An underwater forest?

Imagine a forest underwater or a tapestry of green inside the ocean. That's just what a kelp forest is. Though kelps are considered the forests of the sea and look like plants, they are not plants. Kelps are large brown algae, and together, the different species of kelps form kelp forests.

The kelp forests figure among one of the most dynamic and diverse ecosystems on earth and offer a habitat for marine organisms such as invertebrates, fishes, and other algae and play many key ecological roles.

Kelps cover 25% of the world's coastlines. They provide food and shelter to marine animals. These can be seen around the world, across polar as well as temperate coastal oceans. They live in cold waters that are rich in nutrients.

While they remain attached to the seafloor, they grow towards the surface of the water and depend on sunlight to generate food. If the ideal physical conditions are satisfied, then kelps can grow 45 cm a day. Some of these species are seen to measure up to even 45 m long.

Kelps and climate change

Kelp forests play a highly crucial role in battling climate change as they are good at sequestering carbon, thereby ensuring the health of the coastal environment. They are also capable of absorbing excess nitrogen and phosphorus that run into the oceans from the land.

Studies have shown that a third of the globe's coastal environments depend on kelp to combat local pollution and sustain fisheries. Apart from helping maintain the health of the marine ecosystem, kelps are also commercially harvested as they find applications in food production, textiles, pharmaceuticals, and so on.

The health of the kelps is dependent largely on oceanographic conditions and as such they can disappear and reappear based on this. For instance, sea urchins can destroy the kelp forests. Moreover, strong individual storms can affect the kelp forests by tearing out the kelps from the floor of the sea.

These dense canopies of algae are also facing many threats. Water pollution, rising sea temperatures, overgrazing, overfishing, and water pollution are some of the reasons for the depletion of kelp forests.

Studies prove that Southern Australia and Northern California have lost 95% of their kelp forests.

Their depletion is seen along the coastlines of every continent and this affects the fish, livelihoods and economy that are supported by the kelp forests.

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What is the first Wild River National Park in Europe?

Just a few months ago, the Albanian government declared the river Vjosa and its tributaries a national park. With that it became Europe's first wild river national park, and it was called a "historic moment. Why so? Come, let's find out.

Claimed to be "one of the last wild rivers in Europe", Vjosa runs 270 km from Greece to Albania, and then joins the Adriatic Sea. It is said that the river became part of this significant move after nearly a decade-long campaign by environmental NGOS in the region, now placing the country "at the forefront of river protection". Unlike many rivers in central Europe, Vjosa flows freely and is wild, in that, it is largely untouched by infrastructure projects. This makes it similar to a natural wildlife habitat on land, without any human interference. By becoming a national park, it can be compared to protected wildlife areas on land. The national park covers over 32,000 acres, including the 190-km-long Albanian part of the river, where more than 60,000 people live.

But why it truly needs to be protected is because of this - "The river and its surrounding areas are ecosystems of substantial biodiversity and home to over 1,100 species of animals. Two of the plant species and 13 of the animal species are assessed as globally threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature" (IUCN). Not just that. As a national park, the focus will be on concerns such as "water and land pollution, waste management", etc. Further, it "will create economic opportunities for local communities through responsible tourism".

It is noteworthy that the Albanian government ended plans to have eight hydropower stations on the river and its tributaries, which could "have caused serious damage to the river'.

Meanwhile, a half-built hydropower station on the river and a new, multimillion-euro international airport being built where Vjosa flows into the Adriatic are concerns, especially since the latter could cause "irreparable damage to the fragile ecosystems of protected lagoons that host flamingos, pelicans and millions of other migratory birds".

While there are marine reserves globally and rivers flowing within national parks, instances of a wild river itself as a national park are not as common. As countries globally battle climate change and many other challenges, Albania's move is perhaps a crucial necessity worthy of emulation.

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What is special about Vistadome coach?

Vistadome coaches allow rail passengers to experience the natural beauty of the surroundings in a whole new way.

The Tejas Express train operating between Mumbai and Karmali in Goa added the second vistadome coach recently. But what is a vistadome coach and why is it added to trains? Come let's find out.

Vistadome coaches are an exciting addition to the Indian Railways. These coaches offer passengers a panoramic view of the passing landscape. With large windows and transparent, see-through roofs, a vistadome coach provides a hindrance-free view of the surroundings. As they allow you to take in the beauty of the surroundings from every angle, they have become a huge hit among rail passengers.

A boost for tourism

Vistadome coaches have been introduced in several train routes across the country to promote tourism and to make rail journeys memorable for travellers. One of the most popular routes for such glass-covered coaches is the Araku Valley route in Andhra Pradesh which is known for its lush greenery, waterfalls, and coffee plantations. Another popular route is the Kalka-Shimla route in north India which is known for its stunning views of the Himalayan range. The vistadome train service is available in sections of Assam, West Bengal, and Madhya Pradesh too.

Breathtaking view

The Konkan belt also offers a breathtaking view of waterfalls, rivers, valleys, tunnels, lush green fields, and creeks. One vistadome coach was attached to the Mumbai-Karmali Tejas Express in September 2022. With the attachment of the second vistadome coach on April 14, 2023, the Tejas Express has become the first in the country to have two such coaches on both ends of the train, according to Railway officials.

The vistadome coaches are air-conditioned, and the seats cushioned to provide maximum comfort. They also have other attractions such as LED lights, rotatable seats, GPS-based information system, electrically operated automatic sliding compartment doors, wide side sliding doors for specially-abled people and toilets with ceramic tile flooring. The viewing gallery with huge glass windows on three sides is one of the biggest attractions of these coaches, from where passengers love to click photographs.


*The first vistadome coach in a train in India was introduced in Andhra Pradesh in 2017 on the beautiful Visakhapatnam-Araku route.

*There are over 30 vistadome coaches at present that mainly cover routes boasting exceptional scenic beauty such as rolling hills, gurgling rivers, and lush forests.

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A robot chef that learns from videos

You might not often think about it that way, but cooking is a difficult skill with a number of factors in play. Just ask a robot! While human beings can learn to cook through observation, the same cannot be done easily by a robot. Programming a robot that can make a variety of dishes is not only costly, but also time-consuming.

A group of researchers from the University of Cambridge have programmed their robotic chef with a cookbook - eight simple salad recipes. The robot was not only able to identify which recipe was being prepared after watching a video of a human demonstrating it, but was also then able to make it. The results were reported in the journal ‘IEEE Access.’

Simple salads

For this study, the researchers started off by devising eight simple salad recipes and then made videos of themselves making these. A publicly available neural network programmed to identify a range of different objects was then used to train the robot chef.

The robot watched 16 videos and was able to recognise the correct recipe 93% of the time (15 times out of 16), even though it detected only 83% of the actions of the human chef in the video. The robot was able to recognise that slight variations (portions or human error) were just that, and not a new recipe. It even recognised the demonstration of a new, ninth salad, added it to its cookbook and made it.

Hold it up for them

The researchers were amazed at the amount of nuance that the robot could grasp. For the robot to identify, the demonstrators had to hold up the fruit or vegetable so that the robot could see the whole fruit or vegetable, before it was chopped.

These videos, however, were nowhere like the food videos with fast cuts and visual effects that trend on social media. While these are too hard for a robot to follow at the moment, researchers believe that robot chefs will get better and faster at identifying ingredients in videos like those with time, thereby becoming capable of learning a range of recipes quickly.

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What is Olympus Mons?

Volcanism is the eruption of molten rock or magma onto the surface of a planet. This activity is crucial in changing the topography of the concerned planet. Planet Earth has volcanoes on all the continents. But which is the largest volcano in the solar system?

Olympus Mons

Towering high, some three times as high as Mt. Everest (8.8 km) is a huge volcano on planet Mars. Christened "Olympus Mons", the volcano is the largest in the solar system!

It sits on the edge of a huge plateau called the Tharsis Bulge. It was formed as a result of the continuous flow of lava over millions of years. It is said to have begun some 115 million years ago.

Olympus Mons is one among a dozen large volcanoes in the Tharsis Montes region. Most of these volcanoes are ten to hundred times larger than their terrestrial counterparts. Olympus Mons is the tallest of them and towers 16 miles (25 km) above the surrounding area.

So how big is Olympus Mons?

Let's take the case of Hawaii's Mauna Loa, the largest volcano on Earth. The volume of Olympus Mons is 100 times larger than Mauna Loa. It is said that the whole of the Hawaiian islands will fit inside the Olympus Mons. It spreads across 374 miles, the size of the state of Arizona.

A shield volcano

A shield volcano is called so because of its shape. Instead of the lava getting violently thrown out, here the molten material would be flowing down the sides of the volcano slowly.

As such it would appear like a warrior's shield seen from the side and hence the name. Shield volcanoes are wider when compared to their height. The outer edge of Olympus Mons is surrounded by a cliff that reaches a height of about 6 miles. This cliff itself is as tall as Mauna Loa. The base of the volcano is surrounded by a wide depression.

According to studies, Olympus Mons is a relatively young one though it took the volcano over a hundred million years to form, there are regions on the mountain that are just a few million years old. The volcano is considered to be active even now with the potential to erupt.

But why did such a giant volcano form on the red planet and not on Earth, one may ask? According to scientists, the low surface gravity of the planet and the rate of eruption led to the lava piling up higher on Mars. In the case of Earth, the movement of the crust prevents the build-up of lava.

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What is stylometry?

Stylometry is a powerful tool that helps one figures out who wrote what based on their unique writing style.

Stylometry is a field of study that uses statistical methods and computational tools to analyse and identify patterns in how people write. In simpler terms, stylometry can be understood as a detective tool for words, used to figure out who wrote what.

Finding the author

Authors have been able to write anonymously for centuries, with the belief that their true identity would never be revealed. However, in the past few years, advancements in machine learning methods have increased the effectiveness of identifying different patterns in an individual's writing. Every person has a distinct writing style, similar to a fingerprint. Stylometry analyses a text's word selection, sentence construction, and even punctuation to examine those literary fingerprints to determine the author of a written piece.

One famous example of stylometric analysis is the study of English playwright William Shakespeare's plays. Researchers have used computational tools to analyse the writing style of the bard and compare them to other works from the time period. Through this analysis, they have been able to identify which plays were likely written by Shakespeare and which ones might have been collaborations or even written by someone else entirely.

This kind of analysis was also used to reveal American statesmen James Madison and Alexander Hamilton as the writers of the anonymously published Federalist Papers (also known as The Federalist), as well as link British writer J.K. Rowling to the anonymous author of the book The Cuckoo's Calling. Stylometry can also be used in more serious situations, such as when researchers want to figure out who wrote a particular document or when law enforcement is trying to track down a suspect. By analysing the writing style in different documents, they can look for patterns that might help them identify the author.

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Antarctic sea ice matters

"One of the largest seasonal cycles on Earth happens in the ocean around Antarctica. During autumn and winter the surface of the ocean freezes as sea ice advances northwards, and then in the spring the ice melts as the sunlight returns. However, of late, the area of this sea ice has been shrinking dramatically. And this is of grave concern. But then, Antarctica is so far away. So, does the size of the sea ice surrounding the continent really matter to us? Oh yes, it does. Here's why.

Since the 1970s, we've had satellite records to measure Antarctic sea ice cover. "At the winter maximum, sea ice covers an area more than twice the size of Australia (roughly 20 million square kilometres), and during summer it retreats to cover less than a fifth of that area (about 3 million square km). But then, the record for 2022 showed that the summer minimum was not even 2 million square km. In 2023, this has been a worrying 1.7 million square km.

When the yearly freezing happens, the cold salty water is pushed down into very deep parts of the ocean. The water then flows towards the northern direction. "About 40 per cent of the global ocean can be traced back to the Antarctic coastline." When waters between the surface and the deeper regions are exchanged so, heat and carbon dioxide are trapped in ocean depths. Not just that Nutrients from the deep reach the surface, and since the water moves northwards, these nutrients help support ocean life across the world.

So, when sea ice cover decreases, this exchange suffers, affecting ocean life. Also, without adequate sea ice cover, oceans tend to absorb more heat from the sun, which can lead to increased ocean warming. This can prevent the expansive formation of sea ice during winter, and the deadly cycle would continue. Again, warmer oceans negatively affect the growth of certain marine creatures. This can impact the lives of organisms that consume or are consumed by these creatures, which can have a bearing on marine and terrestrial life the world over.

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