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NASA’s soil mission will rejuvenate tea industry

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New Delhi: The internationally known Assam tea has got a savior from space — NASA’s soil mission that will rejuvenate the tea industry that is currently facing many hurdles including climate change. Plucking_tea_in_a_tea_garden_of_Assam

NASA launched in January this year the “Soil Moisture Active Passive” (SMAP) mission that has already started beaming key science to map global soil moisture and detect whether soils are frozen or thawed.

NASA’s soil moisture data will be of much help in planning field operations including irrigation, said R.M. Bhagat, chief scientist who is leading the climate research at the 104-year-old Tocklai Tea Research Institute (TRI) in Assam’s Jorhat district, nearly 300 km from Guwahati.

“Tea gardens suffer intermittent drought-like situations. The scope of this data will expand eventually and will be of much help to farmers and planters in crop planning,” Bhagat said.

“With the help of SMAP, soil moisture in the top five-cm of soil on the Earth’s surface will be measured from an orbiting observatory (or space vehicle) daily at around 10-km area resolution,” Bhagat said.

NASA has initially included 50 institutions worldwide to get this data and TRA is one of them, he added.

Tea production in Assam is currently facing many challenges including climate change, less labor availability plus increase in wages, and less availability of chemicals to control pests due to implementation of the “plant protection code”.

“Due to climate extremes — too much or too less rainfall — tea is becoming more vulnerable to pest attacks. Conditions are becoming more conducive for the growth and proliferation of certain pests,” Bhagat said.

The plant protection code was implemented this year to regulate chemicals in tea cultivation and to make tea a safe and healthy drink.

“The scope of the SMAP data will expand eventually and will be of much help to farmers and planters in crop planning,” Bhagat stressed.

Assam annually produces over 600 million kg of tea in an area of over 300,000 hectares. This is part of the over 1,100 million kg of tea produced in India, of which over 200 million kg is exported, according to official data.

The first tea plantations in Assam were started by the East India Company in the 1830s. Assam tea – scientific name Camellia sinensis assamica — produces rich, deep-amber liquor with a brisk, strong, distinctive malty taste.

Soiled moisture indirectly affects people’s lives as the topsoil is the one where food is grown. In the course of its observations, the SMAP will also determine if the ground is frozen or thawed in colder areas of the world.

According to Bhagat, the TRI has also tied up with other global organizations to improve the quality of Assam tea.

“We have tied up with Cranfield University of Britain to work on Soil Carbon stocks and climate resilience. Depleting soil carbon in soil, results in deteriorating soil health. Thus, increasing soil carbon helps in nutrient build-up, good soil health and retention of both water and nutrients,” he explained.

“This project will bring together researchers from Cranfield and Tocklai TRI to work jointly on this project for sustaining tea production in the face of climate change via studying Soil Carbon and ways and means to build this important component of soil,” Bhagat said.

TRI is also collaborating with London-based Ethical Tea Partnership (ETP), which will use its experiences in Kenya’s tea plantations in formulating strategies in Assam, with more emphasis on small tea growers.

Research on all aspects of tea cultivation and processing is carried out at Tocklai, the oldest and largest research station of its kind in the world, whose advisory network covers 1,076 tea estates.

The new era of tea research in India began with the establishment of the Scientific Department of Indian Tea Association (ITA) in 1900.

Research was boosted with the creation of the Tocklai Experimental Station in 1911. The Tocklai Experimental Station is now known as the Tocklai Tea Research Institute.

The TRI is also working on other methods to increase tea production.

“Studies are under way to use charged manure/compost with high nutrients, bio-fertilizers integrated with chemical fertilizers to decrease the use of chemicals and maintain soil health, yet sustain and increase production,” the scientist said.

(IANS)

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NASA Photographs Mars InSight Lander From Space

The spacecraft will operate on the surface for one Martian year, plus 40 Martian days, or sols, until November 24, 2020

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NASA Photographs Mars InSight Lander From Space. Flickr

NASA has pinpointed the exact landing location of its newly launched InSight lander, using a powerful camera onboard another of the agency’s spacecraft, hovering around the Red Planet.

On November 26, InSight landed within a 130 km ellipse at Elysium Planitia on Mars. However, there was no way to determine exactly where it touched down within this region.

The HiRISE (which stands for High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment) aboard Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) spotted Martian landscape and ground around the lander on Thursday, NASA said in a statement.

It released three new features on the Martian landscape, which appear to be teal. However, it is not their actual colour, but light reflected off their surfaces caused the colour to be saturated.

“The ground around the lander appears dark, having been blasted by its retro-rockets during descent. Look carefully for a butterfly shape, and you can make out the lander’s solar panels on either side,” NASA said.

HiRISE also spotted the lander’s heat shield and parachute, on December 6 and again on December 11, NASA said.

InSight, Mars, NASA, Martian Wind
InSight will study the interior of Mars, and will explore valuable science as NASA prepares to send astronauts to the Moon and later to Mars. VOA

They are within 1,000 feet (several hundred meters) of one another on Elysium Planitia, the flat lava plain selected as InSight’s landing location.

Meanwhile, the InSight lander also took a first selfie using the spacecraft’s robotic arm on December 6.

It snapped a mosaic made up of 11 images, which includes the lander’s solar panel and its entire deck, including its science instruments, weather sensor booms and UHF antenna.

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The lander also sent another set of mosaic composed of 52 individual photos, showcasing the “workspace” — the approximately 14-by-7-foot (4-by-2-metre) crescent of terrain directly in front of the spacecraft, NASA noted.

InSight will study the interior of Mars, and will explore valuable science as NASA prepares to send astronauts to the Moon and later to Mars.

The spacecraft will operate on the surface for one Martian year, plus 40 Martian days, or sols, until November 24, 2020. (IANS)