Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Indian stocks rose the most in seven weeks on expectations prospects for crops will improve after the weather bureau forecast monsoon rains would intensify.
Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd., the country's largest maker of tractors, gained 4 percent, while Jaiprakash Associates Ltd., the biggest maker of dams, soared almost 8 percent. Agriculture makes up about 20 percent of the Indian economy, according to IIFL Ltd. in Mumbai.
"If the monsoon rains improve from hereon, it will be a boost for the markets," said R.K. Gupta, who helps oversee the equivalent of $128 million at Taurus Asset Management Ltd. in New Delhi. "Positive news from other stock markets across the world has supported the market today."
The Bombay Stock Exchange's Sensitive Index, or Sensex, rose 453.38, or 3.4 percent, to 13,853.7, the most since May 27. The S&P CNX Nifty Index on the National Stock Exchange added 3.5 percent to 4,111.4. The BSE 200 Index increased 3.7 percent to 1,688.19.
The monsoon is the main source of irrigation for the nation's 235 million farmers. The northwest region, the nation's biggest producer of rice, wheat and sugar cane, will receive rain and thundershowers, the India Meteorological Department said today on its Web site. The country is the world's top producer of the three crops and relies on the June-September rains to produce food for its 1.2 billion people.
"If the rains pick up sufficiently enough in most regions during the peak sowing season, which is until the end of July, the concern on crop output may not be so high," said Sangeetha Saranathan, an analyst who tracks the agriculture sector at IIFL in Mumbai. "If the rains are good, the concerns on lower GDP growth will go away."
Mahindra & Mahindra rose 4 percent to 705.2 rupees. Jaiprakash soared 7.9 percent to 191.6 rupees.
Tata Steel Ltd., the country's biggest producer of the alloy, gained after Asia's largest steelmakers raised prices and production on improving demand. Baoshan Iron & Steel Co., China's No. 1 steelmaker, increased prices by as much as 14 percent for August delivery, while Posco, South Korea's largest, lifted its 2009 production target.
Tata Steel jumped 5.6 percent to 357.8 rupees. JSW Steel Ltd., the country's third-largest producer of the alloy, soared 9.3 percent to 530.2 rupees, while Steel Authority of India Ltd. gained 7.9 percent to 152.6 rupees.
Asian stocks rose, giving the MSCI Asia Pacific Index its biggest gain in two months, as Singapore upgraded its forecast for economic growth.
The MSCI Asia Pacific Index rose 2.4 percent to 100.45 in Tokyo after slumping yesterday to its lowest level since May 18. The gauge today climbed the most since May 19 and has risen 42 percent from a five-year low on March 9 on optimism government stimulus policies will revive the global economy.
DLF Ltd., the biggest real estate developer, jumped 11 percent to 299.45 rupees. Reliance Infrastructure Ltd., the second-largest utility, rose 9.3 percent to 1,054.1 rupees. ICICI Bank Ltd., India's No. 2 lender, increased 7.4 percent to 679.5 rupees. Reliance Industries Ltd., the country's most valuable company, advanced 3.6 percent to 1,814.05 rupees.
Aban Offshore Ltd., India's largest oil rig company, rose the most in 15 years in Mumbai trading after Morgan Stanley lifted the stock's target price, citing improving business and a possible restructuring of its debt.
Aban, the best performer on the broader BSE500 index today, gained after Morgan raised the stock's target price 88 percent to 1,114 rupees a share. The shares jumped 25 percent during trading today, the biggest gain since May 17, 1994. It closed up 21 percent at 787.05 rupees.
Welspun-Gujarat Stahl Ltd. added 6.1 percent to 185.3 rupees after the country's No. 1 insurer invested in the company. Life Insurance Corp. of India bought 1 million shares of the pipe maker in a single transaction, according to information on the Bombay Stock Exchange Web site, paying 173 rupees a share.
Every year, millions of dragonflies fly thousands of kilometres across the sea from southern India to Africa.
So says a biologist in the Maldives, who claims to have discovered the longest migration of any insect.
If confirmed, the mass exodus would be the first known insect migration across open ocean water.
It would also dwarf the famous trip taken each year by Monarch butterflies, which fly just half the distance across the Americas.
Biologist Charles Anderson has published details of the mass migration in the Journal of Tropical Ecology.
Each year, millions of dragonflies arrive on the Maldive Islands, an event which is well known to people living there.
"But no-one I have spoken to knew where they came from," says Anderson, an independent biologist who usually works with organisations such as the Maldivian Marine Research Centre to survey marine life around the islands.
Their appearance is especially peculiar because the 1200 islands that make up the Maldives lie 500 to 1000km from the mainland of southern India, and all are coral cays with almost no surface freshwater, which dragonflies need to complete their lifecycle.
Anderson noticed the dragonflies after he first arrived in the Maldives in 1983. He started keeping detailed records each year from 1996 and now collates data collected by local observers at other localities in the Maldives, in India and on vessels at sea.
When Anderson compared these observations with those made of dragonflies appearing in southern India, he found a clear progression of arrival dates from north to south, with dragonflies arriving first in southern India, then in the Republic of Maldives' capital Male, and then on more southern atolls.
Each year, dragonflies first appear in Male between 4 and 23 October, with a mean arrival date of 21 October. Dragonfly numbers peak in November and December, before the insects then disappear once more. The insects arrive in waves, with each staying for no more than a few days.
Over 98% of the dragonflies recorded on the islands are Globe skimmers (Pantala flavescens), but Pale-spotted emperors (Anax guttatus), Vagrant emperors (A. ephippiger), Twisters (Tholymis tillarga) and Blue perchers (Diplacodes trivialis) also appear in some numbers.
The dragonflies then reappear between April and June.
The dragonflies are clearly migrating from India across the open sea to the Maldives, says Anderson.
"That by itself is fairly amazing, as it involves a journey of 600 to 800km across the ocean," he says.
Quite how they do it was a bit of a mystery, as in October at least they appear to be flying against the prevailing winds.
However, in October, and continuing into November and December, a weather system called the Inter-tropical Convergence Zone moves southwards over the Maldives.
Ahead of the ITCZ the wind blows towards India, but above and behind it the winds blow from India. So it seems that the dragonflies are able to reach Maldives by flying on these winds at altitude above 1000m.
But that is not the end of the animals' epic adventure.
"As there is no freshwater in Maldives for dragonflies, what are they doing here?" asks Anderson.
"I have also deduced that they are flying all the way across the western Indian Ocean to East Africa."
Anderson has gathered a wealth of circumstantial evidence to back his claim.
Large numbers of dragonflies also start appearing in the northern Seychelles, some 2700km from India, in November, and then in Aldabra in the Seychelles, 3800km from India, in December.
That matches the slow southerly movement of the Inter-tropical Convergence Zone weather system, behind which winds blow steadily from India to East Africa.
It is also known that Globe skimmers appear in large numbers through eastern and southern Africa.
In Uganda, they appear twice each year in March or April and again in September, while further south in Tanzania and Mozambique they appear in December and January.
That strongly suggest that the dragonflies take advantage of the moving weather systems and monsoon rains to complete an epic migration from southern India to east and southern Africa, and then likely back again, a round trip of 14,000 to 18,000km.
"The species involved breeds in temporary rainwater pools. So it is following the rains, taking sequential advantage of the monsoon rains of India, the short rains of East Africa, the summer rains of southern Africa, the long rains of East Africa, and then back to India for the next monsoon," says Anderson.
"It may seem remarkable that such a massive migration has gone unnoticed until now. But this just illustrates how little we still know about the natural world."
The monarch butterfly is often cited as having the longest migration of any insect, covering around 7000km in an annual round trip from Mexico to southern Canada.
On average, it takes four generations of butterflies to complete the journey.
Anderson believes that the dragonflies survive the ocean flights by gliding on the winds, feeding on other small insects.
They too, take four generations to make the full round trip each year.
He says the migratory paths of a number of insect-eating bird species, including cuckoos, nightjars, falcons and bee-eaters, follow that of the dragonfly migration, from southern India to their wintering grounds in Africa. That suggests the birds feed on the dragonflies as they travel.
"They [fly] at the same time and altitudes as the dragonflies. And what has not been realised before is that all are medium-sized birds that eat insects, insects the size of dragonflies," he says.
"There are earlier records of swarms of Globe skimmers flying out to sea, and at sea," Anderson continues.
"But it was always assumed that those dragonflies were doomed. Which says rather more about our earth-bound lack of imagination than it does about the globe skimmers' extraordinary flying abilities."
Life in Mumbai was thrown out of gear on Tuesday during the wettest day the city experienced so far this monsoon.
The incessant showers, which caused road, rail and flight disruptions, began on Monday night. On Tuesday, the Met department reported 32.8 mm of rain in Colaba and 145.5 mm in Santa Cruz.
The eastern suburbs were the hard-hit, with the BMC reporting 104 mm of rain there. The western suburbs and island city had 66 mm and 31 mm. Though civic officials had earlier claimed that the city was ready to tackle rain of upto 350 mm at non-high-tide times, Tuesday's downpour flooded several areas and caused severe traffic jams. Central Railway, which serves the eastern suburbs, saw its main and harbour lines brought to a standstill for around three hours. A commuter who caught a train at Sion at 3.30 pm to reach Badlapur, was still stuck at Thane at 9.30 pm.
While there were traffic snarls, Mumbaikars also waded through waist-deep waters. Low-lying areas like King's Circle, Sion, Santa Cruz's Milan Subway, Linking Road and S V Road in Bandra-Khar, most of Kurla and Hindmata-Parel were inundated. The civic body had claimed to have completed many flood-mitigation measures, including widening and desilting the Mithi River, widening drains, clearing railway drains and so on. The Mithi River crossed the danger mark of 2.7 m and went as high as 3.1 m.
Mulund-based Reena Manish, who had to catch a flight to Dubai at 7 pm, managed to reach the airport only an hour in advance, as the roads around Powai and Goregaon were flooded. ''It took me three hours to reach the airport due to flooding,'' he said. Several schools and colleges across the city were either shut or sent students home early. Many office-goers chose to stay home. By evening, though water had receded, the roads were almost empty, with very few people venturing out
Soot from the wood-based cooking fires used by 70% of Indians is forming a cloud of pollutants that is impeding the monsoon winds, according to a senior scientist.
The Asian Brown Cloud, as the blanket of pollutants over South Asia and the Tibetan plateau is called, is not only weakening the monsoon but is responsible for half the warming observed in the Himalayas, Syed Iqbal Hasnain, senior fellow at The Energy and Resources Institute, said here Monday evening.
He was delivering a talk organised by the Indian Mountaineering Foundation on the melting of Himalayan glaciers due to climate change. Scientists fear the melting will lead to water scarcity in the north and south of the Himalayas, affecting well over a billion people.
"With 70% of the Indian population using biomass for cooking, the Asian Brown Cloud covers the entire sub-continent at a height of around 3,000 feet," said Hasnain, a former vice chancellor of Kozhikode University and formerly from New Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University.
The effect of this cloud gets worse in the cold atmosphere of the Himalayas where the soot gathers and impedes wind, he explained. Apart from the weak monsoon that is causing consternation in India now, the cloud also held up the westerly winds in winter.
"There was not much of a winter in Kashmir this year," Hasnain pointed out. "And hardly any winter snow." It had a bad effect on horticulture.
Scientists have measured the average temperature in the Himalayas had risen by 1.2 degrees Celsius in the last 100-odd years.
Hasnain said 0.6 degrees of this was due to increase in the concentration of carbon dioxide -- the commonly known villain in global warming -- and the other 0.6 degrees is due to black carbon (BC), as the soot is called by scientists.
Hasnain said the effect of BC in reducing monsoon rainfall had also been shown by a recent study carried out by the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi. "We have measured BC up on the East Rathong glacier in Sikkim. The concentration is three times as should be."
He explained that BC is reducing albido -- the ability of snow to reflect heat -- and thus accelerating melting of the glaciers. East Rathong glacier has reduced in area from 7.125 sq km in 1962 to 0.46 sq km in 2009, a loss of 93 percent.
Another glacier Hasnain has been studying -- Kolahai in Kashmir -- has receded 10 metres per year since 1965.
"The smaller glaciers, those below 10 square kilometres, are disappearing much faster than the big ones like the Gangotri glacier," Hasnain said. "And these small glaciers are the majority among the 15,000-odd glaciers in the Himalayas."
He rued that hydroelectric projects being planned in the lower slopes of the Himalayas were not taking glacier melt into account.
"When these glaciers start melting, they form lakes, and there is a serious danger of these lakes bursting, which will bring huge amounts of silt, rocks and dirt to choke the dams being built downstream."
Fearing the late arrival of the annual monsoon, scientists in India are flying through storm clouds seeding them with weather modification chemicals in hopes of artificially creating rain.
The monsoon's late arrival has left the ground parched and crops damaged as water shortages sweep through the cities. At least 100 people have been reported dead as a result of the disastrous heat wave reaching temperatures as high as 113F.
In Delhi some residents have resorted to sleeping in their air-conditioned cars during power cuts that can last up to 12 hours a day. The government of the southern state of Andhra Pradesh has even ordered all religious institutions to pray for rain.
The water shortage crisis exposes the vulnerability of the region that is so dependant on the monsoon, which governs the lives of about 740 million people living in the countryside.
The Indian government has utilized the American method of cloud seeding technology before, but now it is working to develop its own techniques to ensure that monsoon clouds will yield torrential rains. It will be funding a three-year experiment to find the best way to seed the monsoon clouds that appear across the sub-continent between June and September.
On May 17, The Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, based in the western city of Pune (Poona), introduced the cloud aerosol interaction and precipitation enhancement experiment (Caipeex). "I'm not saying the cloud-seeding is the only solution," J. R. Kulkarni, the manager of the program, told The Times. "But in several different parts of the globe it has now been attempted and found to be successful, so it will definitely help to ease the situation."
Cloud seeding involves spraying chemicals into the air such as dry ice, silver iodide and potassium or sodium chloride, which causes moisture particles to expand, forming drops of rain that fall to the ground.
In the first part of the experiment, three scientists took a dangerous trip in a light aircraft through the rain clouds with their equipment every day for two to four hours, according to Professor Kulkarni.
"Yes, it's a little bit dangerous," he said. "Normally, people avoid the monsoon clouds - we go into them - but that's a part of the research." He explained that the equipment is used to measure the temperature, speed, chemical composition and moisture and particle levels of the clouds from the inside.
In the second part of the experiment, during the 2010 and 2011 monsoons, they plan to use two aircrafts to seed the clouds at random while rain gauges on the ground measure the precipitation.
Then, the final stage of the process will take place in 2011 through 2012 when scientists will do the tedious work of analyzing data, compiling computer models and drawing up guidelines on how to seed clouds.
India's cloud seeding experimentation started in 1951, but the technology has only been used sporadically. They have yet to succeed in drawing up a national policy for how and when it should be used. The largest cloud seeding program is in China, followed by Russia and Israel, and at least 24 other countries are known to use the technology.
Many critics argue that the endeavor is too expensive and that there are too many risks involved in compromising the balance of nature and conjuring the tempestuous monsoon waters, which is causing many disputes between neighboring states. Those supporting the method insist that it has the potential to create balance in rainfalls that flood much of eastern India every year, while the northern areas are parched.
India has a variety of traditions and rituals that are believed to bring rain. For example, in Vedic and Hindu rituals, frogs are married to supposedly please the rain god and conjure the monsoon. Rain summoning dances are also documented across the globe and are still used in the Romanian ritual of paparuda still performed in some villages.
In the ritual, a girl wearing a skirt made of knitted vines and small branches, sings and dances through the streets of the village, stopping at every house, where the hosts pour water on her. The people of the village follow her dancing and shouting.