Saturday, June 29, 2013

Uttrakhand disaster in India is nature’s fury but consequences are man made.

A short film on causes and impact of disaster in Uttrakhand state in India.
Dr. Nitish Priyadarshi


This was one of the most challenging disasters till date at Kedarnath so much so that even after few days also it was really tough for a human mind to calculate the loss. It made everyone busy. Media is covering as much as they can. Indian army, air force, navy all are focusing here to save the human lives. Still death is uncountable along with other losses.

Analysis differs. While the administration insists that it was a natural calamity, environmentalists hold that this was a man-made disaster waiting to happen.

Though it was nature’s fury but the after effects was purely man made. It happened because geology of the area was always neglected in construction and expansion of the affected areas. Observations suggest that inadequate consideration of geology and geomorphology during the road alignment and poor, faulty engineering techniques were major factors responsible for the recent landslides and disaster.

To make a hill road, you have cut through the hill. When you cut through an unstable hill, you are creating conditions for more landslides that are a natural and frequent phenomenon. Several hydropower projects and mining projects are going on in Uttarakand. The blasts along the fault lines, weathered, jointed and fractured  rocks during tunnel constructions or mining is leading to landslides.

The debris raises the water level in the river which leads to flash floods when it rains heavily. During monsoon such floods have become very common and cause a lot of destruction. A large number of trees are also cut for these projects, causing soil erosion and leading to massive landslides.

More than 220 power and mining projects are running in 14 river valleys in Uttarakhand. Several rivers are being diverted through tunnels for these projects leading to major disasters in the state.

Hill slopes in the Himalaya are known for their instability due to ongoing tectonic activity. However, increasing anthropogenic intervention in the recent times appears to be contributing to terrain  instability in addition to natural factors, as observed by increasing frequency and magnitude of landslides since 1970. In July, 1970 — Cloudburst in the upper catchment area led to a 15 metre rise in the Alaknanda river in Uttarakhand. Entire river basin, from Hanumanchatti near the pilgrimage town of Badrinath to Haridwar was affected. An entire village was swept away.

During August and September 2010, Uttarakhand Himalaya witnessed large-scale slope destabilization, particularly along the roads where widening work was in progress. The land-slides killed about 220 people in the en-tire rainy season of 2010.

The tectonic fault lines, which are active and see back-and-forth movements, have been cut in many places by roads. More dangerously, roads are built along the fault lines at many places. As a result, tiny seismic movements in the fault lines weaken the rocks at the base of the roads, making these stretches susceptible to cave-ins and slides.

Buildings have been constructed over flood ways, old drains and streams, blocking the natural pathways of rainwater. It’s also true that once river is flooded it will again be flooded in coming 100 years. People and local administration neglected this theory in ongoing constructions on the old flood ways. Other reason for the devastation at Kedarnath was that people had constructed houses on the west stream of the Mandakini river that had been dry for decades. When the river returned to its old course following the deluge, these constructions were washed away.

This area is characterized by different types of rocks, undulating terrain, and cool climate.
The removal of the forest cover has accelerated the rate of erosion and mass wastings in the area. Steeper slopes, high relative relief and presence of weathered, fractured/sheared rocks in addition to unfavourable hydrological conditions are characteristic features of the area. A number of landslide zones are observed in the area. Debris flows, rockfalls, toppling failures and ground subsidence are frequently observed. Every year, a number of landslides cause heavy damage to life and property.

Very high hazard zone has already been identified by geologists near Kedardome, Bhartiyakunta peak, Brahma Gupha, Salya, Devangan and Gaurikund in Uttrakhand State. Medium hazard zones are mostly present around Okhimath, Guptkashi, Kalimath and Rambara areas.

Maximum numbers of landslides after cloud burst have been observed to occur within a distance of one km on either side of the tectonic planes. Some major fault zones in Uttrakhand are Rawanganga fault, Madhyamahashwar fault, Mandakni fault, Godwanala fault and Kaldungnala fault along which a number of landslides occur. It has been indicated that a maximum frequency of landslides occurs along Madhyamahashwar, Godwanala and Rawanganga faults. Such areas must be taken into consideration before any constructions.

Such disasters have both short-term and long term impact on society and the environment. The short-term impact accounts for loss of life and property at the site and the long term impact includes changes in the landscape that can be permanent, including the loss of hills, cultivable land and the environmental impact in terms of erosion and soil loss, population shift and relocation of populations and establishments.

The frequent obstructions caused to the movement of traffic by numerous landslides during the rainy season, sometimes for days together, particularly in the Himalayan and North Eastern regions of the country, bring untold misery to the people inhabiting the villages and townships in the landslide-prone hilly regions.  

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Film on ruins of an ancient structure found near Ranchi in Jharkhand state of India.

This short film unreels the unsolved mysterious rock structures and cuttings.
Film by 
Dr. Nitish Priyadarshi

This short film unreels the unsolved mysterious rock structures and cuttings, on the hills some 25 km north of Ranchi city, capital of Jharkhand State of India. These structures have recently been exposed due to expansion of road construction, and now are being continuously destroyed due to on going construction. 

Ranchi possesses remnants of numerous pre-historic stone implements. Its monuments, some of which are credited to the Asuras by the Mundas, yielded such a mixed assortment of finds as polished stone stools, Carnelian beads, wheel-made pottery, copper and bronze objects, copper and gold ornaments and even iron slags, that it is impossible to date them to any one age.

The way the rocks are carved, it clearly indicates that people at that time in this area were perfect in making such structure. The rock cuttings and stone blocks fitting snugly together were probably hewed from granite rocks.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Night is vanishing.

Light pollution has become worldwide.
Dr. Nitish Priyadarshi

Glittering stars some 20 km outside Ranchi.

Light pollution with fog in Ranchi city.

                         Scattering of light on the sky of Ranchi city.

                  Over-Illuminated tree. Other example of light pollution.

For most human history, the phrase “light pollution” would have made no sense. Imagine walking on Ranchi (Jharkhand, India) street on a dark night some 50 years back when it was thin population. People carrying torches and lanterns in the Ranchi  Street were common. Even the rickshaw pullers use to attach small lantern in front or back of rickshaws. Cycles were fit with dynamos. Only few houses were lit by gas during power cut and there were few public gaslights in the street.

The natural night sky light comes from starlight, zodiacal light (sunlight scattering from dust in our solar system), and airglow (atoms and molecules in the atmosphere that glow in the night after absorbing solar radiation) in roughly equal quantities. Even a small amount of artificial light interferes with this delicate balance, changes the colour of the sky, and overwhelms the starlight. Light pollution has become a worldwide problem as it is gradually diminishing the capacity to observe the stars. This new kind of waste originates cultural, environmental and even energy impacts, with unforeseeable consequences.

The night sky in the country looks remarkably different than the sky view near a city. More stars are visible and brighter, and in some remote areas, the Milky Way galaxy extends across the sky from east to west. In contrast, lights in the city illuminate night skies, hiding many of the stars. Outdoor lighting that interferes with the natural landscape is called light pollution. As urban areas grow, so does this type of pollution.

Few days ago I got the chance to stay in a village for some research work. Village was without any power supply. In night while sleeping outside I viewed the sky. I was overwhelmed to see most of the glittering stars above me which I missed in my city. Viewing stars in my city is interrupted due to light reflection on the sky.

None of this is to say that electric lights are inherently bad. Artificial light has benefited society by, for instance, extending the length of the productive day, offering more time not just for working but also for recreational activities that require light. But when artificial outdoor lighting becomes inefficient, annoying, and unnecessary, it is known as light pollution. Many environmentalists, naturalists, and medical researchers consider light pollution to be one of the fastest growing and most pervasive forms of environmental pollution. And a growing body of scientific research suggests that light pollution can have lasting adverse effects on both human and wildlife health.

For three billion years now, life on this Earth has existed with a regular and dependable day-night schedule to the illumination levels in the environment. This regularity has become ingrained into the DNA of species up and down the evolutionary tree. It regularizes basic and fundamental biological activities across species from plants to us humans. It is the height of apathetic ignorance and insanity that we expect other living organisms on this planet to just "adapt" to newly created lighting schedules of our convenience. The effects of light pollution on plants and animals in the environment are numerous and is becoming more known. In general, the most common action is that light pollution alters and interferes with the timing of necessary biological activities. But for approximately half of all life, those nocturnal species that begins its daily activities at sundown, our artificial lights at night seriously constrain their lives, exposing them to predators and reducing the time they have to find food, shelter, or mates and reproduce.

Now most of humanity lives under intersecting domes of reflected light, refracted light, of scattering rays from overlit cities and suburbs, from light-flooded highways and factories. In most cities the sky looks as though it has emptied of stars. We have grown so used to this pervasive orange haze that the original glory of an unlit night-dark enough for the planet Venous to throw shadows on earth- is wholly beyond our experience, beyond memory almost.

Light pollution—the luminous orange glow that haloes cities and suburbs—threatens wildlife by disrupting biological rhythms and otherwise interfering with the behavior of nocturnal animals, new research shows. Now a movement is under way to turn off the lights, or at least turn them down, for the sake of all creatures that frequent the night.

Among the mammals alone, the number of nocturnal species is astonishing. Light is a powerful biological force, and on many species it act as a magnet. The effect is so powerful that scientists speak of songbirds and seabirds being “captured” by searchlights on land or by the light from gas flares on marine oil platforms, circling and circling in the thousands until they drop. Migrating at night, birds are apt to collide with brightly lit tall buildings, immature birds on their first journey suffer disproportionately. Insects, of course, cluster around streetlights, and feeding at those insect clusters is now ingrained in the lives of many bat species. Some birds-blackbirds and nightingales, among others-sing at unnatural hours in the presence of artificial light. Scientists have determined that long artificial days-and artificially short nights- induce early breeding in a wide range of birds. And because of longer day allows for longer feeding, it can also affect migration schedules.

Artificial lighting seems to be taking the largest toll on bird populations. Nocturnal birds use the moon and stars for navigation during their bi-annual migrations.When they fly through a brightly-lit area, they become disoriented. The birds often crash into brilliantly-lit broadcast towers or buildings, or circle them until they drop from exhaustion.

Its benefits come with consequences- called light pollution- whose effects scientists are only now beginning to study. Light pollution is largely the result of bad lighting design, which allows artificial light to shine outward and upward into the sky, where it’s not wanted, instead of focusing it downward, where it is. Ill- designed lighting washes out the darkness of night and radically alters the light levels-and light rhythms- to which many forms of life, including ourselves, have adapted. Wherever human light spills into the natural world, some aspect of life-migration, reproduction, feeding- is affected.

Medical research on the effects of excessive light on the human body suggests that a variety of adverse health effects may be caused by light pollution or excessive light exposure. Health effects of over-illumination or improper spectral composition of light may include: increased headache incidence, worker fatigue, medically defined stress, decrease in sexual function and increase in anxiety.

Scientists have warned that children who sleep with a light on during the night could be ruining their eyesight. US scientists found that children who sleep with a light on are significantly more likely to grow up short-sighted and having to wear glasses, when compared to children who sleep in the dark.

Light pollution is a side effect of industrial civilization. Its sources include building exterior and interior lighting, advertising, commercial properties, offices, factories, streetlights, and illuminated sporting venues. It is most severe in highly industrialized, densely populated areas. Specific categories of light pollution include light trespass, over-illumination, glare, light clutter, and skyglow. A single offending light source often falls into more than one of these categories.

Light trespass occurs when unwanted light enters one's property, for instance, by shining over a neighbor's fence. A common light trespass problem occurs when a strong light enters the window of one's home from the outside, causing problems such as sleep deprivation or the blocking of an evening view. Congested areas like Upper Bazar, Ratu road, Harmu road, Ashok Nagar, Main road, Circular road in my Ranchi city is causing problem of light pollution in the form of light trespass.

Over-illumination is the excessive use of light especially during the marriage season or in festivals when Ranchi city and other parts of the India are exposed to over-illumination. Over-illumination is responsible for million barrels of oil per day in energy wasted.

Skyglow refers to the glow effect that can be seen over populated areas. It is the combination of all light reflected from what it has illuminated escaping up into the sky and from all of the badly directed light in that area that also escapes into the sky, being scattered (redirected) by the atmosphere back toward the ground.
There are ways to reduce light pollution, starting in your own neighborhood. Make sure outdoor lights reflect downward in what are called fully-shielded fixtures. Also consider exchanging high-wattage bulbs for dimmer ones and selecting warm-white lights with low emission of blue light. A great way to save energy and reduce trespassing light is to turn off outdoor lights unless needed.

By now the effort to control light pollution has spread around the globe. More and more cities and even entire countries, such as the Czech Republic, have committed themselves to reducing unwanted glare.