Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Health Impact Study Of India Coal Power Plants

Do check out this New York Times interview with Dr. Sarath Guttikunda on the impact of India's coal power plants on health and environment. Dr. Guttikunda founded Urban Emissions, an air pollution research firm based in New Delhi and is also affiliate associate research professor at the Desert Research Institute, the environmental research arm of the Nevada System of Higher Education. He blogs at Urban Emissions.

Why are such studies important?

From the interview:

From epidemiological studies and the recent Global Burden of Disease assessments, it is evident that outdoor air pollution is one of the key sources of disease and death in India.

In order for the public to demand action on controlling the air pollution, we feel that the information is the key element. We need to know the status of air pollution and contributions from various sources like transport, power plants, industries, household fuels, and others.

We feel that this study is important on two fronts. First, it presents data on emissions, concentrations and health impacts of the coal power sector. While this may seem basic, it is unfortunate that this sort of information has not been published previously and we hope that it presents policy makers with evidence as to air pollution and health impacts of the sector. Second, it shows that despite the air pollution it causes, there are minimal regulations in place to address the air pollution impacts.

If the study convinces policy makers of the need to put in place stringent standards and enforce them – then it may be a start to a broader conversation on our energy needs and the environmental and health costs of supplying them.

111 coal plants currently meeting about 60% of our electricity needs, but around 455 new ones planned according to the World Resources Institute.  Dr. Guttikunda says that with so many new plants a mere tightening of emission standards may not be sufficient to negate the health impacts of these plants. An alternate cleaner energy source needs to be available in really large amounts to avoid building so many new coal plants.

Nuclear power.... natural gas... solar... wind..?  There will be no silver bullet solution to India's energy needs.  We'll have to end up using an energy mix. That will include coal for several decades at least.

Monday, March 25, 2013

India Energy Report- Some Rambling Thoughts

The latest from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. For those who follow the energy sector, nothing terribly new here, but it is a useful document to keep bookmarked for quick reference.

Meanwhile, Swaminathan Aiyar takes an optimistic look at the future of methane hydrate deposits which he thinks can provide significantly to India's energy needs. These deposits are formed when methane is trapped within a crystalline cage of water molecules. They occur in cold deep sea sediments and also onshore in permafrost settings.There are estimates that resources in sediments in India offshore basins on both the west and east coast may be around 1800-1900 trillion cubic meters.

My take is that whatever the estimates, we may be decades away from successfully exploiting them. Of more relevance over the short to medium term is onshore shale gas. Estimates for those vary wildly from an earlier EIA estimate of about 63 trillion cubic feet to a revised USGS estimate of only 6-7 trillion cubic feet to a figure often quoted in the India media of about 500 trillion cubic feet to 300-1200 trillion cubic meters! These disparate estimates only underscores the need for a more detailed exploration of Indian sedimentary basins.

Monday, March 18, 2013

ISRO Plans New High Resolution Remote Sensing Satellite

...but will the public have easy access to the data?

Something this article does not address. India's remote sensing program is no doubt a great science and technology success and the imagery and digital data is being used by scientists for research and natural resource management.

Where India and ISRO are falling short is the continued denial of the best quality images to the public at large.  Bhuvan - ISRO's  answer to Google Maps - launched a few years ago is still serving images of India which are frustratingly inadequate for users who have by now become accustomed to razor sharp quality images of their cities and countryside from Google Maps and Google Earth.

The remote sensing satellite Cartosat-2 series has been imaging India using a panchromatic sensor at a 0.8 meter resolution since 2007.  In July 2011 India announced a new Remote Sensing data policy which allowed distribution of 1 meter resolution imagery without additional security checks. The previous policy did not allow unrestricted access to imagery finer than 5.8 meters. The policy change should ideally have resulted in image streaming applications like Bhuvan to present much sharper images of India. Almost two years since we are still getting a grainy view of India from Bhuvan.  Is the new policy not extendable to open access image streaming applications? If so, why not? Pointing to reasons of national security does not make sense since fine resolution imagery is already available through applications like Google Maps to users in India.

The image below of a portion of Pune city is the best resolution available via Bhuvan and it means that tens of millions of potential users will stay away and use Google instead.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Florida Sinkholes Also Pose A More Subtle Danger

Last week, a fatality, as the ground gave way under a Tampa Bay area home.  However, the more common concern regarding sinkholes is their connection to groundwater quality. Despite its reputation as a great tourist destination, Florida is also a major agricultural state. The soil is reenforced with fertilizers, and crops are sprayed extensively with pesticides. Environmental managers worry that these chemicals might find their way into groundwater.

This concern is not unique to Florida but is amplified due to the presence of karst topography.  Extensive limestone formations underlie Florida. Limestone reacts with the weakly acidic groundwater and over the last few million years these limestone beds have dissolved away in varying degree to create an underground network of caves and pipes. The overlying strata may bear its own weight for long periods depending on how thick it is and how porous the underground limestone has become, but occasionally the cover collapses into the underlying cavity forming surface craters or sinkholes.

Fatalities are rare, but sinkhole formation is quite common over geological time.  The map below shows an area just east of Gainsville.

Notice the circular and irregular shaped lakes. Most of them are sinkholes now filled with water. This surface water makes its way through fractures and pipes into the underlying limestone which make up the Floridan aquifer system. Sinkholes thus provide a direct and quick connection for potential pollutants to contaminate groundwater which is the main source of drinking water in Florida.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

"Submerged Continent" Story Trending For The Wrong Reasons

It does seem so judging by the comment stream of this article by Akshat Rathi which appeared in The Hindu last week. The article is currently in the most popular list of the Sci-Tech section of The Hindu.

"This could be another malefic design to make tamils believe they belong to different continent. As the validity of 75 yrs old dravidian myth is busted by science dna researches and rationale thinking. This could be yet another attempt to confuse south people".

from:  Periyar  

"It is interesting how scientist sometime make outlandish claims with no certainty of counter proofs. In fact it all depends which group you belong to, dominant or struggling, majority view which is stupid or minority non-peer view but sensible. So here we go again. The only certainty is that the world map did not look like today millions of years ago. There are unexplained artifacts many millions of years from different parts of the world which are neither explained or frankly admitted to be un-explainable. The reason being the Scientists calling the shots cannot eat humble pie. There are hundreds if not thousands of such artifacts. Some have conveniently disappeared to stop embarrassment for scientists. And then there are myths and legends, Ramayana and MahaBharat and 'in peoples memories'".

from:  Politenotpc 

"There was an article several days before that Australian aborgines share the same DNA as the rest of South India. So hypothetically speaking their ancestors would have traveled centuries before to Australia by land. impressive findings these.."

from:  Manoj 

"I was fascinated to read about the discovery of this new continent and its location so close to India.I was then wondering whether it could be the JAMBUDWIPA of yore which we repeatedly recite in Vedic chants."

from:  kumar
People are relating the submerged continent to events that may have taken place in human history with some nationalist pride and suspicions of scientists thrown in as well :)

The finding off course belongs to deep geological history.

Geophysical data indicated that the lithosphere in this region is thicker than what would be expected in an oceanic basin made up of basaltic crust alone. And zircons collected from xenocrysts (fragment of a foreign crystal) within lavas on the island of Mauritius gave a Proterozoic age. The lavas of Mauritius which contained these zircons were about 9-10 million years old. That suggested that these zircons belonged to very ancient continental fragment beneath Mauritius from which they were broken of and brought to the surface by younger lavas.

The continent is a smaller piece of Gondwanaland that separated from Madagascar about 60-80 million years ago as rifting between larger pieces of Gondwanaland (Madagascar and India) stretched and thinned the crust opening up an oceanic basin.  Prolific basaltic volcanism later covered this continental fragment . So, there never was a land connection across the Indian Ocean between India and other continents in recent geological history. Some of these continental fragments may have submerged below sea level much earlier and some would have appeared as small islands in the area between Mauritius and Seychelles - well to the south of India - before being covered by lava several millions of years before the presence of any humans on the Indian subcontinent.

But the allure of the "lost continent" endures.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Kaolinite And Chinese-Mexican Pottery In 1600's Mexico

 My Book Shelf # 25

As with a previous post which pointed to the role of silver as a catalyst for the movement of people across the oceans and a meeting of Asia with the America's in 1600's Mexico, geology in the form of clay deposits played a role in bringing full circle the story of Chinese (Ming) influence on Mexican ceramic art from the mid 1600's onwards.

The district of Puebla in Mexico has kaolin deposits of exceptional quality formed mostly by the hydrothermal alteration of a rhyolitic host rock from the Late Cenozoic Trans Mexican Volcanic Belt considered to part of the Circum-Pacific volcanic chain. This type of clay is used extensively in pottery.

By the late 1600's Puebla city had a tight knit Asian community:

One of the city's most important industries was ceramics - Puebla clay is of exceptional quality. Working with eye-straining attention to detail, skilled potters created pieces that imitated blue-and-white Ming dynasty porcelain. Guild regulations specified that "the coloring should be in imitation of Chinese ware, very blue, finished in the same style". Edward Slack, the Eastern Washington historian, points out that the manufacturers would hardly have ignored the skilled Asian craftspeople in their midst. More than likely, Puebla's fake Chinese pottery was created in part by real Chinese potters. If so, they did a splendid job: talavera ware, as it is known today, is now so highly prized that when I visited Puebla shopkeepers complained that the country was fighting an invasion of counterfeits from China - a Chinese imitation of a Chinese-made Mexican imitation of a Chinese original. 

From 1493: Uncovering The New World Columbus Created by Charles Mann.