Tag Archives: science

What can tree rings can tell about forest fires?

At school, I’m sure every child was once fascinated by the knowledge that the rings on a tree trunk can tell it’s age. The very fact that the age of a tree can be recorded this way used to be unreal, and to actually count the rings of a cut tree and figuring out the age of a tree in front of us was an inexplicable discovery.

Trees can be dated in a variety of ways; dendrochronology (the study of tree rings) is but one of them. In recent times, this method has been criticized by many people because of the contradiction it provides. Why would you cut and kill a tree, just so you can figure out it’s age? One such mistake in 1964 had lead to the cutting of the world’s oldest tree at that time. An accident that could have been avoided, if the method of dating trees were different.

However, tree rings are very valuable for various other reasons. That is why, the study of dendrochronology still continues with an altered methodology. Scientists do not cut the entire tree to look at the trunk as a slab, but use drills to cut out a small, thin core of the tree that fully captures the information embedded in the core. Not only do they record the age, but can also serve as an important in climate studies and fire predictions. This characteristic is now being used to recontruct climate record pertaining to forest fires, and can be helpful in discerning patterns of fire in a particular region.

Continue reading What can tree rings can tell about forest fires?


India’s Environment Protection Act, 1986

In India, environmental protection was not much of an issue till the mid-1980’s. That is, environmental protection as a whole was never seriously considered. The government did enact various legislation pertaining to the environment in the 1970’s and 80’s; most notably the Water Act, 1974, Air Act, 1981, Indian Forest Policy, 1988. But it took two major pushes, one from the international community and one from the national community, to create the Environment Protection Act. Continue reading India’s Environment Protection Act, 1986

Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules, 2000

Noise pollution is a major issue in today’s urban areas. From factories to vehicles, from machinery to daily equipment, everything produces a noise that is having a significant impact on the ambient environment as well as the health and well being of humans.

In India, an added problem is that Indians are naturally a very noisy group of people. Every occasion, big or small, is celebrated with a lot of fanfare and noise. If you don’t believe me (my non-Indian readers), please YouTube Indian weddings for more on this.

Recognizing the harmful effects of noise, the Indian government included measures to abate noise pollution under the Environment Protection Act, 1986. Noise pollution was one of the categories being addressed under this Act. However, in the late 1990’s, the government decided to come out with a separate legislation solely focusing on noise pollution. Thus was born, Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules, 2000. Continue reading Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules, 2000

Why is shifting cultivation being blamed for land degradation? 

I’m on a study tour through South India, visiting different National Parks and scientific institutes. Today was my first day, and already, the lectures we had were extremely interesting…

One of the lectures I really found fascinating was given by Amit Jose Kurian, a research scholar at the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and Environment (ATREE). It was about shifting cultivation, also called slash-and-burn cultivation or jhum cultivation. The question he intrigued us with was this- 

Does shifting cultivation really lead to land degradation or is that a misconception? 


A simple Google search gives us this definition for this form of agriculture- 

Shifting cultivation is a form of agriculture in which plots of land are cultivated temporarily, then abandoned so that the land can revert to it’s natural state, while the farmer moves on to the next piece of land.

Patches of cultivated land and fallows.

The farmer then returns to this land (called fallow) after a few years to repeat the process. In this way, he goes round and round an area of land reusing and managing different patches of land. 


The time taken for a farmer to return to a plot of land to recultivate it, is called fallow length. Ideally, this should be about a few years. Every plot of land is cultivated for about two years (or two harvests), before moving on. And then, the farmer returns to the this plot after 4-5 years. During this time, the forest in this plot regrows and renourishes the soil.

Recently, reports have indicated that the fallow length has been decreasing, and the plots of forest land are being increasingly cultivated and much higher frequencies. Why is that so? Is it just because of increasing demands from population growth or is there another reason behind it? 


The British were very surprised to see this form of agriculture being practiced, and called it primitive and unsustainable. Since then, the disadvantages of shifting cultivation has been widely publicized. The shortening of fallow lengths has been accused of decreasing productivity of the land and ultimately, the land becomes infertile.


The British solution to this was the lucrative plantations of timber species, and other trees that are widely used for a variety of purposes. They argued that this would maintain the forest cover, as well as provide livelihoods for the people using shifting cultivation. 


But shifting cultivation has not stopped. Instead, shifting cultivation as well as plantations are being practiced side by side. 

The problem with this is that plantations take up years to produce a harvest. Meanwhile, the land on which the plantations are planted are out of the usable area of land. It cannot be circulated back. This leaves very little land left to practice agriculture in. THAT is why, fallow lengths have been decreasing. And this could ultimately be the reason for the decreasing productivity in the plot lands and the fast decline of forests and regrowths. 

So, the “advanced” form of agriculture turned out to be a huge reason for the disadvantages of shifting cultivation. If not for this alternative, may be the fallow length would be around a decade, allowing for a better, more sustainable use of resources. 
All images from Google Images. 

Human-Wildlife Conflicts in Urban Areas

It is natural to think that these conflicts only occur in rural areas and fringe communities around natural forests. Yes, HWC are most common in those areas. But as the urban centres around the world have increased, many animals have adapted themselves to live in urban areas as well. Again, we find an overlap of habitats between humans and animals. Here too, we see many instances of HWC. Continue reading Human-Wildlife Conflicts in Urban Areas

Wildlife Sanctuary vs National Park

Wildlife Sanctuaries and National Parks are two of the most common forms of conservation and protection of wildlife. In India, there are 103 National Parks (with a few proposed) and 537 wildlife sanctuaries (source), out of a total of 733 protected areas. While both serve the purpose of protection of wildlife, there are some key differences between the two. Continue reading Wildlife Sanctuary vs National Park

India’s Wildlife Protection Act, 1972

Soon after the Stockholm convention on Environment, the Indian government responded positively by passing an act for the protection of India’s wildlife (both terrestrial and aquatic) and their habitats. Ever visited a Wildlife Sanctuary or a National Park? Taken a safari to enjoy the animals in the wild? Well, all that was possible only after the enactment of this Act. Continue reading India’s Wildlife Protection Act, 1972