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Current Affair June 28, 2021

Antarctica Treaty

  • The 1959 Antarctic Treaty recently celebrated its 60th anniversary.
  • It was negotiated during the middle of the Cold War by 12 countries with Antarctic interests and remains the only example of a single treaty that governs a whole continent.
  • It is also the foundation of a rules-based international order for a continent without a permanent population.
  • It contains only 14 articles. Principal provisions include:
  • Promoting the freedom of scientific research
  • Use of the continent only for peaceful purposes
  • Prohibition of military activities, nuclear tests and the disposal of radioactive waste.

What the treaty says about territorial claims

  • The most important provision of the treaty is Article IV, which effectively seeks to neutralise territorial sovereignty in Antarctica.
  • For the Antarctic territorial claimants, this meant a limit was placed on making any new claim or enlargement of an existing claim.
  • Likewise, no formal recognition was given to any of the seven territorial claims on the continent, by Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, New Zealand, Norway and the United Kingdom.
  • Russia, the United States and China — signatories with significant Antarctic interests who have not formally made territorial claims — are also bound by the limitations of Article IV.
  • And one sector of Antarctica is not subject to the claim of any country, which effectively makes it the last unclaimed land on earth.
  • The treaty also put a freeze on any disputes between claimants over their territories on the continent. Claimants agreed to abide by the rules and obligations of the treaty, which meant countries that don’t recognize claims (such as China and Russia) are free to go about scientific research and peaceful activities.

Expansion of the treaty

  • Though the compact has held for 60 years, there have been tensions from time to time. Argentina and the UK, for instance, have overlapping claims to territory on the continent. When combined with their ongoing dispute over the nearby Falkland (Malvinas) Islands, their Antarctic relationship remains frosty.
  • A key reason why the treaty has been able to survive has been its ability to evolve through a number of additional conventions and other legal protocols. These have dealt with the conservation of marine living resources, prohibitions on mining, and the adoption of comprehensive environmental protection mechanisms.
  •  Disputes addressed through the expansion of the treaty framework with these agreements. This framework is now referred to as the “Antarctic Treaty System”.
  • These measures have been a great success but tensions have arisen in recent years over the promotion of Southern Ocean marine reserves. Agreement was reached in 2016 on a Ross Sea Marine Protected Area, and momentum is building for a broader network of Southern Ocean marine protected areas. China and Russia have resisted these initiatives.  

Membership of the treaty has grown to 54 signatories today.

Building, operating, and conducting scientific research programs are key to the success not only of the treaty but also to the claimants’ credibility in Antarctica. Australia, for instance, has permitted Belarus, China, France, India, Italy, Russia, and the US to conduct scientific programs at their own research bases within its Antarctic territory, which covers 42% of the continent.

Scientific engagement in Antarctica is considered critical to exercising influence under the treaty. New treaty parties have to meet certain criteria relating to active scientific programs before they are able to participate in meetings as “consultative parties”. A total of 29 treaty parties, including Australia, meet these scientific engagement thresholds.  

Where to from here?

  • While the Antarctic Treaty has been able to successfully respond to a range of challenges, circumstances are radically different in the 2020s compared to the 1950s. Antarctica is much more accessible, partly due to technology but also climate change. More countries now

have substantive interests in the continent than the original 12. Some global resources are becoming scarce, especially oil.

  • This will inevitably result in increased attention being given to the potential for Antarctic mining to take place sometime in the future. Calls to revisit the prohibition on Antarctic mining would seem inevitable.

Uncertainty over China

  • There is uncertainty as to China’s intentions in Antarctica. China joined the treaty in 1983, became a consultative party in 1985, and in 2017 hosted a consultative party meeting in Beijing.
  • China has a developing scientific program on the continent, with four research stations (three of which are in Australia’s Antarctic Territory), and a fifth planned. While Australia and China cooperate on a number of Antarctic scientific and logistics programs, the direction of China’s Antarctic engagement and long-term support for treaty is not clear.
  • There is considerable speculation as to China’s interests in Antarctic resources, especially fisheries and minerals, and whether China may seek to exploit weaknesses in the treaty system to secure access to those resources.

Way Forward

  • All of the treaty signatories, but especially those with significant stakes in the continent, need to give the future of the treaty more attention.
  • The mining ban under the Madrid Protocol to the treaty could be subject to review in 2048. If the treaty’s signatories wish to ensure it remains fit for purpose in 2048 and beyond, more strategic thinking needs to be given to Antarctica’s future.
Source: Down-to-earth

New study on ‘Kamargaon meteorite’

A new study has shown that by studying Kamargaon meteorite and its minerals, new clues about the Earth’s lower mantle can be found.

About Kamargaon meteorite

  • On November 13, 2015, a meteorite fell near the town of Kamargaon in Assam. It weighed a little over 12 kg and scientists decoded its mineral composition and classified it as a chondrite, a variety of stony meteorite.
  • This meteorite originated from the asteroid belt, between Mars and Jupiter, and was somehow sucked by the Earth’s gravity.
  • Previous studies had noted that the Kamargaon meteorite contains minerals such as olivine, pyroxene, plagio clase and chromite.

How it helps studying Earth’s mantle?

  • The Earth has different layers the upper, very thin crust, followed by the intermediate silicate mantle which starts from 30 km to 2,900 km depth, and then the centre iron nickel alloy core.
  • The mantle faces high temperature and pressure. So by studying these meteorites which may have experienced similar high pressure and temperature conditions, the inaccessible mantle layer can be understood.

Olivine dissociation

  • Olivine is also found in Earth’s upper mantle. It breaks down into bridgmanite and magnesiowustite in Earth’s lower mantle conditions. This breaking down is an important reaction that controls the physical and chemical properties of the Earth’s interior.
  • Researchers studied this dissociation reaction of olivine in the Kamargaon meteorite. They noted an alternative mechan- ism and reactions that may be driving the transformation
  • It is possible that when materials are transported to the lower mantle by convection or subduction, there would be high temperature conditions in the lower mantle that would cause this dissociated reaction.
  • The results suggest what processes and reactions may be involved in the formation of Earth’s mantle.
Source: The Hindu

Digital Millennium Copyright Act, 1998

  • Union Minister for Electronics and Information Technology and for Law and Justice Ravi Shankar Prasad Friday was locked out of his Twitter account for an hour allegedly over a notice received for violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).
  • The DMCA oversees the implementation of two 1996 treaties signed by World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) member nations.

What is the DMCA and how does it ensure implementation of the WIPO treaties?

  • The Digital Millennium Copyright Act, or DMCA, is a 1998 law passed in the US and is among the world’s first laws recognising intellectual property on the internet.
  • It oversees the implementation of the two treaties signed and agreed upon by member nations of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) in 1996.
  • WIPO members had in December 1996 agreed upon following two treaties:  WIPO Copyright Treaty
  • WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty
  • Both the treaties require member nations and signatories to provide in their respective jurisdictions, protection to intellectual property that may have been created by citizens of different nations who are also co-signatories to the treaty.
  • The said protection, accorded by each member state, must not be any less in any way than the one being given to a domestic copyright holder.
  • It also obligates that signatories to the treaty ensure ways to prevent circumvention of the technical measures used to protect copyrighted work.
  • It also provides the necessary international legal protection to digital content.

What is WIPO and how does it ensure protection of content on the internet?

  • With the rapid commercialisation of internet in late 1990s which started with static advertisement panels being displayed on the internet, it became important for website owners to get the user to spend more time on their webpage.
  • For this, fresh content was generated by creators and shared over the Internet. The problem started when the content would be copied by unscrupulous websites or users, who did not generate content on their own.
  • As the Internet expanded worldwide, websites from countries other than the one where the content originated, also

started to copy the unique content generated by the websites.

  • To avoid this and bring to task the unauthorised copiers, the members of WIPO, which was established in 1967, also agreed to extend the copyright and intellectual property protection to digital content. As of date, 193 nations across the world, including India, are members of WIPO.

Who can generate a DMCA notice and how are they sent to companies or websites?

  • Any content creator of any form, who believes that their original content has been copied by user or a website without authorisation can file an application citing their intellectual property has been stolen or violated.
  • Users can either approach the website on which the content has been hosted, or third party service providers like DMCA.com, which utilise a team of experts to help take down the stolen content for a small fee.
  • In the case of social media intermediaries like Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, content creators can directly approach the platform with a proof of them being original creators. Since these companies operate in nations which are signatories to the WIPO treaty, they are obligated to remove the said content if they receive a valid and legal DMCA takedown notice.
  • Platforms, however, also give the other users against whom allegations of content cheating have been made, a chance to reply to the DMCA notice by filing a counter notice. The platform shall then decide which party is telling the truth, and shall accordingly, either restore the content or keep it hidden.
Source: Indian Express

China’s Dragon Man

  • Researchers from China have claimed to have found an ancient human skull that could belong to an altogether new species of humans.
  • The researchers have published their findings in the journal ‘The Innovation’, in which they note that the cranium (the portion that encloses the brain) could be over 146,000 years old. The skull was found in the Songhua river in north- east China’s Harbin city.
  • Separately, news came from researchers working in Israel, who said they had identified a previously unknown kind of ancient human called “Nesher Ramla Homo” that co-existed with Homo sapiens nearly 100,000 years ago when several species of humans co-existed in Asia, Europe and Africa. These include Homo sapiens, the Neanderthals, and the Denisovan.

Homo sapiens and Nesher Ramla Homo

  • Homo sapiens, the species to which all existing humans belong, evolved in Africa nearly 300,000 years ago as a result of some dramatic climate change events.
  • Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis) are believed to be the closest extinct human relatives and lived about 400,000-40,000 years ago in Europe and southwestern to central Asia.
  • The findings from the site in Israel that has been dated to 140,000-120,000 years ago. These researchers note that Nesher Ramla Homopopulation had mastered the use of technology that until recently was linked only to Homo sapiens or Neanderthals. They could hunt small and large game, they used wood for fuel, cooked and roasted meat, and maintained fires.
  • These findings are important because they provide evidence that there were cultural interactions between different human lineages.

How many species of humans are there?

  • Modern humans are the only human species that exist in the world today.
  • As per the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, there are over 21 human species. These are:
Sahelanthropus tchadensisoldest member of the human family tree.lived about 7-6 million years ago somewhere around present day Chad in Africa.both ape-like and human-like featuresbipedalled, an ability that may have increased its chances of survival.
Orrorin tugenensis6.2-5.8 million years ago in Eastern Africa.Oldest early human on the family tree.Approximately the size of a chimpanzee.
Ardipithecus kadabbao 5.8-5.2 million years ago, in Eastern Africa. They were bipedalled, and are believed to have had a body size similar to that of modern chimpanzees.
Ardipithecus ramiduso 4.4 million years ago in Eastern Africa, and was first reported in 1994. It is not clear if this species was bipedalled.
Australopithecus anamensi4.2-3.8 million years ago.A skull belonging to this species was discovered in Ethiopia in 2016 at a paleontological site.Older than Lucy, the name for another specimen belonging to the species Australopithecus afarensis, which was previously thought to be the oldest ancestor of modern humans. The new research also indicated that the two species (Lucy and her ancestors) co-existed for at least 100,000 years.
Australopithecus afarensi (members from Lucy’s species)o existed 3.85-2.95 million years ago in Africa. Paleontologists have discovered remains from over 300 individuals belonging to this species over the years.
Kenyanthropus platyopo lived about 3.5 million years ago in Kenya. The Smithsonian Museum notes that the species inhabited Africa at the same time as Lucy’s species did, which could mean that there is a closer branch to modern humans than Lucy’s on the evolutionary tree.
Australopithecus africanus3.3-2.1 million years ago in Southern Africa.Combination of human and ape-like features.
Paranthropus aethiopicus2.7-2.3 million years ago in Eastern AfricaDefined by their strongly protruding face, large teeth, and a powerful jaw.
Australopithecus garhio 2.5 million years ago in Eastern Africa, and is characterised by their long, powerful arms. The Smithsonian museum notes that the arms could mean the longer strides needed during bipedal walking.
Paranthropus boiseo 2.3-1.2 million years ago in Eastern Africa, and were characterised by a skull that was specialised for heavy chewing.
Paranthropus robustuo 1.8-1.2 million years ago in Southern Africa and were characterised by their wide, deep-dished faces.
Australopithecus sedibo 1.9 million years ago in Southern Africa. Members of this species had facial features similar to the later specimens of Homo.
Homo habilis2.4-1.4 million years ago in Eastern and Southern Africa, and is one of the earliest members of the genus Homo.Members of this species still retained some of the ape-like features.
Homo erectus1.89 million-110,000 years ago, in Northern, Eastern, and Southern Africa and Western and East Asia.‘Turkana Boy’ is the most complete fossil belonging to this species.
Homo floresiensis100,000-50,000 years ago, in Asia.One of the most recently discovered early human species has been nicknamed the “Hobbit”. Specimens have so far only been found on an Indonesian island.
Homo heidelbergensis700,000-200,000 years ago in Europe, some parts of Asia and Africa.First early human species to live in colder climes.
Homo neanderthalensis400,000-40,000 years ago, and co-existed with Homo sapiens for a few thousand years.Lived in Europe and in south-western and central Asia.
Homo sapienso Evolved about 300,000 years ago, and are found worldwide.

Where does the “Dragon Man”fit in?

  • The cranium found in China has been dubbed the “Dragon Man” or Homo longi, a name that has been derived from the Long Jiang or Dragon river in the Heilongjiang province of China where the city of Harbin is located.
  • The skull was reportedly discovered back in 1933, when a bridge was built over the Songhua river. For thousands of years, the skull remained buried in sediments.
  • The UK’s Natural History Museum notes that because of the distinctive shape of the skull, which was found almost complete, some members of the team have suggested that it be declared a part of a new species of the genus Homo.
  • Significantly, the size of the skull, which has a considerable brain capacity, is comparable to that of modern humans and Neanderthals.
Modern humans are considered to have very large brains. While sizes can vary between populations and males and females, the average capacity of a human brain is about 1,300 cubic centimeters, and it can weigh anywhere between 1,300-1,400 grams. In comparison, a cat’s brain weighs just about 30 grams.  

Significance of discovery

  • New knowledge about the evolution of Homo sapiens — which is to say that if the “Dragon Man” is indeed a new species, it might help to bridge the gaps between our ancient ancestors called Homo erectus and us.
  • There is very little consensus in the scientific community about how different human species are related, and which species are our immediate ancestors.
  • There are some other unanswered questions as well — such as whether there was interbreeding among different human species.
  • Interbreeding with ancient humans allowed Homo sapiens to acquire genes that improved their chances of survival, and that some of these genes are present in modern humans even today. For instance, some of the DNA inherited from Neanderthals is believed to be involved in boosting immunity.
Source: Indian Express