Topic 1: Relative humidity
Context: Chennai had an absolute humidity of 70%, its relative humidity was lower, around 60%, because it had an ambient temperature of 32°C.
What is humidity?
- Humidity is the amount of moisture in the air around us, and there are three ways to track it.
- Absolute humidity:
- It is the mass of water vapour in a given volume of air and water vapour mixture, expressed as kg/m3.
- Specific humidity:
- It is equal to the mass of the moisture divided by the mass of air.
- It is expressed as a dimensionless number (but sometimes as grams per kilogram among other similar units).
- Relative humidity:
- It is important because it factors in the amount of vapour that air can hold at different temperatures.
- It is the vapour density of the air divided by the saturation vapour density at dry-bulb temperature.
- Absolute humidity:
Implications of relative humidity:
- The higher the relative humidity of air, the more it is filled with moisture.
- When air already contains a lot of moisture, it won’t easily accept more.
- This means that the sweat on your skin can’t evaporate.
- The body keeps sweating as it is still expecting to cool itself.
- As a result, if the relative humidity is high, you can sweat on a hot day even when you are sitting still while your body keeps accumulating heat.
- A relative humidity of 30-60% is generally considered to be comfortable.
What does relative humidity imply physically?
- Warmer air can hold more moisture than cooler air.
- So at the same absolute humidity, the relative humidity of warmer air will be lower than that of cooler air.
- The change in the capacity for moisture as the air warms is also non-linear, meaning it doesn’t increase by the same amount as the air warms.
- For example, the difference as it warms over 20º C from -20º C to 0º C is small, but there is an enormous improvement in its vapour-carrying capacity as it warms over 20º C from 30º C to 50º C.
Measurement of relative humidity:
- A psychrometer is a device that has two thermometers plus a chart to get the final reading.
- Modern electronic psychrometers can calculate the relative humidity directly.
- The lower the wet-bulb temperature, the drier the air is, and the less relatively humid it is.
|What is wet bulb temperature?The combination of high temperature and high humidity, referred to as the “wet bulb temperature”, is what makes heatwaves deadly.Wet-bulb temperature (WBT) combines dry air temperature with humidity in essence, it is a measure of heat-stress conditions on humans.The term comes from how it is measured.If you slide a wet cloth over the bulb of a thermometer, the evaporating water from the cloth will cool the thermometer down.This lower temperature is the WBT, which cannot go above the dry temperature.If humidity in the surrounding air is high, less evaporation will occur, so the WBT will be closer to the dry temperature.|
Topic 2: Nagorno-Karabakh
Context:Azerbaijan said it had established a checkpoint at the start of the Lachin corridor, the only land route linking Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh, a step that was followed by claims of border shootings by both Azeri and Armenian forces.
What is Nagorno-Karabakh?
- Nagorno-Karabakh, known as Artsakh by Armenians, is a landlocked mountainous area in the South Caucasus.
- It was claimed by both Azerbaijan and Armenia after the fall of the Russian Empire in 1917 and has remained a point of tension ever since.
- The territory is internationally recognised as part of oil-rich Azerbaijan, but its inhabitants are predominantly ethnic Armenians but has not been officially recognised by it or other U.N. member states.
- Armenians, who are Christians, claim a long historical dominance in the area, dating back to several centuries before Christ.
- Azerbaijan, whose inhabitants are mostly Muslim, links its historical identity to the territory too.
The 2020 agreement
- The nine-point agreement of November 10, 2020 was signed by Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
- The agreement imposed:
- an immediate ceasefire,
- a timeline for withdrawal from Azerbaijan’s occupied regions,
- the introduction of Russian peacekeepers,
- the need for new transport corridors.
- However, this failed to initiate a peace agreement because it altered the power balance between the two countries and lacked clarity on several issues resulting in the subsequent ceasefire violations on both sides.
Topic 3: Zero Shadow Day
Context: Recently, Bengaluru experienced a ‘Zero Shadow Day’, when vertical objects appear to cast no shadow. This was because the sun was at its zenith, and so the shadow was directly under the object.
What is Zero Shadow Day?
- For every point on Earth between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn, there are two Zero Shadow Days a year.
- The Zero Shadow Day is restricted to locations between the tropics, and so places north of Ranchi in India are out of it.
- One falls during the Uttarayan when the Sun moves northwards, and the other is during Dakshinayan when the Sun moves southwards.
- Uttarayan (movement of the Sun from south to north from winter solstice to summer solstice) and Dakshinayan (back from north to south) happen because Earth’s rotation axis is tilted at an angle of roughly 23.5° to the axis of revolution around the Sun.
- The Sun’s location moves from 23.5°N to 23.5°S of Earth’s equator and back.
- All places whose latitude equals the angle between the Sun’s location and the equator on that day experience zero shadow day, with the shadow beneath an object at local noon.
Topic 4: Genome sequencing and the Genome India Project
Context: The Department of Biotechnology recently said that the exercise to sequence 10,000 Indian human genomes and create a database under the Centre-backed Genome India Project is about two-thirds complete.
What is genome sequencing?
- The human genome is the entire set of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) residing in the nucleus of every cell of the human body.
- It carries the complete genetic information responsible for the development and functioning of an organism.
- The DNA consists of a double-stranded molecule built up by four bases.
- While the sequence of base pairs is identical in all humans, there are differences in the genome of every human being that makes them unique.
- The process of deciphering the order of base pairs, to decode the genetic fingerprint of a human is called genome sequencing.
The Human Genome Project:
- In 1990, a group of scientists began to work on determining the whole sequence of the human genome under the Human Genome Project.
- The Project released its latest version of the complete human genome in 2023, with a 0.3% error margin.
- This shows that genomic sequencing has now evolved to a stage where large sequencers can process thousands of samples simultaneously.
- The process of whole-genome sequencing, made possible by the Human Genome Project, now facilitates the reading of a person’s individual genome to identify differences from the average human genome.
Applications of sequencing
- Genome sequencing has been used to evaluate rare disorders, preconditions for disorders and even cancer from the viewpoint of genetics, rather than as diseases of certain organs.
- Nearly 10,000 diseases are known to be the result of a single gene malfunctioning.
- In public health, sequencing has been used to read the codes of viruses.
- One of its first practical usages was in 2014, when a group of scientists sequenced samples of Ebola from infected African patients to show how genomic data of viruses could reveal hidden pathways of transmission.
Sequencing and pandemic
- Virologists began evaluating the sequence to try and understand how to combat the coronavirus, track the mutating variants and their intensity and spread, and to come up with a vaccine.
- Genomic sequencing became one of the first steps in this important process.
- The purpose of genome sequencing was to understand the role of certain mutations in increasing the virus’s infectivity.
- Role of India:
- India also put in place a sequencing framework: the Indian SARS-COV-2 Genomics Consortia (INSACOG).
- This consortium of labs across the country, was tasked with scanning coronavirus samples from patients and flagging the presence of variants known to have spiked transmission internationally.
- As of early December 2021, INSACOG had sequenced about 1,00,000 samples.
The Genome India Project
- The Department of Biotechnology (DBT) initiated the “Genome India Project” (GIP) in 2020.
- The GIP aims to collect 10,000 genetic samples from citizens across India, to build a reference genome.
- Whole-genome sequencing and subsequent data analysis of the genetic data of these 10,000 individuals would be carried out.
- This would aid our understanding of the nature of diseases affecting the Indian population, and then ultimately support the development of predictive diagnostic markers.
- Through whole-genome sequencing, the plan is to build an exhaustive catalogue of genetic variations for the Indian population.
- This would aid in the designing of genome-wide association chips which will facilitate further large-scale genetic studies in a cost-effective manner.
- It would also open new vistas for advancing next-generation personalized medicine in the country, paving the way for predicting health and disease outcomes and modulating treatment protocols based on the genome sequences.
- The initiative would also support the development of targeted preventive care, as it has the potential to help identify those population groups which are more susceptible to various risk factors for certain diseases.
- For instance, if a region shows a tendency towards a specific disease, customized interventions can be made in the region, accordingly, leading to more effective treatment overall.
- This project is led by the Centre for Brain Research, which acts as the central coordinator between a collaboration of 20 leading institutions.
- Priority areas:
- Precision health,
- Rare genetic disorders,
- Mutation spectrum of genetic and complex diseases in the Indian population,
- Genetic Epidemiology of Multifactorial Lifestyle Diseases,
- Translational Research.
Topic 5: Bronchial asthma
Context: Five-time Chief Minister of Punjab and Shiromani Akali Dal patriarch Parkash Singh Badal passed away due to acute exacerbation of bronchial asthma.
What is bronchial asthma?
- As a respiratory condition in which the airways narrow and swell in response to allergen exposure and may produce extra mucous.
- Bronchial asthma can make breathing difficult.
- It must be noted that bronchial asthma is the same as asthma.
- Exacerbation means sudden worsening.
- If someone was doing good on inhalers, but suddenly contracts a new infection or allergy, and their breathlessness or cough increases — this is called exacerbation.
- Smoking and passive smoking
- Infections such as colds, flu, or pneumonia
- Allergens such as food, pollen, mold, dust mites, and pet dander
- Sea foods
- Air pollution and toxins
- Weather, especially extreme changes in temperature
- Drugs (such as aspirin, NSAIDs, and beta-blockers)
- Food additives (such as MSG)
- Emotional stress and anxiety
- Perfumes and fragrances
- Acid reflux
Topic 6: Code on Social Security
Context: The labour codes passed in 2020 acknowledge gig workers as new occupational categories in the making, in a bid to keep India’s workforce secure as it embraces ‘new kinds of work’.
- What is it?
- The Code aims to regulate the organised / unorganised (or any other) sectors and extend social security benefits, during sickness, maternity, disablement, etc. to all employees and workers across different organisations.
- The Code undertakes to integrate nine existing labour laws relating to social security into one integrated Code.
- The Code applies to everyone on wages in an establishment, irrespective of occupation.
- Definition of wages:
- The term “wages” includes all kinds of remunerations capable of being expressed in monetary termsincluding:
- basic pay,
- dearness allowance, and
- retaining allowance.
- It does not include:
- overtime compensation,
- house rent,
- conveyance allowance,
- gratuity upon termination, or
- any retrenchment compensation.
- The term “wages” includes all kinds of remunerations capable of being expressed in monetary termsincluding:
- Employees’ State Insurance Fund
- The Employees’ State Insurance Fund shall be set up for payment of benefits that shall be defrayed by the Employees State Insurance Corporation for administration.
- Maternity Benefits
- Every woman employed in an establishment shall be entitled to receive maternity benefits at the rate of average daily wage for the period of her
- To receive the benefits, such woman should have worked for at least 80 days in 12 months immediately preceding the date of her expected
- The maximum period for maternity benefits can be up to 26 weeks
- Employee Compensation
- Workers are entitled to compensation from the employer for cases involving fatal accidents, bodily injury, or death during the work
- Unorganised, Gigs And Platform Workers
- The Code has distinguished itself from the Unorganised Workers Social Security Act, 2008 by creating a distinction between ‘unorganised workers’, ‘gigs’, and ‘platform workers’.
- Employees: The term employees now also includes workers employed through contracts.
- Inter-state migrant workers: It also includes self-employed workers who have migrated from another state.
- Gig workers: Freelancers, independent contractors, etc. who engage in hourly or temporary work and share a non-traditional employer-employee relationship are grouped as gig workers.
- Platform workers: Workers who use an app or website to get connected to their customers are classified as platform workers.
Concerns with Platform workers:
- What a platform worker is allowed to claim as rights, responsibilities and working conditionsthat can be legally upheld is the key question in these codes.
- Such as for factory workers, who have been an important industrial element in India and around the world.
- In the Code on Social Security, 2020, platform workers are now eligible for benefits like maternity benefits, life and disability cover, old age protection, provident fund, employment injury benefits, and so on.
- However, eligibility does not mean that the benefits are guaranteed.
- None of these are secure benefits, which means that from time to time, the Central government can formulate welfare schemes that cover these aspects of personal and work security, but they are not guaranteed.
- Actualising these benefits will depend on the political will at the Central and State government-levels and how unions elicit political support.
- This schema outlined above, cannot be implemented without all informal workers being registered.
- A beginning has been made with the E-Shram Portal where more than 212 million workers have been registered.
- However, this is very short of all informal workers and given the political will, this is administratively feasible.
- The cost is fiscally feasible, since covering the poorest will require only 0.69% or less of GDP per year, over the next five years.
- The scheme would require additional fiscal costs, which can be met from growing tax revenues from a growing GDP.
Topic 7: Thirunelly temple
Context: The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) has urged the government to conserve the historically significant structures, including the 600-year-old ‘Vilakkumadom’, an exquisite granite structure, at the Sree Mahavishnu Temple at Thirunelly in Kerala.
- Thirunelli Temple is an ancient temple dedicated to Lord Maha Vishnu on the Brahmagiri hill in Kerala.
- No proper records of the exact dates of establishment of temple exist.
- There exists documentary proof that Thirunelli at the time of Chera king Bhaskara Ravi Varma I (962–1019 CE) was an important town and pilgrim center.
- The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) is a non-profit charitable organisation.
- It is registered under the Societies Registration Act, 1860.
- In 2007, the United Nations awarded INTACH a special consultative status with United Nations Economic and Social Council.
- To create a membership organisation to stimulate and spearhead heritage awareness and conservation in India.
- Since 1984, INTACH has pioneered the conservation and protection of India’s natural and cultural heritage and is today the largest membership organisation in the country dedicated to conservation.
- Among the tasks undertaken by INTACH are:
- restoration of monuments and their management;
- advocacy for heritage property conservation;
- public awareness through heritage walks and buses;
- establishment of heritage clubs in schools;
- holding of awareness workshop for teachers of schools and colleges and heritage walks to various unprotected sites.