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Daily Current Affairs 18.07.2021 (International gang under watch for selling stolen credit details, Concerns remain over anti-trafficking Bill, ‘Our goal is to reach a political settlement that will ensure lasting peace’, AI tool developed to study cancer-causing mutations)

Daily Current Affairs 18.07.2021 (International gang under watch for selling stolen credit details, Concerns remain over anti-trafficking Bill, ‘Our goal is to reach a political settlement that will ensure lasting peace’, AI tool developed to study cancer-causing mutations)

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1.International gang under watch for selling stolen credit details

A city-based gang of skimmers used their services through the dark web

An international gang has come to the notice of the police for selling stolen credit card details through the dark web to a city-based gang. The gang used virtual currency through a cryptocurrency exchange operating from India for buying the stolen data.

Following the recent arrest of a gang — Lala Chandan, 32, and Praveen Kishore 30, natives of Tiruchi, and Sikkander Badusha, 37, of Begampet, Dindigul — for skimming, the cyber crime cell in Adyar seized skimmer devices and cards from them, and came to know of a wider network.

The prime accused had adopted a modus operandi to make money from identity theft.

Sources said they were downloading stolen credit/debit card details online from a website with cryptocurrency, which is not legal tender.

Global scale

“Unknown cyber criminals upload details of stolen cards from across the globe onto a website on the dark web. Through this, anyone can download from anywhere by paying cryptocurrency,” a police officer said. “

“It is an international network of shady businesses. The cyber criminals are selling data, such as credit card numbers with CVV details. Criminals on our side buy them for the bitcoin equivalent of $17 or $18. Since they have to pay in cryptocurrency, they receive them from an exchange in India after paying local currency. There is a need for bringing in stricter laws for cryptocurrency exchanges. Since, money transactions happen virtually, they are not under the supervision of the Reserve Bank of India, and there is no way a law enforcement agency can get a hold of the data,” an officer said.

“If we block the present IP of the shady operator, they will run their services on another IP. The card details are being stolen by skimming ATMs, compromising security credentials and phishing voice calls, and all this data are put up for sale at a single point. If a card belonging to an European national is stolen this way and used here, where will he/she go and complain? Such cases are challenges for law enforcement agencies,” a senior police officer said.

Modus operandi

The police identified the Indian cryptocurrency exchange and the credit card website used by the trio. After downloading the data, the gang programmed blank cards using a writer machine, and used them to steal money through ATMs and point of sale machines at different outlets.

Deputy Commissioner of Police, Adyar, V. Vikraman said, “We are taking all-out efforts to bring those involved to book. People should be cautious when using credit cards. They should not reveal CVV details, and should not have it written down or stored as cookies.”

This article is based upon “Catching the New Tech Wave” which was published in the Indian Express on 31/05/2021. It talks about the increasing significance of Cryptocurrencies across the world and why India needs to accept it in order to go hand in hand with the world in the upcoming phase of digital revolution.

With the creation of Bitcoin in 2008 till present date, cryptocurrencies have gained much significance all around the world. The gains made by this sector since the onset of Covid-19 pandemic in January 2020 are astounding; the “cryptomarket” grew by over 500%.

However, in the 2018-19 budget speech, the Finance Minister announced that the government does not consider cryptocurrencies as legal tender.

Considering the fact India was a late adopter in all the previous phases of the digital revolution – when semiconductors, the internet and smartphones made their mark, there is a need for a change in the thoughts and acceptance for these virtual currencies as they mark India’s first step towards entering the new phase of digital revolution.

Cryptocurrencies

  • Rise of Cryptocurrencies: The pioneer cryptocurrency, Bitcoin, was traded at just $0.0008 in 2010 and commanded a market price of about $65,000 in April 2021.
    • Many newer coins have also been introduced since Bitcoin’s launch and their cumulative market value touched $2.5 trillion by May 2021.
  • Significance of Cryptocurrencies:
    • Corruption Check: As blocks run on a peer-to-peer network, it helps keep corruption in check by tracking the flow of funds and transactions.
    • Time Effective: Cryptocurrencies can help save money and substantial time for the remitter and the receiver, as it is conducted entirely on the Internet, runs on a mechanism that involves very less transaction fees and is almost instantaneous.
    • Cost Effective: Intermediaries such as banks, credit card and payment gateways draw almost 3% from the total global economic output of over $100 trillion, as fees for their services.
      • Integrating blockchain into these sectors could result in hundreds of billions of dollars in savings.
  • Cryptocurrencies in India: In 2018, The RBI issued a circular preventing all banks from dealing in cryptocurrencies. This circular was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in May 2020.
    • Recently, the government has announced to introduce a bill; Cryptocurrency and Regulation of Official Digital Currency Bill, 2021, to create a sovereign digital currency and simultaneously ban all private cryptocurrencies.
    • In India, the funds that have gone into the Indian blockchain start-ups account for less than 0.2% of the amount raised by the sector globally.
      • The current approach towards cryptocurrencies makes it near-impossible for blockchain entrepreneurs and investors to acquire much economic benefit.

Issues Associated with Banning Decentralised Cryptocurrencies

  • Blanket Ban: The intended ban is the essence of the Cryptocurrency and Regulation of Official Digital Currency Bill, 2021. It seeks to prohibit all private cryptocurrencies in India.
    • However, categorising the cryptocurrencies as public (government-backed) or private (owned by an individual) is inaccurate as the cryptocurrencies are decentralised but not private.
    • Decentralised cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin aren’t or rather, can’t be controlled by any entity, private or public.
  • Brain-Drain: Ban of cryptocurrencies is most likely to result in an exodus of both talent and business from India, similar to what happened after the RBI’s 2018 ban.
    • Back then, blockchain experts moved to countries where crypto was regulated, such as Switzerland, Singapore, Estonia and the US.
    • With a blanket ban, blockchain innovation, which has uses in governance, data economy and energy, will come to a halt in India.
  • Deprivation of Transformative Technology: A ban will deprive India, its entrepreneurs and citizens of a transformative technology that is being rapidly adopted across the world, including by some of the largest enterprises such as Tesla and MasterCard.
  • An Unproductive Effort: Banning as opposed to regulating will only create a parallel economy, encouraging illegitimate use, defeating the very purpose of the ban.
    • A ban is infeasible as any person can purchase cryptocurrency over the internet.
  • Contradictory Policies: Banning cryptocurrency is inconsistent with the Draft National Strategy on Blockchain, 2021 of the Ministry of Electronics and IT (MeitY), which hailed blockchain technology as transparent, secure and efficient technology that puts a layer of trust over the internet.

2.Concerns remain over anti-trafficking Bill

It is likely to be taken up during monsoon session

There are high hopes and some concerns surrounding the Trafficking in Persons (Prevention, Care and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2021, likely to be tabled in the monsoon session of Parliament.

Several anti-human trafficking organisations, lawyers and researchers have welcomed the draft of the Bill which states that the legislation is aimed at preventing and countering trafficking in persons, especially women and children, to provide for care, protection, and rehabilitation to the victims, while respecting their rights, and creating a supportive legal, economic and social environment for them, and also to ensure prosecution of offenders.

NIA to be nodal agency

The draft Bill also states that the National Investigation Agency (NIA) shall act as the national investigating and coordinating agency responsible for prevention and combating of trafficking in persons and other offences under this Act, as well as for investigation and prosecution and coordination in cases of trafficking in personsof such cases.

Pompi Banerjee, a psychologist and anti-trafficking activist associated with the Kolkata-based NGO Sanjog, said the Bill (also referred as the TIP Bill) had been built on the feedback and criticism that the Ministry of Women and Child Development received on the 2018 Bill on the same issue.

Ms. Banerjee who is associated with Tafteesh, a platform of anti-trafficking stakeholders, pointed out that the Bill also defines human trafficking as an organised crime with international implications and attempts to move away from conflating trafficking with sex work, while upholding the right of survivors to rehabilitation and compensation independent of criminal proceedings.

Experts working in the area of human trafficking said the draft Bill, which has been put on website of Ministry of Women and Child Development, is not clear about how the NIA as a nodal agency will gather information and intelligence through anti-human trafficking Units (AHTUs) at the district and State levels. The Ministry of Home Affairs had mandated the AHTUs for conducting inter-State probe in cases of human trafficking and allocated budgets to them.

Rescue protocol

Kaushik Gupta, a Calcutta High Court lawyer who has taken up several cases of human trafficking, said the draft Bill at present was largely silent on rescue protocols except the “reason to believe” by a police officer not below the rank of a sub-inspector. “This makes the role of AHTUs unclear in the rescue and post-rescue processes,” Mr. Gupta said.

There are also concerns about absence of community-based rehabilitation.

Representatives of Durbar, the largest sex workers collective based out of Kolkata, have said that the Bill criminalises sex work and the choice of sex work as a profession. “The Bill mixes up the issue of trafficking and sex work,” said a statement from Durbar. Prostitution and pornography have been added to the definition of exploitation and are considered to be trafficking, while the issue of consent has been made irrelevant, the statement said.

Why in News

Recently the Ministry of Women and Child Development released Draft anti-trafficking Bill, the Trafficking in Persons (Prevention, Care and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2021.

  • The bill once finalised will need the Cabinet approval and assent from both the houses of Parliament to become a Law.
  • A previous draft had been introduced in 2018 but that could not be introduced in Rajya Sabha amid stiff opposition from Parliamentarians and experts.

Key Points

  • Criticism to the Old Bill:
    • According to the United Nations’ human rights experts, it was not in accordance with the international human rights laws.
  • The Bill seemed to combine sex work and migration with trafficking.
  • The Bill was criticised for addressing trafficking through a criminal law perspective instead of complementing it with a human-rights based and victim-centred approach.
    • It was also criticised for promoting “rescue raids” by the police as well as institutionalisation of victims in the name of rehabilitation.
    • It was pointed out that certain vague provisions would lead to blanket criminalisation of activities that do not necessarily relate to trafficking.
  • Provisions in the New Bill:
    • It extends to all citizens inside as well as outside India,

      • Persons on any ship or aircraft registered in India wherever it may be or carrying Indian citizens wherever they may be,
      • A foreign national or a stateless person who has his or her residence in India at the time of commission of offence under this Act, and
      • The law will apply to every offence of trafficking in persons with cross-border implications.
    • Victims Covered:
      • It extends beyond the protection of women and children as victims to now include transgenders as well as any person who may be a victim of trafficking.
      • It also does away with the provision that a victim necessarily needs to be transported from one place to another to be defined as a victim.
    • Defines ‘Exploitation’:
      • The exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation including pornography, any act of physical exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or forced removal of organs, illegal clinical drug trials or illegal bio-medical research.
    • Government Officers as Offenders:
      • Offenders will also include defence personnel and government servants, doctors and paramedical staff or anyone in a position of authority.
    • Penalty:
      • A minimum of seven years which can go up to an imprisonment of 10 years and a fine of Rs 5 lakh in most cases of child trafficking.
      • In case of the trafficking of more than one child, the penalty is now life imprisonment.
    • Similarity to Money laundering Act:
      • Property bought via such income as well as used for trafficking can now be forfeited with provisions set in place, similar to that of the money laundering Act.
    • Investigation Agency:
      • The National Investigation Agency (NIA) shall act as the national investigating and coordinating agency responsible for prevention and combating of trafficking in persons.
    • National Anti-Human Trafficking Committee:
      • Once the law is enacted, the Centre will notify and establish a National Anti-Human Trafficking Committee, for ensuring overall effective implementation of the provisions of this law.
      • This committee will have representation from various ministries with the home secretary as the chairperson and secretary of the women and child development ministry as co-chair.
      • State and district level anti-human trafficking committees will also be constituted.
  • Significance:
    • The transgender community, and any other person, has been included which will automatically bring under its scope activity such as organ harvesting.
    • Also, cases such as forced labour, in which people lured with jobs end up in other countries where their passports and documentation is taken away and they are made to work, will also be covered by this new law.
  • Legislations in India that Prohibits Human Trafficking:
    • Article 23 (1) in the constitution of India prohibits trafficking in human beings and forced labour.
    • The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956 (ITPA) penalizes trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation.
    • India also prohibits bonded and forced labour through the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act 1976, Child Labour (Prohibition and Abolition) Act 1986, and Juvenile Justice Act.
    • Sections 366(A) and 372 of the Indian Penal Code, prohibits kidnapping and selling minors into prostitution respectively.
    • Apart from this, the Factories Act, 1948 guaranteed the protection of rights of workers.
  • International Conventions, Protocols and Campaigns:
    • Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children in 2000 as a part of the UN Convention Against Transnational Organised Crime.The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) is responsible for implementing the protocol. It offers practical help to states with drafting laws, creating comprehensive national anti-trafficking strategies, and assisting with resources to implement them.
    • Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air. It entered into force on 28th January 2004. This also supplements the UN Convention Against Transnational Organised Crime. The Protocol is aimed at the protection of rights of migrants and the reduction of the power and influence of organized criminal groups that abuse migrants.
    • Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) is a non-binding declaration that establishes the right of every human to live with dignity and prohibits slavery.
    • Blue Heart Campaign: The Blue Heart Campaign is an international anti-trafficking program started by the UNODC.
    • Sustainable Development Goals: Various SDGs aim to end trafficking by targeting its roots and means viz. Goal 5 (Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls), Goal 8 (Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all) and Goal 16 (Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels).

3.‘Our goal is to reach a political settlement that will ensure lasting peace’

Afghanistan needs Pakistan for peace, and it wants an enduring and predictable relationship with the neighbour, says the Afghan President

Afghanistan is facing a “Battle for the Republic’s values”, says President Ashraf Ghani, referring to the Taliban’s advances and a desire to establish an Islamic emirate in the country. He conceded the militants had won some battles, but remains confident the Afghan forces would prevail.

The situation at the border with Pakistan seems to be getting more and more violent, and an Indian photojournalist has been killed. Pakistan has denied it threatened missile strikes on the Afghan Air Force if it tries to clear Taliban from the area. Could you give us some clarity on the situation there?

I cannot give you any clarity, because I’ve been in non-stop meetings from early morning [in Tashkent], and that clarification will have to come from Kabul. But I would like to give my deepest sympathies to the family of the Indian journalist, to the journalistic community of India, and to all to journalists around the world.

There were some strong words at your speech at the connectivity conference here, especially as you named the Pakistan PM for making promises on the Taliban that haven’t been kept, right as he was sitting a few feet away. Why do you feel so disappointed?

We need Pakistan for peace. We need an enduring relationship, a predictable relationship with Pakistan. We are a plain-speaking people. And I need to reflect with logic and rigour, about the emotions of our people… because if they are not given expression, they will find other channels, and I don’t want further destructive relationships between us.

The Taliban have made gains on different towns, different border checkposts as well. Do you think the Afghan National Defence and Security forces (ANDSF) are going to be able to hold them back, or do they need to change tactics?

Firstly, winning battles is not winning the war. They [the Taliban] have won battles. But, they’re going to lose the war, and we are determined. We need to rebalance [the situation], but our goal is not winning the war militarily. Our goal is to arrive at a political settlement that will ensure a just and lasting peace. I don’t want my country to become Algeria or Iraq, or Syria, or Lebanon or Yemen.

But does the ANDSF have enough equipment, training they need?

If we went on a needs-based assessment, the world would not be able to fulfil our needs. Because what do we not want? This is a “Kennedy moment” for us combined with a “Lincoln moment”. A “Kennedy moment” because we have to give for our country, and a “Lincoln moment” because like Lincoln in 1861, we’re now facing the Battle of the Republic, which is for the values that the Islamic Republic [of Afghanistan] stands for. I don’t want the world to look at Afghanistan through the perspective of that America was here. It’s gone.

What is your expectation from India at this time… has Afghanistan asked for military support of any kind?

No, it has not. India has been a remarkable partner. I have the best of relations with the Prime Minister [Narendra Modi], who is wise. He has not asked of us something that will result in sacrificing our short, medium or long-term interests. India is a true partner. It’s the country with which we have a positive balance of trade. And what India stands for is the Salma dam, is the parliament building, Shahtoot dam, transmission lines. And India is going to be booming. We want to be a participant in the immense shift that India is witnessing in terms of leadership of the fourth industrial revolution.

Do you feel that Afghanistan becomes a casualty to the hostilities between India and Pakistan?

We hope that India and Pakistan will be able to reach a resolution because that will change all of Asia. But accusations are often made, that India is in every corner of Afghanistan, or there are 21 Indian consulates….

[interrupts] A former Pakistani Minister just said India had seven bases in Afghanistan…

It has none. None. And when [Pakistani leaders] engage in that kind of fabrication, there is no credibility.

The U.S. has said it is pulling out its troops, and along with NATO has nearly completed that pullout from Afghanistan. Britain says it will engage whoever comes to power in Afghanistan is acceptable, suggesting that even a Taliban government by force and the Islamic emirate would be acceptable. Do you feel abandoned?

No, no, I don’t . We have an engagement. As I mentioned, the assets that are left behind [by U.S.], the capabilities that are left behind, the immense transformation that has taken place in our lives, is a product of these 20 years of [Afghan-U.S.] partnership. But so is the other side of the equation, the violence, the disenchantment, etc. President Biden’s decision [to pull out troops] was not a surprise to me. We’ve respected it and I have the very best of relations with President Biden.

The U.S. also had a proposal which saw you step aside for a government of consensus. Would you be willing to do that?

My condition is that my successor be elected by the people of Afghanistan. It’s the greatest honour of my life to serve them. I will serve them till it’s necessary. At this moment, they need a Commander-in-Chief and that’s what they’ve got.

If the Taliban come in by force, do you think that the international community should come back to help ?

No. This is our job. The period of international engagement or use of force in Afghanistan is over.

Why in News

Recently, the USA President has envisaged a New Peace Initiative (Plan) to decide on the roadmap for peace in Afghanistan.

  • Under the plan, the USA proposed a regional conference under the United Nations auspices with foreign ministers of the USA, India, Russia, China, Pakistan and Iran to discuss a “unified approach” on Afghanistan.

Key Points

  • USA President’s New Peace Initiative:
    • Delay in Withdrawal of Troops: This peace plan has kept open the possibility that the USA troops, currently deployed in Afghanistan, might stay on for a longer time.
      • Under the earlier USA- Taliban Deal, the USA had promised to withdraw all troops by May, 2021.
    • Immediate Action: The USA is pressing the Taliban to accept an immediate agreement to reduce violence for 90 days that will provide the space for the peace initiative.
    • Inclusive Process: The USA will not be “dictating terms” to the Afghan parties, but facilitating an inclusive interim government, an agreement on the “foundational principles” for a new political order, and a “permanent and comprehensive ceasefire”.
    • Turkey’s Role: The USA is asking Turkey to convene a meeting of the government in Kabul (capital of Afghanistan) and the Taliban to finalise a peace settlement.
    • Unified Approach: The USA asked the United Nations to convene a meeting of the foreign ministers from China, Russia, Pakistan, Iran, India and the United States to develop a “unified approach” to peace in Afghanistan.
  • India’s Role in Peace Process Through “Unified Approach”:
    • India is an important player in the peace process – it has also been acknowledged by the USA.
    • India supports all efforts for peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan which are inclusive and Afghan-led, Afghan owned and Afghan-controlled.
    • India has invested heavily in infrastructure developments, training security forces and supplying them with necessary equipment.
    • India has a major stake in the stability of Afghanistan since it has invested considerable resources in Afghanistan’s development.
    • India hopes to have a role in setting the terms especially concerning terrorism, violence, women’s rights and democratic values.
  • India’s Interest in Afghanistan:
    • Economic and Strategic Interest: Afghanistan is a gateway to the oil and mineral-rich Central Asian republics.
      • Anyone who is in power in Afghanistan controls the land routes connecting India with Central Asia (via Afghanistan).
    • Developmental Projects: The massive reconstruction plans for the country to offer a lot of opportunities for Indian companies.
      • Major projects include the Afghan Parliament, the Zaranj-Delaram Highway, and the Afghanistan-India Friendship Dam (Salma Dam).
      • Also India’s assistance of more than USD 3 billion in projects, hundreds of small development projects (of schools, hospitals and water projects) have cemented its position in Afghanistan.
    • Security Interest: India has been the victim of state-sponsored terrorism emanating from Pakistan supported terrorist group operating in the region (e,g. Haqqani network). Thus, setting up a friendly government in Afghanistan can help tackling Pakistan supported terrorism.
  • Challenges:
    • The Afghan government as well as Taliban are unwilling for any power sharing.
      • Taliban is even not willing to give up its sanctuaries in Pakistan. Nor will it accept any dilution of the strict Islamic system that it wants to enforce.
    • Also, the Taliban is fragmented or divided internally. It is composed of various regional and tribal groups acting semi-autonomously.
      • Therefore, it is possible that some of them may continue to engage in violence impacting the peace process and dialogue.

4.AI tool developed to study cancer-causing mutations

Active and neutral mutations are distinguished by studying their neighbourhoods

Researchers at IIT Madras have developed an AI tool called NBDriver (neighbourhood driver) for use in analysing cancer-causing mutations in cells. By looking at the neighbourhood, or context, of a mutation in the genome, it can look at harmful “driver” mutations and distinguish them from neutral “passenger” mutations.

This technique of looking at the genomic neighbourhood to make out the nature of the mutation is a novel and largely unexplored one. In a paper published in the journal Cancers, the researchers explain that the nature of the mutation depends on the neighbourhood, and how this tool may be used to draw the line between driver and passenger mutations.

B. Ravindran, head of the Robert Bosch Centre for Data Science and AI at IIT Madras and one of the corresponding authors, said in a press release that one of the major challenges faced by cancer researchers involves the differentiation between the relatively small number of “driver” mutations that enable the cancer cells to grow and the large number of “passenger” mutations that do not have any effect on the progression of the disease.

In previously published techniques, researchers typically analysed DNA sequences from large groups of cancer patients, comparing sequences from cancer as well as normal cells and determined whether a particular mutation occurred more often in cancer cells than random, said Prof. Karthik Raman, from the biotechnology department of IIT Madras and another corresponding author. “However, this ‘frequentist’ approach often missed out on relatively rare driver mutations,” he noted, adding that some studies have also looked at the changes caused by the driver mutations in the production of essential biological products such as proteins.

Statistical modelling

The method of distinguishing between driver and passenger mutations solely by looking at the neighbourhood is novel. “Through robust statistical modelling, we show that there is a significant difference in the pattern of sequences (or context) surrounding the driver and passenger mutations,” said Shayantan Banerjee, who is a master’s student in the Department of Biotechnology, IIT Madras, and the lead author of the paper.

Accuracy of tool

The researchers studied a dataset containing 5,265 mutations to derive the model. According to Prof. Raman, NBDriver, had an overall accuracy of 89% and ranked second out of 11 prediction algorithms. In comparison, he said that the top performing tool, or FATHMM, achieved an accuracy of 91% on the same dataset.

For the future, the group aims to develop an easy-to-use drag-and-drop web interface that will enable cancer researchers with limited computational or programming skills to get predictions and extract genomic information on their preferred set of mutations. “We will also be pursuing further studies on the context [or neighbourhood] of these mutations, and how they impact the evolution of cancer. Why do we see differences in the context between the driver and passenger mutations in the first place?” said Prof Raman.

The group also plans that NBDriver will be a part of a broader cancer genomic sequence analysis “pipeline” being developed at the centres.

5.Rare Arctic lightning storms strike north of Alaska 

Meteorologists were stunned this week when three successive thunderstorms swept across the icy Arctic from Siberia to north of Alaska, unleashing lightning bolts in an unusual phenomenon that scientists say will become less rare with global warming.

“Forecasters hadn’t seen anything like that before,” said Ed Plumb, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Fairbanks, speaking about the storms that started on Saturday.

Typically, the air over the Arctic Ocean, especially when the water is covered with ice, lacks the convective heat needed to generate lightning storms. But as climate change warms the Arctic faster than the rest of the world, that’s changing, scientists say.

Tripled in frequency

Episodes of summer lightning within the Arctic Circle have tripled since 2010, a trend directly tied to climate change and increasing loss of sea ice in the far north, scientists reported in a March study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. As sea ice vanishes, more water is able to evaporate, adding moisture to the warming atmosphere.

“It’s going to go with the temperatures,” said co-author Robert Holzworth, an atmospheric physicist at the University of Washington in Seattle.

These electrical storms threaten boreal forests fringing the Arctic, as they spark fires in remote regions already baking under the round-the-clock summer sun.

The paper also documented more frequent lightning over the Arctic’s treeless tundra regions, as well as above the Arctic Ocean and pack ice. In August 2019, lightning even struck within 100 kilometers of the North Pole, the researchers found.

In Alaska alone, thunderstorm activity is on track to increase threefold by the end of the century if current climate trends continue, according to two studies by scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, published over the last year in the journal Climate Dynamics.

“What used to be very rare is now just rare,” said Rick Thoman, a climate scientist with the University of Alaska Fairbanks. As the parade of Arctic storms this week demonstrated, lightning is already appearing in unexpected places, he said. “I have no memory of three consecutive days of this kind of thing” in the Arctic.

On the water

On the water, the lightning is an increasing hazard to mariners, and vessel traffic is increasing as sea ice retreats, Holzworth said.

People can become lightning rods and usually try to get low for safety. That’s tough to do on flat tundra or ocean expanse. “What you really need is to pay better attention to the lightning forecasts,” he said.

About Arctic:

  • The Arctic is a polar region located at the northernmost part of Earth.
    • The Arctic consists of the Arctic Ocean, adjacent seas, and parts of Alaska (United States), Canada, Finland, Greenland (Denmark), Iceland, Norway, Russia, and Sweden.
    • Land within the Arctic region has seasonally varying snow and ice cover.
  • Ecological Impact of Warming on Arctic:
    • The loss of ice and the warming waters will affect sea levels, salinity levels, and current and precipitation patterns.
    • The Tundra is returning to swamp,the permafrost is thawing, sudden storms are ravaging coastlines and wildfires are devastating interior Canada and Russia. 
      • Tundra: Found in regions north of the Arctic Circle and south of the Antarctic Circle. These are treeless regions.
    • The phenomenally rich biodiversity of the Arctic region is under serious threat.
      • The absence of year-long ice and higher temperatures are making the survival of Arctic marine life, plants and birds difficult while encouraging species from lower latitudes to move north.
    • The Arctic is also home to about 40 different indigenous groups, whose culture, economy and way of life is in danger of being swept away.
      • Increasing human encroachment with its attendant stresses will only aggravate this impact and upset a fragile balance.
  • Commercial Importance of Arctic:
    • The opening of the Arctic presents huge commercial and economic opportunities, particularly in shipping, energy, fisheries and mineral resources.
    • Commercial navigation:
      • The Northern Sea Route (NSR) which would connect the North Atlantic to the North Pacific through a short polar arc is the most tempting.
    • Oil and natural gas deposits:
      • Estimated to be 22% of the world’s unexplored resources, mostly in the Arctic ocean, will be open to access along with mineral deposits including 25% of the global reserves of rare earths, buried in Greenland.
    • Issues Involved:
      • Navigation conditions are dangerous and restricted to the summer.
      • Lack of deep-water ports, a need for ice-breakers, shortage of workers trained for polar conditions, and high insurance costs add to the difficulties.
      • Mining and deep-sea drilling carry massive costs and environmental risks.
  • Unlike Antarctica, the Arctic is not a global common and there is no overarching treaty that governs it.
  • Conflict over Arctic:
    • Russia, Canada, Norway and Denmark have put in overlapping claims for extended continental shelves, and the right to sea-bed resources.
    • Russia is the dominant power, with the longest Arctic coastline, half the Arctic population, and a full-fledged strategic policy.
      • Claiming that the NSR falls within its territorial waters, Russia anticipates huge dividends from commercial traffic including through the use of its ports, pilots and ice-breakers.
      • Russia has also activated its northern military bases, refurbished its nuclear armed submarine fleet and demonstrated its capabilities, including through an exercise with China in the eastern Arctic.
    • China, playing for economic advantage, has moved in fast, projecting the Polar Silk Road as an extension of the Belt and Road Initiatives, and has invested heavily in ports, energy, undersea infrastructure and mining projects.
  • India’s interests in Arctic:
    • Environmental Interest:
      • India’s extensive coastline makes it vulnerable to the impact of Arctic warming on ocean currents, weather patterns, fisheries and most importantly, the monsoon.
    • Scientific Interest:
      • Scientific research in Arctic developments, in which India has a good record, will contribute to its understanding of climatic changes in the Third Pole, the Himalayas.
    • Strategic Interest:
      • The strategic implications of an active China in the Arctic and its growing economic and strategic relationship with Russia are self-evident and need close monitoring.
    • Since 2013, India has had observer status in the Arctic Council, which is the predominant inter-governmental forum for cooperation on the environmental and development aspects of the Arctic.
    • It is high time that its presence on the Arctic Council was underpinned by a strategic policy that encompassed economic, environmental, scientific and political aspects.
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