption and ignorance. Since this is not the first chemical blast in China, the Chinese government should work out the ways to reduce corruption. They should also be able to educate people regarding the hazardous effects of things that are being stored around their homes. The Chinese government should set an example to the world which will inspire other countries to prevent such terrible accidents in future.

References:

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-33844084

http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/news/Blogs/makingwaves/tianjin-china-chemical-blast-cyanide/blog/53830/

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/08/21/world/asia/tianjin-china-explosion-hazardous-chemical-sites.html?_r=1