About Soil Moisture

About Soil Moisture

  • Water contained in soil is called soil moisture. The water is held within the soil pores.
  • Soil water is the major component of the soil in relation to plant growth.
  • If the moisture content of a soil is optimum for plant growth, plants can readily absorb soil water.
  • Not all the water, held in soil, is available to plants. Much of water remains in the soil as a thin film.
  • Soil water dissolves salts and makes up the soil solution, which is important as medium for supply of nutrients to growing plants.


Importance of Soil Water

  • Soil water serves as a solvent and carrier of food nutrients for plant growth
  • Yield of crop is more often determined by the amount of water available rather than the deficiency of other food nutrients
  • Soil water acts as a nutrient itself
  • Soil water regulates soil temperature
  • Soil forming processes and weathering depend on water
  • Microorganisms require water for their metabolic activities
  • Soil water helps in chemical and biological activities of soil
  • It is a principal constituent of the growing plant
  • Water is essential for photosynthesis


Soil Moisture Forecast

  • Based on observed conditions at present, Gujarat, parts of Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Tamil Nadu and parts of Andhra Pradesh are deficient in terms of soil moisture right now.
  • This means that if there is not enough rainfall in one or two months, these are regions which will demand heavy irrigation whether that comes from groundwater or surface water storage (reservoirs)

  • In Gujarat, a look at the monsoon season rainfall this year shows rainfall deficit, while the Narmada basin also received inadequate rainfall.
  • The Sardar Sarovar reservoir may not have received enough storage and since the catchment of the reservoir did not receive normal rainfall.
  • In these conditions, the state may face water stress, which can result in excessive groundwater pumping for irrigation.
  • Forecasts for the Bundelkhand region look favourable at the moment. In Uttar Pradesh and northern Madhya Pradesh, this year, the rainfall was good.
  • Tamil Nadu is showing dry conditions but if the state gets good rain from the Northeast monsoon, the current soil moisture deficit is likely to go away.


Techniques used in forecasting

  • The forcast uses the ‘Variable Infiltration Capacity’ model to provide the soil moisture prediction.
  • The product, termed ‘Experimental Forecasts Land Surface Products’ has been developed using the hydrological model that takes into consideration soil, vegetation, land use and land cover among other parameters.
  • At present, the IIT Gandhinagar team is using the IMD’s grid-level observations and forecast products of rainfall and temperature.
  • The product has become operational on an experimental basis that will be further enhanced based on the inputs from the stakeholders.


Significance of the soil- moisture forecast

  • Crucial information needed for agriculture is not revealed only through rainfall data
  • Even if you have a normal rainfall, if the temperature is abnormally high, it can rapidly deplete the soil moisture. So essentially soil moisture gives us more information on what is needed for crop growth in different parts of the country.
  • Soil moisture is crucial for agriculture since it directly affects crop growth and how much irrigation is required for the area.
  • Timely soil moisture forecasts will help target interventions, in terms of seed varieties for better planning in agriculture.



Section : Environment & Ecology

About Eurasian Otter

About Eurasian Otter

  • IUCN status of Eurasian Otter is “near threatened”.
  • The Eurasian otter is a semi-aquatic species living in a wide range of freshwater habitats and along coasts.
  • The Eurasian otter has been recorded historically from the Western Ghats (Coorg in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu’s Nilgiri and Palani hill ranges).
  • However, this is the first photographic and genetic confirmation of its presence in Western Ghats
  • The species is widespread across Europe, northern Africa and several south Asian countries.
  • It is not as frequently sighted as smooth-coated or small-clawed otters in India.


  • Otter roadkills caused by increasing fragmentation of forests
  • Modification of their original habitats are becoming increasingly common now.
  • Though protected by the Wildlife Protection Act (1972), otters are often illegally poached for pelts (dressed hairy coat of a mammal).

Way ahead

  • The paucity of information doesn’t help, with otters facing multiple threats.
  • Detailed surveys and studies are the need of the hour.

Air Pollution

Air Pollution

  • The following are the major gaseous and particulate pollutants present:
    • Gaseous air pollutants: Oxides of sulphur, nitrogen and carbon, hydrogen sulphide, hydrocarbons, ozone and other oxidants.
    • Particulate pollutants: Dust, mist, fumes, smoke, smog etc. In India, thermal power plant account for 80% of all industrial emissions of particulate matter, sulphur and nitrous oxides in India.


Sulphur Dioxide Pollution

  • Oxides of sulphur are produced when sulphur containing fossil fuel is burnt.
  • Most common oxide of sulphur is sulphur dioxide, SO2.
  • Sulfur dioxide is a gas. It is invisible and has a nasty, sharp smell. It reacts easily with other substances to form harmful compounds, such as sulfuric acid, sulfurous acid and sulfate particles.
  • Particulate matter in the air accelerates formation of oxides of sulphur catalyses the process of oxidation.



Sources of SO2 Pollution

  • Burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas are the main source of SO2 emissions.
  • Volcanic eruptions are also a major source of SO2 emissions.
  • Hydrogen sulphide, released from biological decay, reacts with O2 in the atmosphere to produce SO2.


Harmful effects of SO2

  • SO2 is a poisonous gas known to cause respiratory diseases such as asthma, bronchitis, emphysema in human beings, irritation to the eyes.
  • At high concentrations, gaseous SOx can harm trees and plants by damaging foliage and decreasing growth.
  • SO2and other sulfur oxides can contribute to acid rain which can harm sensitive ecosystems.
  • SO2and other sulfur oxides can react with other compounds in the atmosphere to form fine particles that reduce visibility.
  • Deposition of particles can also stain and damage stone and other materials, including culturally important objects such as statues and monuments. SO2 is the main cause of discoloration of marble in Taj mahal.

Section : Environment & Ecology

About SwachhSurvekshan

About SwachhSurvekshan

  • SwachhSurvekshan is an annual ranking exercise taken up by the Government of India since 2016 to assess rural and urban areas for their levels of cleanliness and active implementation of Swachhata mission initiatives in a timely and innovative manner.
  • The objective of the survey is to-
    • Encourage large scale citizen participation and create awareness about the importance of working together towards making towns and cities better
    • Foster a spirit of healthy competition among towns and cities to improve their service delivery to citizens, towards creating cleaner cities and towns.
  • The Ministry of Urban Development, Government of India takes up the SwachhSurvekshan in urban areas.
  • The Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation takes up the Swachh Survekshan in rural areas.
  • The Quality Council of India (QCI) has been commissioned the responsibility of carrying out the assessment.



Highlights of the Swachha Sarvekshan – Urban 2019

  • SwachhSurvekshan – Urban 2019 covered all urban local bodies in the country, making it the largest such cleanliness survey in the world.
  • It covered 4,237 cities in a completely paperless, digital format for data collection.
  • The SwachhSurvekshan awards 2019 were conferred by Ram NathKovind.
  • The President conferred the cleanliness awards to the winners annoounced by the Union Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs.
  • List of awardees in different categories-
    • Cleanest cities in the country:
      1. Indore in Madhya Pradesh (India’s cleanest city for the third straight year)
      2. Ambikapur in Chhattisgarh
      3. Mysore in Karnataka
    • Cleanest small city: The New Delhi Municipal Council area.
    • Cleanest Big City: Ahmedabad (Gujarat)
    • Cleanest Medium City: Ujjain (MP)
    • Best Ganga town: Gauchar (Uttarakhand)
    • Fastest Moving Big City: Raipur (Chhatisgarh)
    • Fastest Moving medium City: Mathura-Vrindavan (UP)
    • Cleanest capital: Bhopal
  • Top-ranked cities received a statue of Mahatma Gandhi as a memento for their work towards cleanliness.
  • Among states, Chhattisgarh emerged India’s top performer followed by Jharkhand and Maharashtra.

Stubble Burning: The issue

Stubble Burning: The issue

  • As mentioned above the stated objective of the government in various policies is to route the crop residue for producing biofuels thereby reducing stubble burning.
  • However, stubble burning still remains a major problem across the country.
  • According to estimates, crop residue burnt in India range from 200 million tonnes to 240 million tonnes a year.
  • This is particularly severe in Punjab and Haryana which account for about 20 million tonnes every year.


Why stubble burning continues?


  • According to industry experts, using crop residue for biofuel is still not economically viable for farmers and biofuel companies because the logistics cost of collecting the husk is very high.
  • Ethanol yield from husk is very low and thus not a lucrative option.
  • Since, harvest window is only 20-30 days, burning is the quickest solution farmers having before the land is ready for next crop.


  • Government can incentivize using of husk in ethanol production.
  • In addition to National Biofuel Policy at the Centre, states should bring about micro-guidelines on biofuels.
  • Crop residue can be used for making pellets that can complement the coal burned in thermal power plants.
  • Setting up of ethanol and bio-CNG plants that uses crop residue as fuel.
  • State should prescribe clear guidelines for establishment of a robust supply chain for crop residues from the field to the power plant.


About Biofuels

  • According to a report by the US Department of Agriculture, ethanol consumption in India is set to increase from 2 billion litres in 2017 to 2.4 billion litres in 2018.
  • Further the investment in in the biofuel sector in India is set to increase from $1.5-2 billion currently to $15 billion in 2022.


Conventional Biofuels

  • Conventional Biofuels are produced from food crops.
  • The feedstock used for biofuels include lignocelluloses, algae, corn, maize, jatropha, palm, soybeans, sugarcane, sweet sorghum.
  1. Ethanol
  • Ethanol is produced by fermentation of sugar from cane or beets, starch from corn or wheat, or root crops like cassava.
  • It has a higher-octane rating than conventional gasoline and improves combustion properties which translate into less pollution.
  • Ethanol is used as a fuel additive in gasoline at roughly 10%.
  1. Biodiesel
  • Produced through an esterification/trans-esterification reaction of vegetable oils (soybean, palm) or animal fats.


Advanced Biofuels

  • Advanced Biofuels are produced typically from non-food crops and residues or waste materials.
  • Common forms include:
    • ‘Drop-in fuels’: These are renewable diesel and gasoline that are derived from lipids (i.e., vegetable oils, animal fats, greases, and algae) or cellulosic materials (i.e., crop residues, and woody biomass).
    • Biobutanol: It is a biomass-based fuel that is produced by fermenting the same feedstock as ethanol, but is mediated by different microorganisms.


About National Policy on Biofuels

  • Launched in May 2018 to promote production of biofuels.
  • The Policy categorises biofuels as:
    • “Basic Biofuels” viz. First Generation (1G) bioethanol & biodiesel and “Advanced Biofuels”
    • Second Generation (2G) ethanol, Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) to drop-in fuels
    • Third Generation (3G) biofuels, bio-CNG etc.
  • Wider choice of raw material for ethanol production including Sugarcane Juice, Sugar containing materials like Sugar Beet, Sweet Sorghum, Starch containing materials like Corn, Cassava, Damaged food grains like wheat, broken rice, Rotten Potatoes.
  • It includes from lignocellulosic biomass as against the conventional approach of molasses based ethanol production.
  • The Ethanol Blending Programme(EBP) aims 20 percent ethanol blending in petrol by 2030.
Section : Environment & Ecology

About National Board for Wildlife

About National Board for Wildlife

• In accordance with section 5 A added in the 2002 amendment to the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, the union government is empowered to constitute the National Board for Wildlife as a statutory body.
• Headed by Prime Minister, NBWL is the highest decision making body on matters relating to wildlifepolicy in India.
• Environment Protection Act and Wildlife Protection Act have provisions for diversion of forest land for non-forest use.
• Accordingly NBWL is entrusted with the power to approve projects around protected areas, eco-sensitive areas, Tiger Reserves etc


• According to Wild Life (Protection) Amendment Act, 2002, constitution of the National Board for Wild Lifeincludes
• Prime Minister as Chairperson, the Minister of MOEFCC, 3 MPs, one from RS and 2 from LS, 5 persons from NGOs to be nominated by the Central Government, 10 eminent conservationists, ecologists and environ-mentalists and other members.

Mandate of National Board for Wildlife

In accordance with the various provisions of Wildlife Protection Act, the National Board for Wildlife performs following functions:

• To promote the conservation and development of wild life and forests by such measures as it thinks fit.
• framing policies and advising the Central Government and the State Governments on the ways and means of promoting wild life conservation and effectively controlling poaching and illegal trade of wild life and its products;
• Making recommendations on the setting up of the management of national parks, sanctuaries and other protected areas and on matters relating to restriction of activities in those areas;
• Carrying out or causing to be carried out impact assessment of various projects and activities on wild life or its habitat;
• Reviewing the progress in the field of wild life conservation in the country and suggesting measures for improvement thereto

Other Functions

• Approval of projects involving construction of commercial lodges, hotels etc around Protected Areas
• Approval for alteration of the boundaries of a National Park
• Issuing permit for destruction, removal of wildlife or forest produce from a National Park.
• Approval for diversion of habitat
• Ensuring tiger reserves and areas linking one protected area with another are not diverted for ecologically unsustainable uses.
• Approval for alteration or denotification of Tiger Reserves
Section : Environment & Ecology

The El Niño Effect

The El Niño Effect

  • El Niño is a climate phenomenon in which surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean see an unusual rise.
  • El Niño is not a regular cycle, or predictable in the sense that ocean tides are.
  • El Niño events repeat themselves in a two- to seven-year cycle, with a strong El Niño expected every 10-15 years.
  • El Niño has an impact on ocean temperatures, the speed and strength of ocean currents, the health of coastal fisheries, and local weather from Australia to South America and beyond.


Impact of El Nino on Indian Monsoon

  • El Nino and the Indian Monsoon rains are inversely related.
  • Trade winds coming from South America normally blow westward towards Asia during Southwest Monsoon.
  • Warming of the Pacific Ocean results in weakening of these winds.
  • Therefore, moisture and heat content gets limited, and results in reduction and uneven distribution of rainfall across the Indian sub-continent.
  • While warmer temperatures are known to suppress monsoon rainfall, the opposite phenomenon of La Niña has been found to be helpful in bringing good rainfall.


News Summary

  • According to NOAA, weak El Niño conditions had already built up in January and there is high probability of continuing of this condition for few months.
  • The warming in the Niño 3.4 region of the Pacific Ocean, has been forecast to remain in excess of 0.5°C above normal, which is likely to decrease rainfall in India.
  • However, it is not certain whether it will grow until springs or extend to summers.
  • If the El Niño will grow until summers, it may cause a drought in India.

Increased frequency of El Nino

  • As per new scientific research, increased frequency of extreme El Niños is due to climate change.
  • If the average annual global temperatures reached 1.5°C above pre-industrial times, such extreme events could happen twice as often as today.
  • However, the increased frequency could be because of other reasons as well.






Section : Environment & Ecology

About Black spotted turtle

About Black spotted turtle

  • The black spotted turtle or spotted pond turtle is native to South Asia, and a heavily trafficked chelonian.
  • It is classified as vulnerable by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List of threatened species.
  • The medium-sized freshwater turtle has a black shell with yellow streaks.
  • The species was once smuggled for its meat and is now sought after as an exotic pet.
  • The report titled ‘Black Spotted Turtle Trade in Asia II: A Seizure Analysis’ records seizures of 10,321 specimens in 53 instances across seven countries between April 2014 and March 2016.


Seizure of black spotted turtles

  • The highest number of seizures occurred in India, accounting for a total of 3,001 (29.33%) specimens.
  • Of the 53 seizures across these seven countries, 38% (or 20) seizures were from India.
  • India is followed by Southeast Asian countries such as Thailand (1,995 specimens or 19%) and Hong Kong (1,775 specimens or 17%), followed by Bangladesh (1,197 specimens or 12%). The remaining specimens were seized from China, Pakistan and Singapore.
  • The seizures of 10,321 turtles in a period of two years marks a huge increase from the 2,171 turtles seized in 26 cases recorded between January 2008 and March 2014.


Reasons for rise in seizures

  • Alongside the increase in demand for such turtles, the alertness of enforcement agencies and their focus on the species had increased.
  • Also there are lacunae in the preparation of cases, and in procedural lapses in prosecution, which are further giving rise to such seizures.


Where are Black spotted turtle found in India?

  • In India, the species is distributed across the north, northeast and a few parts of central India in States such as West Bengal, Assam, Bihar, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, and parts of Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan and Meghalaya.


Smuggling hotspots

  • Chennai
    • An analysis of the trade route places Chennai as an important centre for the trade.
    • Seizure data indicates that black spotted turtles are transported to Chennai by car or train, and subsequently smuggled to other parts of the region.
    • In the past, Chennai has been identified as a major transit hub for illegal international trade in the Indian star tortoise, another species smuggled in large numbers.
    • Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra fall completely out of the distribution range of the species, it proves that these States are used as trade routes.
  • The India-Bangladesh border, part of the species’ natural range, as another hotspot for trade in the black soft-shelled turtle.

Note- Bangladesh capital Dhaka “is in closer proximity to the Indian Black Spotted Turtle trade hotspots than most large Indian cities and may therefore function as a regional collection centre


Way ahead

  • Apart from increasing public awareness, there is the need for better law enforcement and cooperation among international authorities.



  • TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, is a strategic alliance of IUCN and WWF.
  • Its mission is to ensure that trade in wild plants and animals is not a threat to the conservation of nature.
  • Functions:
    • Investigating and analysing wildlife trade trends, impacts and drivers;
    • Informing and supporting action by governments to enforce effective policies and laws;
    • Providing advice to the private sector on effective approaches to sustainable sourcing of wildlife;
    • Developing insights into consumer attitudes to guide the design of communication interventions to dissuade purchasing of illicit wildlife goods.
  • TRAFFIC plays a vital role in tackling illegal wildlife trade through conducting research and analysis, advocacy and awareness work and by supporting remedial action against illegal wildlife trade.
Section : Environment & Ecology

Silent Valley National Park:

Silent Valley National Park:

  • It is the last remaining rain forest of Kerala.
  • Silent Valley was declared as National Park in 1984 and formally inaugurated in the year 1985.
  • Initially there was only 89.52 sq.km. area under the Division which forms the core zone of the National Park.
  • In 2007, an area of 148 sq.km. was added to this Division as buffer zone.

What is buffer zone?

  • Areas peripheral to a specific protected area, where restrictions on resource use and special development measures are undertaken in order to enhance the conservation value of the protected area.

Buffer zone emerging as safe haven:

  • The buffer zone is providing the flies a conducive atmosphere for foraging, feeding, and breeding.
  • Proximity to the core areas of the national park, with high-altitude shola grasslands and different types of forests, availability of water, and good habitat diversity, are also the contributing factors.

Rare Species found

  • Indosticta deccanensis (Saffron Reedtail),
  • Burmagomphus laidlawi (Plain Sinuate Clubtail),
  • Macrogomphus souteri (Pigmy Clubtail),
  • Onychogomphus nilgiriensis (Nilgiri Clawtail),
  • Euphea dispar (Nilgiri Torrent Dart),
  • Indionyx travancorensis (Travancore Daggerhead),
  • Megalogomphus hannyngtoni (Giant Clubtail), and
  • Lestes dorothea (Spreadwing).


  • The number of several common species of damselflies found in the region is alarmingly low.
  • This could be owing to the recent floods. The floods might have carried away the larvae of damselflies downstream.


  • Odonates are amphibiotic (having aquatic larval form and terrestrial adult form) insects.
  • Among the 488 species of odonates found in India, the Western Ghats are home to 193
Section : Environment & Ecology

About Pangolins

About Pangolins

  • Pangolins are shy and secretive nocturnal creatures that live on ants and termites.
  • Of the eight species found worldwide (four each in Asia and Africa), two are known from India- Indian Pangolin and Chinese Pangolin.
  • Their defense mechanism is quickly to curl into a ball when threatened
  • It is covered under as many as one thousand scales which protect them from predators.


Declining population of Pangolins:

  • Pangolin is the world’s most trafficked mammal.
  • According to some estimates, poachers have hunted more than 1 million Pangolins in the past decade.
  • In 2014, the Chinese Pangolin was categorized as critically endangered, which is now feared to be extinct. Also, the Indian Pangolin which was marked endangered in 2014, is now critically endangered and it has been feared that it may also get extinct in a decade or so.
  • Reasons
    • Pangolins are killed for their scales for Medicinal purposes in China and Vietnam. However, this has no scientific basis as Pangolin’s scales are made of Keratin, the same material found in human nails and hair.
    • They are also used in Luxury goods.
    • Pangolins are also hunted for its meat across the northeastern States and in central India.
    • Habitat loss
    • Their reproduction is slow and can give birth to only one baby a year.


Why Pangolins are important?

  • Loss of Pangolin can cause ecological loss.
  • Pangolins eat termites that otherwise destroy crops and buildings.


The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) on Pangolin

  • The CITES seeks to ensure that international trade in wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.
  • All eight species in the pangolin family are currently listed in Appendix II of CITES.
  • In 2016, CITES unanimously agreed a total ban on international trade on all species at the summit in Johannesburg.
  • However, Pangolins continue to be poached at alarming rate, even causing a devastating crash in Asian Pangolin population.


Way ahead

  • There is lot of work to be done to ensure the survival of pangolins. Countries must work together to reduce demand and enforce laws against poaching.



Section : Environment & Ecology
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