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Saturday, May 31, 2008

Lights bright – despite dim times

Lights bright – despite dim times

By Isuri Kaviratne

The Sunday Times. LK ----------

The Vesak lights will glow this weekend as the country celebrates this most hallowed Buddhist festival but this year, it seems, the pandals and dansals, will be fewer as people struggle with rising costs.

Organisations responsible for setting up pandals in and around the city of Colombo said their expenses had increased significantly. K. W. Padmasiri, president of the Sri Wishakaloka pandal organisation, which puts up the pandal at Thotalanga every year, said regular donors were unable to give as generously as they had in the past. “Even the businessmen, whom we can depend on for donations, are facing financial problems themselves,” he said.

Mr Padmasiri said the group put up their first Thotalanga pandal in 1955, and that this year will see their 57th production of the Vesak drama “Udaya Dhagga Jathakaya”. But costs have been almost prohibitive, he said.

“All those involved, from artists and electricians to labourers, are charging more this year,” he said. “We can’t blame them. Everything has become expensive. Last year it cost us Rs. 290,000 to put up the stage. This year it’s going to cost Rs. 360,000.”

D. M. Gunawardhena, treasurer of the Sri Wishaka Sambuddhaloka Foundation, said the biggest expense was electricity. “The bulbs, the wires, the power supply – these are the most expensive items this year, and labour costs have also gone up,” he said, adding that the organisation had so far spent close to Rs. 1,500,000 on the pandal, Rs. 300,000 more than last year.

Meanwhile, dansala organisers are cutting costs by offering ice-cream and soft drinks instead of the traditional meal of rice and curry. Nimal Priyantha of the Aruna Elle Sports Club in Thotalanga said the club had decided against putting up a dansala this year. Club members felt it would not be appropriate to go from house to house collecting donations in a time of economic hardship.

Torrington resident P. L. Dayananda said the neighbourhood’s dansala would be held over just two days, with the support of residents in the area. “Food prices have doubled this year, especially dhal and rice,” he said, adding that this year’s dansala expenses were expected to exceed one million rupees.

In busy Fort, security concerns have been uppermost on the minds of Vesak organisers, who have decided to cancel the Fort pandal and dansala this year. Premadasa Kalupahana, secretary of the Fort United Bodhiraja Society, said: “We have the money for the dansala and pandal, but we have decided instead to give it to social service organisations.”

Vesak lantern vendors too are feeling the hard times. Business has been anything but brisk for lantern vendor K. T. Somapala Perera of Kirulapone, who has another 400 lanterns left to sell off. “Lanterns are more expensive this year because the paper materials have gone up in price,” he said.

Vendor R. M. Sandamali said the average cost of a lantern was Rs. 250, and a set of six lanterns would be Rs. 1,200. The wooden structure of a lantern alone costs Rs. 40 and above,he said. In addition, the Colombo Municipal Council has raised its rentals for pavement stalls.

Coin collecting: Tips to get started

Coin collecting: Tips to get started

So you can’t wait to start collecting coins. Welcome to a fantastic hobby that will last your lifetime. Something you can pass on to your children and grandchildren.

Don’t Panic. It is a very simple hobby to begin. And will be a lifelong adventure as you grow your coin collection over the years. The thrill of a great find is absolutely terrific.First off; go and visit the library.

Pick up some of the standard reference books on coins. Some examples are: A Guide Book of United States Coins 2006, The Official Red Book by R. S. Yeoman, The New York Times Guide to Coin Collecting . Do’s, don’ts, facts, myths, and a wealth of history by Scott Travers.

Read them thoroughly along with as many other coin collecting books you can find. You will find a wealth of knowledge and ideas. There is no need to guess with so much information available.

Next search for and join some clubs and organizations. Stop by a local coin dealer to get the best recommendations. Just talking to the people at a coin shop can really assist the beginner.

Follow what interests you. Learn everything you can about your specialty. You can collect coins from a country or time period, or themes, like animals, airplanes or states. Silver dollars are popular as well as $100 gold coins, tokens, bi-metallic coins. You can collect coins with flowers on them or coins with a specific person. The possibilities are endless.

Collect gold rush coins or commeratives like the olympics. You can also collect coins for specific years like the birth of a child or a graduation year.

Study at your own pace and you will have more and more fun as your knowledge of coins grows. Once you learn what to look for, how to spot quality coins at bargain prices, how to speak coin, and bargaining for coins it is a great hobby for all.

Getting a big “find” is one of the thrills that keep coin collecting interesting. Get out there do a little research and have fun as you build a coin collection that others will admire.

Ideas for collecting coins from around the world

Collecting world coins is a fun hobby that gives you the feeling of travelling the globe vicariously through your coins. A collection of world coins offers a unique insight into the culture and history of other countries, and encourages you to learn at least a few words of a variety of different languages.

World coins can also be an interesting step into the world of coin collecting, because it is a relatively inexpensive pastime. Many of the coins are still in circulation, making them easy to find and light on the pocket book to buy.

While some people may enjoy collecting world coins haphazardly, simply enjoying whatever coins they happen to come across, others prefer more of a challenge.

While it may be impossible to collect every coin from around the world, you can create a lovely coin collection that is challenging and fun to complete by selecting a particular theme to pursue.

The most obvious theme for a collection of world coins is a concentration on a specific country. If that idea seems a little bit stale, you can also broaden your collection by concentrating on a region or aspect of a country.

For example, you could start a world coins collection from South American countries, nations where English is a national language, or from island nations.

Another interesting possibility is to combine two interests by concentrating on a favourite thing or hobby outside of coin collecting. For example, a coffee lover might collect world coins from countries that produce coffee beans, or an auto enthusiast might collect coins from countries that produce his or her favourite automobiles.

You don’t have to use countries as a central point of your world coins collection. You can also build a collection around a specific motif on the coins themselves. Some people have collections of coins featuring a particular animal, such as an eagle or a panda bear. Others concentrate on flowers, trees, or birds.

Some are interested in military history might enjoy a world coins collection featuring famous fighters, for example.

Another idea for starting a collection of world coins is to concentrate your efforts on coins from a particular year. Some people really enjoy collecting world coins that were minted in their birth year, or which commemorate another date that is important to them.

If none of those ideas appeal to you, perhaps you’d like to concentrate on a specific metal used to make the world coins. While precious metals like gold and platinum are obvious choices, some people enjoy putting together collections of world coins minted from common nickel or copper.

If any of these ideas have inspired you to start a collection of world coins, you might want to pause a moment before you start building a collection, and check out the prices and availability of coins matching your desired theme.

It won’t be much fun to start a collection of gold bullion coins, only to realize that you can’t afford more than one or two pieces.

A few minutes with a world coins catalog will help you decide if your ideal theme for a collection is also feasible with your budget.

Prison: Where prisoners are also human beings

Welikada Prison: Where prisoners are also human beings

The world is awaiting the themagula of or Lord Buddha. It is the time of giving and spreading compassion to humanity. In this time of good will, The Nation visited the Welikada Prison to share the spirit of Vesak and to find more of the recent endeavours to enhance the quality of life of the inmates

“By oneself is evil done and by oneself is one sullied. By oneself is evil not done and by
oneself is one purified.”
- Dhammapada

By Randima Attygalle

“All prisoners are human beings,” state the placards that adorn the walls of the Welikada Prison. Any one walking through its gates will bear testimony to these words. A busy atmosphere coupled with a festive flavour of the Vesak season enveloped us. The prison inmates were pruning the garden flora, some carrying trays of mid-day tea to officers, whilst others were immersed in Vesak serasili. An impressive mammoth koodu rajaya complemented by an assortment of its miniature koodu awaiting the themagula of Budu piyanang, feasted our eyes. Intricate designs emerging on the pure white surfaces of this magnificent edifice spoke volumes of the creativity of those ‘sheltered’ under the ‘maha ulu gedera’.

Psychological solace
“Each prison in the country has come up with its own Vesak programme for the year. At district level, each such prison will be having its own Vesak programme in collaboration with the local authorities. At Welikada, we have several events lined up including a Sil programme and a Bodhi pooja series to mark the Vesak sathiya (Vesak week,)” explained the Commissioner General of Prisons, Major General Vajira Wijegunawardena, as we discussed the special Vesak programme of the Prison net-work of the country. “Apart from the above events, inmates of the Welikada Prison are also responsible for the Vesak decorations at Gangaramaya and Sambodhi Viharaya, Colombo,” Wijegunawardena added. Shedding light upon the Bodhi pooja series which is a new event of the Vesak agenda of the Welikada Prison, he said, “from time to time we have been having Bodhi poojas for various purposes, but this time starting from 12th of this month, we will be having a series of bodhi poojas till the end of vesak week, commencing daily at 4 o’clock in the evening.” Mental development of the inmates and psychological solace seem to be the prime objective desired through all these spiritual activities according to Wijegunawardena.

Social interaction
‘Bandanagaraya gamata’ (taking the prison to village) is a novel concept fashioned by the present Commissioner General. Its objectives are two-fold: making the prison inmates socially-oriented and their story being a ‘forewarning’ to potential wrong-doers. “If we look at prison statistics, we can clearly see that 80% of the prison population is illiterate. Majority of them have not received the basic education. They are a segment of society with no parental guidance or any religious affiliation, making them more prone to crimes. Therefore with the objective of addressing this grave social issue, the concept Bandanagaraya gamata was initiated where the prisoners will address the civil society,” explained Wijegunawardena.

Essentially a voluntary service, Bandanagaraya gamata is expected to be an island-wide campaign, with its pilot project commencing in Tangalle early next month. “Generally you cannot expose the prisoners. Therefore it is entirely voluntary, the response of which is quite satisfactory,” said Wijegunwardena. He further said, “when society is wronged by a citizen, the law enforcement authorities such as the police and judiciary will intervene and the prison set- up will occupy the third phase of this intervention process. The whole idea behind Bandanagaraya gamata is to revert to the ‘pre-wrong’ phase or to play a preventive or an awareness role because it is the prisoner who will address the civil society and his story will be a ‘forewarning’ to many.”

The target group of this concept are those who are not schooling or attending daham pasel or Sunday school, the grama sevakas and chief priests of respective areas will be acting as mediators in collecting statistics of such groups and summoning them to be addressed.

“It is amazing what the prison inmates are capable of. From kottu- makers to mechanics, there is a wide range of resourceful personnel among them,” said Wijegunawardena. According to him, although deprived of a proper education, the majority of the prisoners are highly-skilled in some vocation, and soundly equipped with practical knowledge. “I can illustrate this with a very interesting personal experience. There was this door-alarm which was not functioning properly and all ‘experts’ ruled out it was beyond repair. To my bewilderment, one of the inmates did a marvelous job with it and now it’s in use,” added the Prison Chief with a smile.

National development
“This is a very versatile department, and it is paramount that the talent is utilised in national development rather than stagnating behind the bars,” Wijegunawardena said further. True to his words, a comprehensive project channelling the competency of the prisoners in national development is under way. “The society considers a prisoner as a prisoner forever. He may come here as a prisoner, but he need not necessarily walk out of these doors as a prisoner. There should be an attitude change. This is why I initiated the cultivation project- taking prisoners to cultivate barren paddy fields,” explained Wijegunawardena emphasising on the importance of making the prisoners an integral part of the State economy.

Disaster-management and garbage-management are the other identified areas in this endeavour. “Life is not easy for these inmates once they are released and go back to the mainstream. Very often we see them returning once more. This type of social interaction helps facilitate the process of gradually introducing them back to the mainstream,” said Wijegunawardena.

National policy
Addressing the ‘practical issues’ should be the pivotal role of rehabilitation process according to Wijegunawardena. “Millions are spent on discussions and conferences on rehabilitation. But they would not serve the purpose unless practical solutions such as the change of environment is created,” expressed Wijegunawardena of his concerns. An ‘Industrial City’ with foreign investment, akin to the Free Trade Zone, is a dire need according to him. “There should be a national policy governing this concept as unemployment crisis of those who are released has become an acute social issue, specially where drug addicts are concerned. About 40% of the prison population consists of drug offenders and very often when they are released, they get back to their old vocation and their defense is ‘apita wena monawada karanna thiyenne?’ (what else can we do?) Therefore it is time that remedial measures are taken,” he emphasized..

When the bread winner is imprisoned, the family unit disintegrates. This is the bitter truth. Addressing this social reality, a rehabilitation process of ‘those who are left at home’ is operative through Divisional Secretariats. “Statistics of dependents are obtained through Divisional Secretariats and the interests of the spouse such as Samurdhi loans and self-employment schemes are looked after, thereby securing the education of the children as well,” explained Wijegunawardena.

Overcrowding of the prisons poses as a major challenge in the rehabilitation process within the prison set up. “About 92% of the prison population constitutes short-term prisoners and out of them, the majority are those who are remanded which should not be the case. As a result of this overcrowding, our prison system has failed to separate the prisoners according to the offence, in rehabilitating them. Those who are charged with murder and rape mingle with petty offenders, making the rehabilitation process a challenge,” explained Wijegunawardena further.

With the intervention of the UNDP, a uniform programme of counselling for the prisoners is underway. “Counselling is a very sensitive area as there is man-to-man interaction. At times, we see hidden agendas behind counselling. This confuses the prison inmates as well. So to assure transparency, we have streamlined the programmes which will be operative through UNDP in near future,” explained Wijegunawardena.

Mother and child
To ensure better living conditions for the off spring of the female inmates of the prison, thereby enhancing their quality of life, a separate ‘home’ is being established in Kalutara. “Presently there are about 45 children in Welikada and the atmosphere prevalent is not conducive for a healthy life. They interact with other inmates and the influence can be quite detrimental. We have already refurbished a building outside Kalutara prison to shelter mothers and children, a project which was quite costly,” explained Wijegunawardena who added that creating the atmosphere of a ‘real home’ and ensuring the child of his education are the prime objectives of this project.

Parental separation is a traumatising experience for any child and for those who will have to bear a ‘social stigma’, it could be worse. All children above five years are separated from the female inmates and handed over either to a guardian or a ‘home’ to ensure their education, the psychological trauma of which could reflect in their adult personalities. “Although this is done in the best interest of the child, separating the child from the mother is a very sensitive task. Sadly we have had no options in this matter. However, there is some ray of hope for them with the ‘special home’ coming up in Kalutara. Suggestions are also put forward to allow the mother and child to live together even after five years, may be till they reach the age of majority,” explained Wijegunawardena further.

Shedding light upon his vision for the betterment of the inmates, the Prison Chief said, “a change of attitude is essential, not only within the civil society but among the prison officials themselves. The world has changed and we too should change accordingly, utilising the man power behind these ‘bars’ for the sustainable development of the country.”
(Pix by Nissanka Wijerathne)

Kassapa’s Homage To Beauty

Sigiriya- Kassapa’s Homage To Beauty

A comment by… K.S. Sivakumaran
A beautiful and an exhaustive study on Sigiriya –Kassapa’s Homage to Beauty is the latest addition to the corpus of related material. The author is Siri Gunasinghe. The large sized book of 116 pages with colour photographs is a collector’s item. I like art and paintings having been a student of the arts and literature. But I am not willing to review the book for lack of knowledge on the subject. Instead, I will give information regarding the book so that based on such information, uninitiated readers will be persuaded to possess this historically relevant book.

First about the author: Emeritus Professor Siri Gunasinghe is a Lanka born Canadian academic. A linguist (Sinhala, French and English), he is a leading figure in the field of performing arts and literature, and a pioneer in modern poetry in Sinhala with his Nissanda Kavi. After having taught in the University of Victoria in Canada, he is now back in his homeland. His film Sath Samudra was one of the outstanding Sinhala films some decades ago. He has authored many books particularly on the history of Buddhist Art of Sri Lanka. His novel Havenella is translated into Thamil as well. He has many more achievements to his credit.

This illustrated book has been published by the reputed Vijitha Yapa Publications. The photographs in the book were taken by Vijitha and Lalana Yapa. Vijitha Yapa, as students of journalism would know, held Chief Editor post in three Lankan English newspapers before becoming a publisher. His articles and photographs have appeared in prestigious foreign journals like the Far Eastern Economic Review, International Herald Tribune, Financial Times UK, Gulf News Dubai, Asian Wall Street Journal, The Times London and Readers Digest. Vijitha Yapa has authored four books.
Apart from the elucidative descriptions and analysis of the author, the book also contains a valuable bibliography and a useful index.

The scholar’s thesis is presented under the following heads: Towards Sigiriya, Building Sigiriya – For what Purpose, Paintings: The Enigma of the Beauties.
Including the front cover, the back cover and the inside flap, there are about 45 photographs and a few drawings.
We must know what the writer is trying to say in the book. On page 10 he says that:

“It is perhaps time to demythologise Kassapa and his creation. My attempt here is to take a fresh look at the known historical and archaeological material on the one hand and, on the other, to search for historically valid information where nothing has been stated directly in the chronicle or in the epigraphic records. Reading between the lines in the Mahavamsa, I find that it is necessary and also possible, to revise our thinking about Kassapa and Sigiriya… I have advanced some thoughts that differ from the generally held views about Kassapa and Sigiriya.”
Read this book. It is a fascinating book in understanding oriental aesthetics.


Top billing for platypus at end of evolution tree

Top billing for platypus at end of evolution tree

Monotreme’s genome shares features with mammals, birds and reptiles - Nature reports

A draft sequence of the platypus genome reveals reptilian and mammalian elements and provides more evidence for its place in the ancestral line of animal evolution.

The platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus) is endemic to Australia and one of nature’s oddest creatures, seemingly assembled from the spare parts of other animals. The semi-aquatic monotreme is a venomous, duck-billed mammal that lays eggs, nurses it’s young and occupies a lonely twig at the end of a sparse branch of the vertebrate evolutionary tree.

Now, the structure of its genome has revealed new clues to how mammals evolved. “The analysis is beginning to align these strange features with genetic innovation,” says Wesley Warren of Washington University in St Louis, Missouri, the lead author of the ‘Genome Analysis’ — a huge international project. Comparisons with the genomes of other mammals will help to date the emergence of the platypus’s distinguishing characteristics and reveal the genetic events that underlie them. For example, mammals are defined by their possession of mammary glands, which in females can produce milk. Although the platypus doesn’t have nipples, it produces true milk — full of fats, sugars and proteins — which the young suck through a glandular patch on its skin. The analysis shows that the platypus has genes for the family of milk proteins called caseins, which map together in a cluster that matches that of humans. This is a sign that one of the genetic innovations that led to the development of milk occurred more than 166 million years ago, and after mammals first split from the lizard-like sauropsids that gave rise to modern reptiles and birds.
“There is nothing quite as enigmatic as a platypus.”

The genes relating to the platypus’s eggs offer further insight. The embryos develop within the maternal uterus for 21 days before they are expelled in a thumbnail-sized leathery egg. After 11 days of incubation, the young hatchlings emerge with their organs not yet fully differentiated. Like marsupials, they finish developing while nursing. The platypus shares with other mammals four genes associated with the zona pellucida, a gel-like coating that facilitates fertilization of the egg. But it also has two matches for ZPAX genes that had previously been found only in birds, amphibians and fish. And it shares with the chicken, a gene for a type of egg-yolk protein called a vitellogenin. That suggests that vitellogenins, which are found in birds and fish, predate the split from the sauropsids, although the platypus retains only one vitellogenin gene, whereas the chicken has three.

Other characteristics that seem purely reptilian, turn out to have evolved independently, the analysis suggests. Male platypuses have spurs on their hind legs that are loaded with a venom so potent it can kill a dog. Like the venom of reptiles, the poison is a cocktail of variations on at least three kinds of peptide. But the variations arose from duplications of different genes in platypuses than in modern reptiles. The similarity in venom is an example of convergent evolution between the two tetrapods.

“There is nothing quite as enigmatic as a platypus,” says Richard Gibbs, who directs the Human Genome Sequencing Center at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas. “You have got these reptilian repeat patterns and these more recently evolved milk genes and independent evolution of the venom. It all points to how idiosyncratic evolution is.”

The sex of the platypus is determined by a set of ten chromosomes, an oddity that sets it apart from all other mammals and from birds. These chromosomes link during meiosis to form a chain that ensures every sperm gets a set of all Xs or all Ys. Despite the similar designations, none of the platypus X chromosomes resembles the human, dog or mouse X. “The sex chromosomes are absolutely, completely different from all other mammals. We had not expected that,” says Jennifer Graves of the Australian National University in Canberra, who studies sex differentiation and is an author on the paper. Instead, the platypus Xs better match the avian Z sex chromosome. Another chromosome matches the mouse X, Graves and her colleagues report in Genome Research. This is evidence that placental mammalian sex chromosomes and the sex-determining gene Sry — found on the Y chromosome — evolved after the monotremes diverged from mammals, much later than previously thought. “Our sex chromosomes are a plain old ordinary autosome in the platypus,” Graves says.

A team led by Gregory Hannon of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York sequenced microRNAs, which regulate gene expression, that were isolated from six platypus tissues. Again they found a mix of reptile and mammal examples. “We have microRNAs that are shared with chickens and not mammals as well as ones that are shared with mammals, but not chickens,” Hannon says.

“The reptilian characteristics [of miRNA] are not convergent features, and this is a feature of the genome as well,” Hannon says. “Morphology didn’t have to be reflected at the level of molecular biology, but in this case it was.”

Adam Felsenfeld, who directs the Large-Scale Sequencing Programme at the US National Human Genome Research Institute in Bethesda, Maryland, says: “I find it fascinating that genomic features of what are now two separate lineages can coexist in the genome of a single organism.”

About half of the platypus genome contains non-coding DNA sequences. Many are ‘interspersed repeats,’ copies of transposable elements that are characteristically abundant in other mammalian genomes. In contrast, repeats of very short sequences called microsatellite DNA are rarer in the platypus genome than in other mammals’ and more closely resemble those of reptiles, with the balance of nucleic acids tipped toward A–T base pairs.

The sequence information has already generated useful genetic markers for studying the population structure of the elusive platypus in the wild. Differences in repeated elements, for example, separate the Tasmanian population from that on Australia’s mainland, and could be used to improve understanding of the ecology of this enigmatic animal. There are as yet no plans to sequence the genome of its closest relative, the echidna.

www.nation.lk ------

Chandra uncovers youngest supernova in our galaxy

Chandra uncovers youngest supernova in our galaxy

The most recent supernova in our galaxy has been discovered by tracking the rapid expansion of its remains. This result, using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory’s Very Large Array, will help improve our understanding of how often supernovae explode in the Milky Way galaxy.

The supernova explosion occurred about 140 years ago, making it the most recent in the Milky Way. Previously, the last known supernova in our galaxy occurred around 1680, an estimate based on the expansion of its remnant, Cassiopeia A.

Finding such a recent, obscured supernova is a first step in making a better estimate of how often the stellar explosions occur. This is important because supernovae heat and redistribute large amounts of gas, and pump heavy elements out into their surroundings. They can trigger the formation of new stars as part of a cycle of stellar death and rebirth. The explosion also can leave behind, in addition to the expanding remnant, a central neutron star or black hole.

The recent supernova explosion was not seen with optical telescopes because it occurred close to the center of the galaxy and is embedded in a dense field of gas and dust. This made the object about a trillion times fainter, in optical light, than an unobscured supernova. However, the remnant it caused can be seen by X-ray and radio telescopes.

“We can see some supernova explosions with optical telescopes across half of the universe, but when they’re in this murk we can miss them in our own cosmic backyard,” said Stephen Reynolds of North Carolina State University in Raleigh, who led the Chandra study. “Fortunately, the expanding gas cloud from the explosion shines brightly in radio waves and X-rays for thousands of years. X-ray and radio telescopes can see through all that obscuration and show us what we’ve been missing.”
Astronomers regularly observe supernovae in other galaxies like ours. Based on those observations, researchers estimate about three explode every century in the Milky Way.

“If the supernova rate estimates are correct, there should be the remnants of about 10 supernova explosions that are younger than Cassiopeia A,” said David Green of the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, who led the Very Large Array study. “It’s great to finally track one of them down.”

The tracking of this object began in 1985, when astronomers, led by Green, used the Very Large Array to identify the remnant of a supernova explosion near the center of our galaxy. Based on its small size, it was thought to have resulted from a supernova that exploded about 400 to 1000 years ago.

Twenty-two years later, Chandra observations revealed the remnant had expanded by a surprisingly large amount, about 16 percent, since 1985. This indicates the supernova remnant is much younger than previously thought.

That young age was confirmed in recent weeks when the Very Large Array made new radio observations. This comparison of data pinpoints the age of the remnant at 140 years - possibly less if it has been slowing down - making it the youngest on record in the Milky Way.

Besides being the record holder for youngest supernova, the object is of considerable interest for other reasons. The high expansion velocities and extreme particle energies that have been generated are unprecedented and should stimulate deeper studies of the object with Chandra and the Very Large Array.

“No other object in the galaxy has properties like this,” Reynolds said. “This find is extremely important for learning more about how some stars explode and what happens in the aftermath.”
Source : NASA


Is the climate changing in Sri Lanka?

Is the climate changing in Sri Lanka?

By Dhanesh



Climate change is among the major issues discussed in today’s world. Though it was not a key topic a year ago, it grabbed the

world’s attention during the year 2007. The facts revealed by the fourth assessment report published during the last year changed the attitude of the people. Their own experience of the changes taking place all over the world also contributed towards this change. Climate change, its impacts, adaptation, mitigation and climate politics are among the favoured themes now.

In the Sri Lankan scenario, climate change will have an impact on a number of fields, which could eventually devastate the agriculture, economy, environment etc. Researches have repeatedly pointed out that tropical region will experience the worst impacts of the changing climate. Sri Lanka is an island surrounded by the Indian Ocean and this will expose us to the direct effects of climate change. Hence, a discussion of these potential impacts will provide an idea of the future challenges of the country.

Global warming resulting from the greenhouse effect is the key process for the climate change. In other words, temperature increase is the cause for the climate change. During 1850 and the period between 2001-2005, global average temperature has increased from about 0.76° C. Researches conducted in Sri Lanka have revealed that the average temperature is increasing in a number of areas of Sri Lanka. These include areas such as Nuwara Eliya, Anuradhapura, Maha Illuppallama, Hambantota and Angunakolapelessa. Interestingly, most of this research has shown there are other factors, which have an impact of the warming trend. It is predicted that the average increase of temperature during this century will be between 1.8–4.0 ° C.

A change in the rainfall pattern is evident in Sri Lanka. It has shown that rainfall is decreasing in some areas in general. Some researches have shown that there is an increase of rainfall in the wet zone of Sri Lanka and a decrease in the dry and intermediate zones. This will have an effect on a number of sectors such as the biodiversity, agriculture as well as to an increase of natural disasters. Further to that, global research has shown that climate change could be behind the unpredictable weather patterns. We too experienced untimely rains all over the island a few weeks ago, where the rains and flash floods hampered the harvesting of Maha paddy cultivation.

Sea level rise is among one of the widely spoken impacts of climate change. Global average sea level rise in the 20th century is 17 cm. It is predicted that the sea level could rise by about 18 to 59 cm within the 21st century. However, there is an argument that the real sea level rise could be more than that, as the melting ice in Greenland and other similar areas were not fully considered in the previous calculations. The extreme end of these predictions is a sea level rise of about 7 to 10 metres, but it is expected to take centuries or millennia to this increase. This melting will also depend on the success of the efforts to reduce green house gas emissions. Such a sea level rise will have devastating impacts on countries like Sri Lanka.

A World Bank working paper pointed in 2005 that, Sri Lanka would experience the highest impact of a 1-metre sea level rise in South Asia when we consider the impact on urban areas. Human dwellings, roads and rail tracks and also tourism infrastructure could be hit by the rising sea levels.

All above are some of the key issues related to the changing climate in Sri Lanka. It is important to find what would be the impact of above changes in other sectors. Rainfall fluctuations and increase of temperature could reduce the productivity of paddy and vegetable production. Research has shown that the rising temperatures could have an impact on the tea production in low country and also on coconut plantation. Early research based on climate models has predicted a shift of distribution of forest types, an increase of dry forests and a decrease in rain forests. The rising sea level could increase the sea erosion, which is already a serious issue and threaten coral reefs. This could threaten the unique mangrove ecosystems where the landward expansion is limited by the coastal developments such as shrimp farms, buildings and natural barriers. A rise in sea level could also result in a salinity increase on coastal soils and inland waters, which could threaten vegetation and specially the paddy cultivation in the coastal areas.

Where we are
Based on the impacts both already evident and predicted, it is obvious that we should take further action to research and also on adaptation measures for the impacts of climate change. Sri Lanka has signed both the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Kyoto Protocol, the two global efforts to combat climate change. Various parties have undertaken a number of researches of the impacts of climate change as well as adaptation measures since early 1990s. The outcome of these studies support some of the above-mentioned impacts.

However, there is a need to increase the researches carried out on climate change and its impact of the country. There are some sectors where less research is conducted and where further studies are required for better clarifications. According to our observations, it appears that there are very few research studies related on climate change undertaken at present. In fact, there were very few research papers related to climate change presented in recent research symposiums in Sri Lanka.

However, it seems that the country has taken steps in the correct direction recently. We saw that the challenge of climate change was highlighted by the President of the country in international meetings and also by the Minister of Environment and Natural Resources. The most recent initiative, the launch of the Climate Change Secretariat (CCS) and the Sri Lanka Carbon Fund appears to be a step forward, though it was to be done years before.

According to the available information, the secretariat is designated to function as the institutional mechanism tasked with responding to climate change, including the development of relevant policies and programmes. It will be the repository of all climate change related information. It is important to note that the Secretariat will be the designated national authority for Clean Development Mechanism projects. The objective of the Carbon fund is to provide technical and financial assistance to the CDM project developers in various areas. This is also important as Sri Lanka lags in this area while other developing nations are way ahead of us.

There is one important fact significant to be reminded here. There was an institution which was initiated to fulfil at least a few similar objectives of this secretariat. That was the Centre for Climate Change Studies established in 2000, as a part of the Department of Meteorology by a Cabinet Memorandum dated June 11, 1999 to address issues related to Climate Change. It was housed at the Department of Meteorology and often mentioned as a division of that department. That centre was more dedicated for research and information dissemination activities. There were some important researches carried out through that centre and some of these researches were presented in academic symposiums subsequently. However, apart from the few web pages available online as at 13/05/2008 (www.meteo.slt.lk/cccc.html), a few publications of this centre seem to be inactive since 2003. The web site appears to be not updated since 2003.

We hope that the new secretariat will be a successful initiative. However, the challenge is not to initiate institutions, but to continue the important work initiated with productive results.


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