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Daily Current Affairs 19.06.2022 (PM launches a slew of projects in Gujarat, What drives sustained growth of Monkeypox cases, Quantum diamond microscope to image magnetic fields, How marine heatwave fuelled super cyclone Amphan)

Daily Current Affairs 19.06.2022 (PM launches a slew of projects in Gujarat, What drives sustained growth of Monkeypox cases, Quantum diamond microscope to image magnetic fields, How marine heatwave fuelled super cyclone Amphan)

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1. PM launches a slew of projects in Gujarat

357-km dedicated freight corridor track worth over 16,000 crore is among the works flagged off

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday launched schemes and projects worth ₹21,000 crore in his home State Gujarat that goes to the Assembly polls in six months.

In his fifth visit to the State since March, Mr. Modi, in Vadodara, laid the foundation stone of projects for Indian Railways worth more than ₹16,000 crore, which includes a new 357-km Palanpur-Madar section of a dedicated freight corridor (DFC) track.

He laid foundation stones for the redevelopment of Surat, Udhna, Somnath and Sabarmati railway stations in the State.

He dedicated 1,38,000 houses worth ₹1,800 crore in urban areas and ₹1,530 crore in rural areas. The houses have been built as part of Pradhan Mantri Avas Yojna (PMAY) scheme.

Additionally, he laid the foundation stone for a new campus of the Central university near Vadodara. The new campus will be developed at a cost of around ₹425 crore and will be able to accommodate over 2,500 students. Currently, the Gujarat Central University functions from a temporary campus in Gandhinagar.

Ahead of the Assembly polls, the PM launched the “Mukhyamantri Matrushakti Yojana” nutrition scheme for pregnant and nursing mothers.

With an outlay of ₹800 crore, the scheme will see monthly supply of 2 kg of chickpeas, 1 kg of yellow toor dal and 1 kg of edible oil free of cost from anganwadi centres for three years. This scheme was announced in the Budget presented in the Assembly for the year 2022-23.

“Making the lives of women easier, reducing their troubles and giving them opportunities to move ahead — these are some of the topmost priorities of our government,” the Prime Minister said, addressing a convention of women in Vadodara.

He added that nutritional deficiency was a big challenge in Gujarat when he took over as Chief Minister in 2001 and since then, the State government launched many schemes to address the issue and help women in improving their nutritional values.

The Poshan Sudha Yojana, another programme that addresses the nutritional needs of pregnant women, has been expanded to all tribal-dominated areas of Gujarat in which around 1.36 lakh tribal women will benefit from it on a monthly basis.

During his speech, the PM also talked about various schemes and welfare programmes his government has launched catering to different segments of society.

Ahead of the Asembly polls, the Prime Minister has been criss-cossing the State visiting it almost once a month. He has also launched projects and attended around a dozen social events via videoconferencing since March in the State.

Dedicated Freight Corridor (DFC):

  • It is a high speed & high-capacity railway corridor that is exclusively meant for the transportation of freight (goods & commodities).
  • On the normal lanes, goods trains must make way for passenger trains, thereby delaying freight movement.
  • The surging power needs requiring heavy coal movement, booming infrastructure construction, & growing international trade has led to the conception of the Dedicated Freight Corridors.
  • DFC involves the seamless integration of better infrastructure & state of the art technology.
  • It will allow for efficient & fast movement of freight (very important for the horticulture sector).

DFC consists of two arms:

  • Eastern Dedicated Freight Corridor (EDFC):
  • It starts at Sahnewal (Ludhiana) in Punjab and ends at Dankuni in West Bengal.
  • The EDFC route has coal mines, thermal power plants and industrial cities. Feeder routes are also being made for these.
  • The EDFC route covers Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal.
  • The World Bank is funding a majority of the EDFC.
  • The 351-km-long ‘New Bhaupur-New Khurja section’ will decongest the existing Kanpur-Delhi main line and double the speed of freight trains from 25 kmph to 75 kmph.
  • Western Dedicated Freight Corridor (WDFC):
  • The other arm is the around 1,500-km WDFC from Dadri in Uttar Pradesh to Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust in Mumbai, touching all major ports along the way.
  • The WDFC covers Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh.
  • It is being funded by the Japan International Cooperation Agency.
  • Connecting Link for Eastern and Western Arm: It is under construction between Dadri and Khurja.
  • The industrial corridor of Delhi-Mumbai and Amritsar-Kolkata are also being developed around both these DFCs.

Significance:

  • Increased Capacity:

The DFC shall reform the transportation sector and will create more capacity on trunk routes of Indian Railways as goods trains shall be able to run freely on DFC without any restrictions imposed by movement of passenger trains.

  • Decongestion:

Around 70% of the freight trains currently running on the Indian Railway network are slated to shift to the freight corridors, leaving the paths open for more passenger trains.

  • Business Generation:

Tracks on DFC are designed to carry heavier loads than most of Indian Railways. DFC will get track access charge from the parent Indian Railways, and also generate its own freight business.

  • Punctuality:

The new section means on the Indian Railway main line, more passenger trains can be pumped in and those trains can, in turn, achieve better punctuality.

Benefits:

  • Logistics costs will be reduced.
  • Higher energy efficiency.
  • Faster movement of goods.
  • It is environmentally friendly.
  • It will provide ease of doing business.
  • Helps in generating more employment.

2. What drives sustained growth of monkeypox cases

Sustained transmission in heterosexual population is unlikely in all scenarios studied

As of June 15, a total of 1,882 monkeypox cases have been lab-confirmed from more than 30 countries across the world. With 1,158 confirmed cases from 22 countries, Europe has reported the highest number of cases so far, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. The U.S. has reported 83 cases across 19 States as of June 16.

While monkeypox has been endemic in about a dozen countries in Central and West Africa, the virus is not endemic in people. “Nearly all” monkeypox outbreaks in these countries have been due to the virus jumping across the species barrier from animals to humans.

Sustained human-to-human transmission in the endemic countries has been “rare”, Dr. Christian Happi from the African Centre of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases (ACEGID), Redeemer’s University, Nigeria and others write in a report posted in virological.org.

Outbreaks in the endemic countries in Africa have witnessed only a “limited” proportion of cases spread among humans, with sustained transmission observed only up to seven generations. And the basic reproduction number (R0) for monkeypox in the endemic countries has been less than one, even among populations that have not received smallpox vaccination. The basic reproduction number being less than one would mean that “outbreaks would fade out if without continuous introductions from animals”, Dr. Akira Endo from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, London, tweeted.

In contrast, the current outbreak in the U.S., Europe, Middle East and Australia has shown a clear trend of sustained spread among people, particularly among men who have sex with men (MSM). Before this outbreak, there have been about 100 cases of monkeypox cases outside Africa, with the outbreak in the U.S in 2003 being the biggest with over 70 people infected by the virus. But all the 70 cases were due to exposure to imported animals with no human-to-human transmission reported back then. In the past, outside Africa, the virus had spread to just one healthcare worker and two household contacts, a far cry from the sustained human-to-human transmission now being reported. 

Modelling exercise

To explain the vastly different pattern of spread to a large number of people within a month after the first case was reported in the U.K. on May 7, Dr. Endo and others used a mathematical model based on sexual partnership data in the U.K., to explain the epidemiology of the current outbreak. The results of the modelling exercise have been posted in medRxiv preprint server; preprints are yet to be peer-reviewed.

Increased importation of the virus, undetected spread in the community, virus evolution, and increased susceptibility to monkeypox virus infection due to smallpox vaccination coming to an end a few decades ago could be possible reasons for the current outbreak outside Africa The researchers point out that most of these factors are “not strongly supported by external (if indirect) evidence” nor able to explain human spread predominantly among men who have sex with men (MSM) and not widespread in the general population in the community. 

The driver

The researchers found that a “small fraction of individuals who have disproportionately large numbers of partners” must be responsible for the sustained human-to-human transmission of the virus among men who have sex with men.

This is the largest outbreak predominantly among men who have sex with men. In Nigeria, higher prevalence and lesions in the genital area have been recorded in a recent outbreak.

“Our model suggests that the MSM population has possibly always been at risk of a sustained outbreak. The reason we haven’t seen an outbreak among MSM before might be that the virus had not reached this network given how few cases there were in total,” Dr. Endo tweeted.

The researchers explain this in more detail in the preprint when they say that monkeypox virus always had a “substantial transmission potential in the MSM” community even in the past but the small number of imported cases outside Africa likely resulted in the virus not spreading to this network resulting in large-scale transmission.

The researchers also modelled outbreaks that are sexually associated in both MSM and non-MSM populations. They considered varying assumptions for the risk of transmission between sexual partners in both these groups.

In contrast to a small fraction of MSM individuals who have a large number of partners thus increasing the virus spread to many people in the MSM community, the researchers found sustained spread in the non-MSM population “unlikely” due to less probability of a few individuals having multiple sex partners. But “10-10,000 additional cases may be observed if a substantial number of infections are introduced into the non-MSM sexual contact network,” they write. 

Seeding the outbreak

They note that a “very small number of sexually-associated transmissions” in the MSM community is sufficient to cause a large outbreak. In contrast, a large number of non-sexually-associated imported cases are needed for the virus to gain a foothold in the MSM community and then spread to large number of people through sexually-associated spread. And this may be the reason why the virus did not reach the MSM community in the past through imported non-sexual cases. They note that better surveillance in the endemic countries might be needed if the current outbreak outside Africa in the MSM community had come about from a few sexually-associated cases imported from the endemic countries.

“Without sufficient interventions, we may see continued growth in MSM. Monkeypox virus can infect anyone; the non-MSM population will also be affected if we fail to contain it. Tailored and non-stigmatising messaging/support for those at highest risk would be key to earliest containment,” Dr Endo tweeted. Targeted messaging is necessary for prevention and early detection of cases among MSM who have multiple partners, the authors write. 

3. Quantum diamond microscope to image magnetic fields

Researchers tap fluorescence changes in special, diamond sensors to image time-varying fields

Researchers from the Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) at Mumbai and Kharagpur have built a microscope that can image magnetic fields within microscopic two-dimensional samples that change over milliseconds. This has a huge potential for scientific applications, such as in measuring biological activity of neurons and dynamics of vortices in superconductors. The work, led by IIT Bombay professor Kasturi Saha, from the Department of Electrical Engineering, has been published in Scientific Reports. This is the first time that such a tool has been built to image magnetic fields that change within milliseconds. 

Capturing change

Prof. Saha explains that the ideal frame rate to capture a changing magnetic field is one that captures data at twice the frequency of the changing field. Signals in nature exhibit a range of frequencies — magnetism in geological rock samples and rare earth magnets can be constant over months; magnetic nanoparticle aggregation inside living cells takes place in minutes; action potentials in neurons are fast, taking milliseconds, whereas precession of atomic spins in complex molecules takes only microseconds. The instrument that this team has built works in the millisecond range. 

The key aspect of this sensor is a “nitrogen vacancy (NV) defect centre” in a diamond crystal. Such NV centres act as pseudo atoms with electronic states that are sensitive to the fields and gradients around them (magnetic fields, temperature, electric field and strain).

“Notably, the fluorescence emitted from these NV centres encodes the magnetic field information,” says Prof. Saha. “During the measurement of ultra-small magnetic fields, the change in the fluorescence levels is extremely small and therefore, limits the imaging frame rate and degrades the signal-to-noise ratio of the measurement.”

In order to overcome this limitation, the researchers employed a “lock-in detection scheme” which selects light fluctuations of a small frequency range, rejecting others, and thereby improving the sensitivity to small changes in fluorescence. 

Improved frame rates

Earlier reported magnetic field imaging frame rates were close to 1-10 minutes per frame. This would increase to about half an hour per frame for challenging samples like biological cells. The instrument built by this group exhibits an imaging frame rate of about 50-200 frames per second, which would translate into a frame acquisition time of about 2-5 milliseconds. “It enables imaging of millisecond scale magnetisation changes in micro-magnets, dynamic micro scale thermometry in cells and with further improvements, might enable probing action potentials in mammalian neurons,” says Prof. Saha.

A special diamond crystal, one micrometre thick, embedded with a high density of such NV centres is created. This acts as a sensor when a thin two-dimensional sample is brought close to it — less than 10 micrometre. Using this technique, the researchers can image a 150 micrometre by 150 micrometre field of view, which is quite an achievement. 

“The NV centre imaging technique is a unique tool in the context of imaging microscale magnetic field variations in any sample,” says Prof. Saha.

The team had started a collaboration with IIT Kharagpur in 2017 with the ambitious target of building a novel system to image the brain. They collaborated with Sharba Bandopadhyay, who brought in an expertise in neurobiology and bioengineering to complement the knowledge of quantum optics, quantum computing and quantum sensing that was Prof. Saha’s forte.

“We have, along with PhD student Madhur Parashar, developed an algorithm to image neurons in 3D using NV quantum sensors,” says Prof. Saha.

This work was published in Communications Physics in 2020. We have jointly filed a patent for the present work, she adds.

4. How marine heatwave fuelled super cyclone Amphan

Besides surface warming, ocean stratification and warming below the surface also played a role

Rising greenhouse gas emission is the primary factor for anthropogenic (human-induced) climate change. The increase in carbon dioxide concentration can trap the radiation into the atmosphere and not let it go into space. This trapping of the extra energy increases the average surface air temperature and warms the climate that we know as global warming.

As the capacity of the atmosphere to absorb the heat is very less, more than 90% of the extra heat that has been trapped in the climate system has been absorbed by the oceans since 1970, according to IPCC AR5, and IPCC AR6 reports. Due to this, oceans are warming globally from the surface to deeper depths. The warming of the oceans has severe consequences such as increasing intensity and frequency of extreme events, rising sea levels, melting glaciers, and changing the weather pattern across the globe.

Faster warming

Previous studies have shown that due to global warming, the tropical Indian Ocean, at the surface, is warming at a faster rate as compared to the rest of the global ocean. The high sea surface temperatures are more susceptible to generating extreme temperature conditions that persist over days to months and are termed as Marine Heatwaves (MHWs). This intense warming of the ocean due to MHW has severe socio-economic consequences such as fish mortality, and coral bleaching, and also has the potential to interact and modify other extreme events such as tropical cyclones.

The anthropogenic warming of the oceans and atmosphere facilitates the generation and intensification of extreme events such as MHWs and tropical cyclones. Both marine heat waves and tropical cyclones are the extreme events of the ocean-atmosphere coupled system. Our study, published in the Frontiers in Climate, is the first study conducted in the Indian Ocean that investigates the interaction between a marine heatwave and super cyclone Amphan in the Bay of Bengal in May 2020. The co-occurrence of multiple extreme events (e.g. in our case the co-occurring marine heatwave and tropical cyclone) are termed compound extreme events.

Sea surface temperature

The Bay of Bengal exhibits high sea surface temperatures (about 28°C) throughout the year and is more prone to tropical cyclones. The Bay of Bengal is home to about 5-7% of the total number of tropical cyclones occurring globally each year and this makes the North Indian Ocean vulnerable to the highest number of fatalities globally. Amphan was the first super cyclone in the Bay of Bengal in the last 21 years and intensified from category 1 (cyclonic storm) to category 5 (super cyclone) in less than 24 hours. Amphan was also the costliest tropical cyclone on record in the North Indian Ocean, with reported economic losses of approximately $14 billion in India, according to the World Meteorological Organisation and 129 casualties across India and Bangladesh. According to the latest IPCC report (AR6), Amphan was the largest source of displacement in 2020, with 2.4 million displacements in India alone, out of which around 8,00,000 was pre-emptive evacuation by the authorities. Our study investigates the reasons that made this unusual and unprecedented rapid intensification of cyclone Amphan into a devastating super cyclonic storm.

The cause

We found the presence of a strong MHW beneath the track of the cyclone with an extremely high anomalous sea surface temperature of more than 2.5°C that coincided with the cyclone track and facilitated its rapid intensification in a short period. We have also compared the super cyclone Amphan to a previous extremely severe cyclone Fani in May 2019 with a near similar trajectory. We found that the total life span of Amphan over the ocean was five days as compared to Fani which was for seven days but Fani did not turn into a super cyclone as Amphan did.

The main difference between these two cyclones was the presence of MHW in the case of Amphan, which was not there in the case of Fani. We also infer that despite short duration and unfavourable atmospheric conditions relative to Fani, Amphan turned into a super cyclone, primarily fuelled by a strong MHW on its way. Apart from the surface warming, the study also shows that ocean stratification and warming below the surface also play a crucial role during this phenomenon of compound extreme events.

Our study along with previous studies also discusses that such compound or individual extreme events are going to increase in the future due to global warming and the Indian Ocean will witness the increased intensity and frequency of such climate extremes. Hence, our study provides new perspectives on the interactions between different extreme events that could aid in improving the current understanding of compound extreme events that have severe socio-economic consequences in affected countries. We believe that our study will be very helpful for the political and scientific authorities to make better disaster management and mitigation planning for our vulnerable coastal communities from such extreme events.

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