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Current Affairs for UPSC Civil Services Exam – June 07, 2024

{GS1 – Geo – PG – Climatology} Antarctica’s new river

  • Context (TOI): A recently discovered ancient river in Antarctica is providing new insights into the continent’s climatic history.

Antarctica's lost river - PMF IAS

Credits: Phys

  • This river system was buried under ice for millions of years and offers a unique window into the past.
  • The river’s channels stretch over 680 miles (Similar to the Rio Grande River in the U.S.).
  • Until 100 million years ago, Antarctica constituted the central part of the supercontinent Gondwana.
  • After Gondwana’s breakup, Antarctica established itself as an independent continent.

West Antarctica

  • Also known as Lesser Antarctica, it is located in the Western Hemisphere.
  • It is separated from East Antarctica by the Transantarctic Mountains, covered by a massive ice sheet.
  • This mountain range has been uplifting since the late Eocene as the steep shoulder of a continental rift, the West Antarctic Rift System.

Inferences from findings

  • Evidence suggested that West Antarctica was a river delta or estuary 34 to 44 million years ago (Eocene).
  • It suggests that Antarctica once had a milder climate, with conditions that could support flowing water.
  • The existence of such a transcontinental river system shows that – unlike today – large parts of West Antarctica must have been located above sea level as extensive, flat coastal plains.
  • Due to the low topography, West Antarctica was still ice-free at the end of the Eocene, while the mountainous regions of East Antarctica were already beginning to glaciate.
  • Uplift and erosion of the Transantarctic Mountains have since produced erosion debris.
  • The newly discovered river transported more than 1,500 km through the West Antarctic Rift System into the Amundsen Sea and deposited it as a swampy river delta.

Rio Grande River

  • Location: North America. Origin: San Juan Mountains of Colorado, USA.
  • Also known as Rio Bravo in Mexico, it flows into the Gulf of Mexico.
  • As a border between the US and Mexico, it forms an entry point for illegal migrants.

Rio Grande River - PMF IAS

{GS1 – Geo – PG – Geomorphology} Cold Lava

  • Context (ET): Cold Lava gushes through streets as Mount Kanlaon erupts in the Philippines.
  • Hundreds of people were evacuated, and dozens of flights were cancelled due to the ash cloud.
  • Earlier Cold lava from Mount Marapi (the most active volcano in Sumatra, Indonesia) resulted in the death of more than 40 people, and many went missing.
  • Both Mount Kanlaon and Mount Marapi are strato volcanoes situated in the Pacific Ring of Fire.

Cold lava - PMF IAS

Credits: NDTV

What is Cold Lava?

  • Cold lava, known as “lahar” in Indonesian and Tagalog, is a mixture of volcanic ash, water or melted snow, rock fragments, and pebbles that flows down the slopes of a volcano during rainfall.
  • These flows can be hot or cold, depending on their origin. It is mainly associated with stratovolcanoes.
  • It moves similarly to wet concrete, leads to quick flow and spreads far from the volcano.
  • It primarily travels down river valleys and can reach speeds of up to 75-80 kmph or more.

Expansion and Growth

  • It can rapidly expand, consuming and incorporating everything in its path, including rocks, soil, vegetation, and even man-made structures like buildings and bridges.
  • Water significantly influences lahar evolution (more than tenfold), increasing its volume, mobility, and destructive potential by melting snow and ice or engulfing river and lake water.
  • Thus, they are extremely dangerous, striking with little warning and causing widespread destruction.

Formation

  • Lahars can occur without volcanic eruptions, often triggered by heavy rainfall or landslides on volcano slopes covered in loose volcanic material.
  • Eruptions can also generate lahars by melting snow and ice or through pyroclastic flows.
  • Additionally, lake breakout floods caused by volcanic landslides can transform into lahars as they erode and incorporate more debris and water, significantly increasing their volume and destructive power.

How is it different from normal lava?

  • Normal lava is extremely hot and molten; lahars are not molten and vary in temperature.
  • Lava is molten rock; lahars are a mix of water and volcanic debris.
  • They can be more destructive and deadlier than regular lava flows because they affect a larger area.

{GS2 – IR – UN} UNSC non-permanent members

  • Context (IE): Pakistan, Somalia, Denmark, Greece and Panama were elected as non-permanent members of the UNSC.
  • The five members were elected by secret ballot in the UN General Assembly for a two-year term.
  • Candidates must receive two-thirds votes (129 votes out of the 193-member) of the General Assembly.
  • Pakistan was elected for the 8th time as a non-permanent member.
  • Originally, there were 11 members of the UNSC: 5 permanent and 6 non-permanent members.

1963 amendment to the UN Charter

  • Increased the number of non-permanent members in UNSC from 6 to 10.
  • Increased the number of affirmative votes required to pass any UNSC resolution from 7 to 9 (out of 15).
  • It set the pattern for geographic representation as follows:
    • 5 from African and Asian States
    • 1 from Eastern European States
    • 2 from the Latin American States
    • 2 from Western European and other States
  • UN Charter Article 27(3) states that votes in the Security Council on non-procedural matters “shall be made by an affirmative vote of nine members including the concurring votes of the permanent members“– this is often called the veto power of permanent members.

To know more, visit > United Nations.

{GS2 – Social Sector – Health – Issues} AI to counter AMR

  • Context (IE): A new study used machine learning to search for potential antibiotic agents in a huge database of microbes that live in environments such as soil, the ocean, and human and animal guts.
  • The algorithm sifted through potential protein sequences to find microbes with antimicrobial actions.
  • 863,498 new antimicrobial peptides were predicted, more than 90% of which had never been described.
  • Both proteins and peptides are made up of amino acids, but peptides contain far fewer amino acids than proteins. Like proteins, peptides are naturally present in foods.
  • The study observed that all the peptides had the same general mechanism of action for killing bacteria by disrupting their cell membranes.
  • Out of 100 peptides synthesised in the study, 63 specifically targeted antibiotic-resistant bacteria, such as Escherichia coli (E. coli) and Staphylococcus aureus.

Why this is so significant?

  • Scientists could tailor antibiotic properties to minimise their effects on “friendly” bacteria in the human gut, such as destroying beneficial gut microbiota.
  • The dataset can be used to create antibiotics against which bacteria do not develop resistance, greatly helping in the long-term fight against AMR.
  • The same techniques could be used to discover many other types of antibiotics, including bacteriophages.
  • However, the major challenge is creating new antibiotic agents that are commercially viable.

{GS3 – Envi – Air Pollution} Visualising Air Pollution

  • Context (TH): Researchers and artists collaborated on the “painting with light” project to make invisible air pollution visible in India, highlighting its health hazards.

‘Air of the Anthropocene’ Initiative

  • The “Air of the Anthropocene” is a groundbreaking international project that merges art and science to make the invisible threat of air pollution visible.
  • Air of the Anthropocene, funded by the National Lottery, was created by artist Robin Price and University of Birmingham scientist Professor Francis Pope.
  • The “Painting with light” technique creates impactful images that visualise air pollution.

Painting with light

  • It involves using low-cost sensors to measure particulate matter (PM) concentrations in real time.
  • These sensors control an LED array programmed to flash more rapidly as PM levels increase.
  • The LED array is moved in front of a camera during a long-exposure photograph. The result is a striking image where each light dot represents a level of air pollution – more dots signify higher pollution levels.
  • The team created photographic evidence of pollution levels in India, Ethiopia, and the UK.

'Painting with light' illuminates photo evidence of air pollution

Indoor Biomass Burning Kitchen, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia – PM 2.5 150 – 200 micrograms per cubic meter.

'Painting with light' illuminates photo evidence of air pollution

 Playground, Palampur, India PM2.5 30 – 40 micrograms per cubic meter

Credits: phys.org

Significance

  • The focus on PM is crucial because it is the most responsible for human morbidity and mortality. It’s linked to heart disease, stroke, and various cancers.
  • The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 99% of the global population breathes polluted air, causing approximately 7 million premature deaths annually.
  • By provoking emotions through images, the authorities can foster awareness and prompt action.
  • It is particularly crucial in Asia and Africa, where air quality has significantly deteriorated despite policy interventions, and there is an urgent need for prevention and control of air pollution.

{GS3 – Envi – CC Impacts} Warming groundwater due to climate change

  • Context (IE): As per a study published in the journal Nature Geoscience, groundwater is projected to warm by 2-3.5 degrees Celsius between 2000 and 2100 under a medium emissions scenario.

Implications of warming groundwater

Implications of warming groundwater - PMF IAS

Credit: Nature

Negative impacts

  • Threaten groundwater biodiversity due to impact on the reproductive cycles of temperature sensitive species.
  • Increase metabolic rates of microbes, thereby accelerating cycling of organic and inorganic matter.
  • Trigger harmful algal blooms due to an increase in soluble phosphorus.
  • Raise ambient temperature of surface water systems thermally influenced by groundwater discharge.
  • Threatens the thermal suitability of benthic ecosystems and spawning areas for fish, posing a major risk to fisheries and other dependent industries.
  • Impact on health due to growth of pathogens such as Legionella spp.
  • Impact on spring ecosystems. For e.g. changes in the reproduction cycles & food web interactions of crenobionts (true spring water species), as they have a very narrow temperature optimum and tolerance.

Positive impacts

  • Accumulated thermal energy can be recycled through shallow, low-carbon geothermal energy systems. Thus, it can satisfy local heating demands.

Status of groundwater in India

  • India is the largest user of groundwater in the world. It uses an estimated 230 cubic kilometers of groundwater per year – over a quarter of the global total.
  • Groundwater contributes approximately 62% to irrigation, about 85% to rural water supply, and roughly 45% to urban water consumption.
  • The Indo-Ganga-Brahmaputra plains, covering a mere 20% of the geographical area, possess 60% of the country’s groundwater resources, accentuating the concentrated distribution.

Groundwater depletion - PMF IAS

Credit: Indpaedia

Factors determining groundwater extraction

  • Size of landholdings
  • Density of population
  • Water-intensity of crops planted
  • Water users’ behaviour
  • Legislation and administration of groundwater
  • Power subsidies for pumping irrigation water

Impact of declining groundwater

  • On food security: A 1-meter decline in groundwater from its long-term mean results in an approximately 8 percent reduction in food grain production.
  • On poverty: As groundwater depth falls below 8 meters, poverty rates increase by around 11 percent.
  • On water quality and marine ecosystems: As water tables decline, the remaining groundwater is often subject to increased salinity and contamination. Higher salinity levels adversely affect the health of aquatic ecosystems, leading to changes in species composition and potential declines in biodiversity.
  • On topography: Excessive groundwater extraction is associated with land subsidence due to the compaction of aquifer sediments.
  • On water bodies: As aquifers are depleted, less water is discharged into coastal areas and oceans, contributing to a rise in sea levels and changes in the salinity levels of estuarine and coastal waters.
    • For e.g., Rivers such as the Indus and Colorado no longer reach the oceans as a consequence of decreased groundwater contributions.

Challenges to groundwater resource management

  • Unfettered legal access that landowners (such as farmers) have to extract groundwater.
  • Energy subsidies have led to excessive water extraction using electric pumps.
  • No powers with CGWB to stop GW extraction in identified critical areas.
  • Decisions such as cropping pattern and cropping intensity are usually made independent of groundwater availability.
  • Inefficient agricultural practices such as flood irrigation and over-irrigation.
  • Unregulated drilling of private wells and fragmented institutional responsibilities hinder effective governance.
  • Data collected by different government agencies, research institutions, and NGOs often exist in silos, making it challenging to develop a holistic understanding of the groundwater situation.
  • Widespread contamination of groundwater due to pollution by landfills, septic tanks, overuse of fertilisers and pesticides, and naturally occurring contaminants (arsenic, fluoride).

{GS3 – IE – Industry} India’s Services Sector Experiences Slight Slowdown

  • Context (ET): India’s services sector growth, as per HSBC India Services Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI), eased to a five-month low in May due to stiff competition, price pressures, and a severe heatwave.
  • It is compiled by S&P Global (earlier by IHS Markit). The PMI is an investor sentiment tracking index.
  • Despite the decline, the PMI remained above the 50-mark threshold, indicating continued expansion.
  • New international orders have surged due to rising sales, productivity gains, and robust demand.
  • The HSBC India Composite PMI Output Index, which measures aggregate output across both manufacturing and service sectors, also declined to 60.5 in May from 61.5 in April.
  • The service PMI serves as a crucial economic health indicator.
  • IHS Markit merged with S&P Global as its subsidiary. Post-merger, S&P Global now compiles various PMIs globally, including India’s Manufacturing and Services PMI.
  • PMI >50 implies expanding economic activity, and PMI <50 means contraction.

 

{GS3 – S&T – Space} Chang’e 6 – Lunar Sample Return

  • Context (TH): A small spacecraft of China’s Chang’e 6 lander carrying lunar samples (soil and rocks) lifted off from the moon’s far side and headed towards the orbiter in the Moon’s orbit.
  • This orbiter will transfer the samples to a returner, set to bring the first-ever far-side moon samples back to Earth (June 25) and mark China as the first and only nation to accomplish this feat.

What is expected from the sample?

  • The far-side samples are expected to provide critical insights into the moon’s asymmetrical nature – why the far side differs so dramatically from the near side.
  • These samples could shed light on the broader processes of planetary formation, offering lessons that extend beyond our moon to the formation of Earth and other celestial bodies.
  • The far side is characterised by rockier terrain and fewer smooth plains compared to the near side.
  • ISRO’s Chandrayaan programme is expected to launch a lunar sample-return mission in 2028.
  • India, along with other nations, has endorsed the US-led Artemis Accords, which facilitate collaborative lunar exploration endeavours aimed at fostering knowledge exchange in the upcoming decade.

{Prelims – Envi – Species} New species on Abyssal Plains

  • Context (Phys): Some fascinating animals were discovered during a deep-sea expedition between Mexico and Hawaii in the eastern Pacific Ocean.
  • The area studied is a part of the Abyssal Plains, which are deep-sea areas at depths of 3,500 to 5,500m.
  • The animals living in these deep-sea areas have adapted to a life with very little nutrition.
  • As a result, this animal population is dominated by filter feeders, such as sponges, and sediment feeders, such as sea cucumbers.
  • The lack of food causes individuals to live far apart with specialised adaptations.

Cup-shaped glass sponge

  • It is believed to have the longest lifespan of any creature on Earth, up to 15,000 years.
  • It spends its life filtering out nutrients from the never-ending fall of marine snow.

Cup-shaped glass sponge - PMF IAS

Credits: Petapixel

  • Organic debris falling from the more productive area close to the surface are known as Marine snow.

Pink sea pig (Barbie Pigs, genus Amperima)

  • The species moves very slowly with its tube feet across the desolate plains for nutrient-rich sediments.
  • The outgrowths on the front end of the underside are remodelled feet used to stuff food into the mouth.

    Pink sea pig - PMF IAS

    Credits: Petapixel

Sea cucumber (genus Amperima)

  • A see-through sea cucumber from genus Amperima is found and nicknamed the “unicumber”.
  • They act as ocean floor vacuum cleaners and specialise in finding sediment that has passed through the least number of stomachs.

    Sea cucumber - pmf ias

    Credits: Petapixel

{Prelims – In News} QS World University Rankings 2025

  • Context (HT): In the QS World University Ranking 2025, Indian universities improved, with MIT securing the top spot in the world, followed by Imperial College London.

Performance of Indian Universities

  • 61% of Indian universities have improved their rankings, while 24% maintained their positions.
  • IIT-Bombay (118th rank) secured the top position in India, followed by IIT Delhi and the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bengaluru. The University of Delhi has made the most striking advancement, leaping 79 places to secure the 328th position.
  • Of the 11 Institutes of Eminence in the rankings, eight have risen, one remains stable, and one has dropped, indicating a positive trend among India’s top-tier institutions.
  • India’s significant progress is evident in research and international collaboration2nd in Asia.
  • India ranks second in Asia for most improved as well for universities represented (China – 1st).

Challenges

  • The latest rankings reveal internationalisation as a significant challenge.
  • India lags in two critical indicators – International Faculty Ratio and International Student Ratio – signalling a need for greater global collaboration and exchange in its higher education sector.
  • The proportion of international students is 2.9 (global average – 26.5), which suggests that Indian universities are not attracting foreign students at a rate commensurate with their global rankings.
  • The proportion of international faculty is 9.3, and the Faculty/Student ratio is 16.2 (global – 28.1).

QS World University Rankings

  • The QS World University Rankings is an annual publication by Quacquarelli Symonds (QS), a British company specialising in education and study abroad.
  • The performance metrics used for evaluation are:
    • Academic and Employer Reputation;
    • Faculty Student ratio, International Faculty Ratio, International Student Ratio;
    • Citations per Faculty, International Research Network;
    • Employment Outcomes and Sustainability.

{Prelims – S&T – Space} World’s largest digital camera

  • Context (IE): The world’s largest optical astronomy digital camera is going to be hosted on the edge of the Atacama desert in Chile.
  • The Atacama Desert in Chile is the driest on the planet, and due to its exceptionally bright skies, it is perfect for astronomy.
  • The camera will be mounted on the Simonyi Survey Telescope at the Vera C. Rubin Observatory. It weighs approximately three tonnes and has a resolution of 3.2 gigapixels.
  • The observatory comprises an eight-meter wide-field telescope, a groundbreaking camera, and an automated data processing infrastructure.
  • Objective: To understand the nature of dark energy and dark matter in the universe, studying the possibility of Earth colliding with asteroids or stars and planets close to the sun.
  • The observatory is expected to collect around 20 terabytes of data daily, culminating in a 15-petabyte catalog over its decade-long survey.

Atacama Desert

  • The Atacama Desert is a 600-mile-long (1,000-kilometer) plateau in the north of Chile, near the borders of Peru, Bolivia, and Argentina in South America.
  • It is wedged between the coastal Cordillera de la Costa mountain range and the Andes Mountains.
  • It is the driest nonpolar desert in the world, as well as the only true desert to receive less precipitation than the polar desert.
  • It is almost without vegetation, except along slopes moistened by drizzle during the winter or in mesic valleys (moderate supply of moisture) that bisect the otherwise xeric (dry) desert.
  • The Atacama Desert contains the world’s largest supply of sodium nitrate.

Atacama Desert - PMF IAS

Why is the Atacama desert dry?

  • Rain shadow effect of the Andes.
  • Off-shore trade winds & westerlies that blow far to the south of the Tropic of Capricorn (dry subsid-
  • ence caused by the South Pacific high-pressure cell).
  • Cold ocean currents: Cold Humboldt current & upwelling of cold water due to Walker Circulation.
  • The most arid region is situated between the Andes and the Chilean Coast Range (two-sided rain shadow).

Why is the Atacama desert dry? - PMF IAS

Credit: BBC

{Prelims – Sci – Bio – Diseases} New strain of bird flu in Human

  • Context (TH): WHO has found that a man in Mexico died from a type of bird flu called H5N2.
  • H5N2 strain has never before been found in a human. As per WHO, it wasn’t clear how the man became infected, although H5N2 has been reported in poultry in Mexico.
  • Earlier, other strains, including H5N1 and H5N6, were found to be infecting Humans.
  • In February 2021, H5N8 infected a small number of people for the first time in Russia.

For more details, visit > Avian Influenza.

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