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Herojit Nongmaithem

Herojit Nongmaithem

Herojit Nongmaithem is a senior Geologist at Geological Survey of India North Eastern Region. He is a regular contributor of Imphal Times and writes articles relating to Geology.
Herojit can be contacted at [email protected]

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Salt brines of Manipur: The source of Meitei Thum

The present day kids might not have seen or even heard of Meitei salt (thum), but those 90’s children must have surely tasted it. To remind again that was so tantalisingly tasty and all have ate those salt cakes. Nowadays these are only used for ritual purposes and are available only at the local markets and Ningel village. It costs heavily nowadays and these are not as tasty as it used to be.
Historical records that of Hudson (1997) in the book “The Meithies” described that the Loi communities were assigned to work for the production of salt by the Kings of Manipur. The contextual specific connotation of the term Loi is found to be different from its historical specific connotation. Ningel is reported to be the only surviving village where the production of local salt-cake is still in practice to meet the domestic, religious and ceremonial needs of the people of Manipur. The record also highlighted the effect of the earthquake of January, 1869, and there had been to increase the yield of salt water in the well enormously; the water in the Ningel well after the earthquake rose six feet, and that rise had continued up to the present time undiminished. Sharma, (1991) in the Meitrabakki Khunthok Khundarol, Waikhong was considered to be one of the prime locations where salts were manufactured mainly for the royal family. The production of salt under the patron of the king in the Meiteileipak began during the reign of King Paikhomba (1666-97).
The scientific study of these salt brines was initiated by Geological Survey of India (GSI) during the 1960’s to 80’s. Waikhong, Shikhong, Chandrakhong, Phonjoukhong, Nongnaukunon, Ningel, Keithelmanbi, Chingai, Mariamphung, Namrei, Lachaikhulen, Kharasom, Thiwa and Sanakeithel village respectively are being reported by the workers of GSI. One peculiarity from the geological perspective is that these salt brines do occur along the piedmont hills bordering the eastern margin of the Imphal valley and in the shale units of the Disang Group. Many of these are seasonal and discharge varies. They have carried out preliminary researches about the salt quality and content, pressure & temperature, total dissolved solvents, X-ray analyses, etc.
Neither the traditional method of salt production nor the conventional scientific approaches to these salt brines are at present yielding better prospects. In the context a deep insight of the possibilities of high end products can be meaningful. So to cite many of the natural salt brines across the globe are extremely rich in high end mineral commodities like lithium and rare earth elements. Worldwide identified reserves in 2018 are estimated by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) to be 16 million tonnes. The world’s top 3 lithium-producing countries from 2016, as reported by the USGS are Australia, Chile and Argentina.
The last decade have experienced a pronounced inclination in the concept of energy production and utilization more towards solar energy than your hydro and thermal energy sources; lithium ion batteries instead of your acid based batteries. That’s why this year Nobel Prize for chemistry has been awarded to the team that conceptualized in their ideas for lithium ion batteries that run almost the entire electronic gadgets ranging from those nano chips to mobile and even the techno-fitted Artificial Intelligence (AI).
Viewing these trends and possible resources at Manipur, these traditional salt brines may be targeted for the Lithium reserves instead of running the unprofitable salt cake business. This does not imply to end the much heritaged tradition of salt cakes production rather it can go hand in hand with the search of Lithium sources. One more point to be focused is to target new possibilities of salt brines locations with proper scientific approach. This will eventually bring India particularly Manipur in the world map of Lithium production.  A few investments in terms of new and prioritised investigation in these salt brines will be quite logical owing to today’s scientific approach. Let’s have the pristine taste of Meithei Thum as well as the potential of providing life to those AI’s, mobiles, e-gadgets from the soil of Manipur.

Salt brines of Manipur: The source of Meitei Thum

The present day kids might not have seen or even heard of Meitei salt (thum), but those 90’s children must have surely tasted it. To remind again that was so tantalisingly tasty and all have ate those salt cakes. Nowadays these are only used for ritual purposes and are available only at the local markets and Ningel village. It costs heavily nowadays and these are not as tasty as it used to be.
Historical records that of Hudson (1997) in the book “The Meithies” described that the Loi communities were assigned to work for the production of salt by the Kings of Manipur. The contextual specific connotation of the term Loi is found to be different from its historical specific connotation. Ningel is reported to be the only surviving village where the production of local salt-cake is still in practice to meet the domestic, religious and ceremonial needs of the people of Manipur. The record also highlighted the effect of the earthquake of January, 1869, and there had been to increase the yield of salt water in the well enormously; the water in the Ningel well after the earthquake rose six feet, and that rise had continued up to the present time undiminished. Sharma, (1991) in the Meitrabakki Khunthok Khundarol, Waikhong was considered to be one of the prime locations where salts were manufactured mainly for the royal family. The production of salt under the patron of the king in the Meiteileipak began during the reign of King Paikhomba (1666-97).
The scientific study of these salt brines was initiated by Geological Survey of India (GSI) during the 1960’s to 80’s. Waikhong, Shikhong, Chandrakhong, Phonjoukhong, Nongnaukunon, Ningel, Keithelmanbi, Chingai, Mariamphung, Namrei, Lachaikhulen, Kharasom, Thiwa and Sanakeithel village respectively are being reported by the workers of GSI. One peculiarity from the geological perspective is that these salt brines do occur along the piedmont hills bordering the eastern margin of the Imphal valley and in the shale units of the Disang Group. Many of these are seasonal and discharge varies. They have carried out preliminary researches about the salt quality and content, pressure & temperature, total dissolved solvents, X-ray analyses, etc.
Neither the traditional method of salt production nor the conventional scientific approaches to these salt brines are at present yielding better prospects. In the context a deep insight of the possibilities of high end products can be meaningful. So to cite many of the natural salt brines across the globe are extremely rich in high end mineral commodities like lithium and rare earth elements. Worldwide identified reserves in 2018 are estimated by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) to be 16 million tonnes. The world’s top 3 lithium-producing countries from 2016, as reported by the USGS are Australia, Chile and Argentina.
The last decade have experienced a pronounced inclination in the concept of energy production and utilization more towards solar energy than your hydro and thermal energy sources; lithium ion batteries instead of your acid based batteries. That’s why this year Nobel Prize for chemistry has been awarded to the team that conceptualized in their ideas for lithium ion batteries that run almost the entire electronic gadgets ranging from those nano chips to mobile and even the techno-fitted Artificial Intelligence (AI).
Viewing these trends and possible resources at Manipur, these traditional salt brines may be targeted for the Lithium reserves instead of running the unprofitable salt cake business. This does not imply to end the much heritaged tradition of salt cakes production rather it can go hand in hand with the search of Lithium sources. One more point to be focused is to target new possibilities of salt brines locations with proper scientific approach. This will eventually bring India particularly Manipur in the world map of Lithium production.  A few investments in terms of new and prioritised investigation in these salt brines will be quite logical owing to today’s scientific approach. Let’s have the pristine taste of Meithei Thum as well as the potential of providing life to those AI’s, mobiles, e-gadgets from the soil of Manipur.

Landslide disaster: Are Mitigation measures effective in context with North Eastern India!!!!

Landslide has been a major disaster commonly faced by the north eastern states including our state Manipur since time immemorial. The earliest recorded disastrous landslide in the NER region was on 19th August, 1950 (killing > 500 lives) which was the aftershock effect of the Great Assam earthquake (~8.6 Mw) that was recorded on 15th August, 1950. Since then innumerable landslides have been occurring claiming lives, domesticated animals, building/structure collapses, blockage of highways, roads, damage to the natural slopes which ultimately hampers the socio-economic development in the region. In spite of the government’s attempt to mitigate or so to say reduce the effect of this natural disaster, the landslide still happens to be periodic havoc till date. News of frequent disturbances, blockage of national highways, even human and livestock deaths are prime time in most of the news channels, print media, etc. during monsoon season.
It is estimated that economic loss due to landslides may reach between 1-2% of the gross national product in many developing countries. Evaluating and mitigating the landslide hazard and risk is a major challenge for the technocrats and decision makers in the developing world as 80% of the reported fatalities due to landslide is within the developing countries. In India, about 0.42 million sq. km or 12.6% of land area, excluding the snow covered area, is prone to landslide hazard. Out of this, 0.18 million sq. km falls in North East Himalaya, including Darjeeling and Sikkim Himalaya; 0.14 million sq. km falls in North West Himalaya (Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir); 0.09 million sq. km in Western Ghats and Konkan hills (Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Goa and Maharashtra) and 0.01 million sq. km in Eastern Ghats of Aruku area in Andhra Pradesh. The landslide-prone Himalayan terrain falls in the maximum earthquake-prone zones (Zone-IV and V) where earthquakes of Modified Mercalli intensity VIII to IX can occur, and thus, are also prone to earthquake-triggered landslides. The most recent example is the aftermath of 18 September 2011 Sikkim Earthquake in the Sikkim-Darjeeling Himalayas.
When viewed scientifically a number of technical causes for landslides come up. The end number  of  scientific causes may be  classed into  geological  factors, morpho-physiological factors, and factors related with anthropogenic activity. The geological factors may be elaborated into materials affected by geological structures-disconformities, joints, fissures; weathering effects, rainfall-snowfall impacts; earthquakes; mechanical (engineering) properties of materials-permeability contrast, material contrast. The morpho-physiological causes include slope angle, different erosional processes, slope loading, vegetation changes, hydrological condition, etc. The anthropogenic activity will contagiously include all possible changes in the environment that directly or indirectly affect the slope. Construction projects roads-buildings-tunnels, Quarrying-mining-blasting; deforestation are few to be listed that directly affect the slope.
Remedial methods may be like, strengthening the material, geometrical modification to slope, support system- breast wall, retaining wall, drainage control. Though the causes are manifold, for each and every cause, perfect or accurate scientific solutions are available nowadays. But these solutions are a vague to consider the economic input that is required. This can be elaborated by an example to remedial a landslide that subsided a bamboo hut located on the edge of Imphal-Moreh road at Tengoupal by geo technical solution say- excavating the overburden slope, drainage to divert excess water, it may sometime be economically cheap to allocate a new plot to construct a new hut with full compensation.
Critical reason for landslide management comes up as landslide is often causes by a combination of a number of causes. Hence prioritization of each causes need to be assessed. This part is to be dealt by specific agencies that have enough human and technological strength. But it cannot cover all the parts of the hilly parts of the state or even the length of the important national and state highways at a go. That is why we still are not able to cope up the wrath of the landslides. State disaster department when dealing with the landslides at Noneh-Kotlen to protect the National Highway, people are dying in Tamenglong district due to landslide. The point is that the government can’t provide all out technical measures to solve the landslide issue in every nook and corner of the state.
As rainfall is unmanageable or to rectify the faulty geological parameters by geo engineering projects are costly, it may seem that there is no possible cure for the problem.  But as the saying goes, something is better than nothing, we should now react ourselves to that something mode instead of the present nothing mode. When unity can defeat any sort of obstacle, there is nothing impossible. Only we need to act as an organised mechanism against this natural disaster. An effective mode of awareness to the persons utilizing the slopes by the state government is inevitable going parallel with the scientific hunt to prevent landslides. The ground level persons, viz. the people who are constructing houses on the hill slopes are should be educated about the simple use of safety measures while utilizing the slopes. Brief brochures, publicity on the first hand information of landslide needs to be propagated. Or simply the local or the district administration can devise to develop early warning system during peak rainy seasons (Darjeeling and East Sikkim districts have already devise an early warning system for landslides). Such measures are very cost effective comparing with those huge scientific researches where funding is involved. No doubt, faithful scientific researches for landslide susceptibility for huge and specific developmental projects like National Sports University, National Highway Projects, Railway tracts and tunnels should compulsorily be done by the authority.

Google Earth- a user friendly device for practical ground and aerial survey of the Earth

Google- a word so common to all initially came up in 1998 as a private company and Larry Page & Sergey Brin were the founders even when they were Ph. D. scholars of Standford University, California. Today it has been rated as one of the biggest multinational technology company amongst the big four-Amazon, Apple & Facebook. It grew enormously and came up with a chain of products, acquisitions, and partnerships beyond Google’s core search engine (Google Search). Services designed for work and productivity (Google Docs, Google Sheets, and Google Slides), email (Gmail/Inbox), scheduling and time management (Google Calendar), cloud storage (Google Drive), instant messaging and video chat (Google Allo, Duo, Hangouts), language translation (Google Translate), mapping and navigation (Google Maps, Waze, Google Earth, Street View), video sharing (YouTube), note-taking (Google Keep), and photo organizing and editing (Google Photos) are some of them. The company leads the development of the Android mobile operating system, the Google Chrome web browser, and Chrome OS, a lightweight operating system based on the Chrome browser. The Google.com is the most visited website in the world.
Amongst the company’s endless products, the most commonly used by the scientific community for having the first hand information of any location is the Google Earth. Such initial information and results for any part of the earth can be easily interfaced to most of the geographic information system (GIS) softwares which ultimately can be linked to many prioritised scientific researches. To define it, Google Earth is a system based program that renders 3D representation of Earth based primarily on satellite imagery.
The program maps the Earth by superimposing satellite images, aerial photography, and GIS data onto a 3D globe, allowing users to see every location and landscapes from various angles. Users can explore the globe by entering addresses, name of any location and geographic coordinates, or by using any input keys once it’s operational in the desktop versions. The app is also available for the smart phones as well and specially meant for navigation purposes. Imagery resolution used in Google Earth ranges from 15 metres of resolution to 15 centimetres. For much of the Earth, Google Earth uses digital elevation model data collected by NASA’s Shuttle Radar Topography Mission. This creates the impression of three-dimensional terrain, even where the imagery is only two-dimensional.
Special features of Google Earth provide a series of other tools through the desktop application. This utility helps one to analyses the terrain condition, morphological and physiographical set up, features  of regional scale; streams, river systems, mountains, deltas, plains, plateaus, etc. The time lapsed images of a same area further provide the opportunity to assess the temporal change whether it be the forest, roads, landslides and even the cloud coverage. Additional globes for the Moon and Mars are available, as well as a tool for viewing the night sky. A flight simulator game is also included.
Other features allow users to view photos from various places uploaded to Panoramio, information provided by Wikipedia on some locations, and Street View imagery. The web-based version of Google Earth also includes Voyager, a feature that periodically adds in-program tours, often presented by scientists and documentarians.
Google Earth shows 3D building models in some cities, including photorealistic 3D imagery. The first 3D buildings in Google Earth were created using 3D modeling applications such as SketchUp and, beginning in 2009, Building Maker, and were uploaded to Google Earth via the 3D Warehouse. Till February, 2019 entire North America, Japan, Australian New Zealand, parts of South America, Europe, South Africa, Egypt, islands along the East Pacific ocean have 3D coverage Antartica being the only left out continent.  
Since 2009, the Google Ocean feature allows users to zoom below the surface of the ocean and view the 3D bathymetry. Supporting over 20 content layers, it contains information from leading scientists and oceanographers.  In June 2011, Google increased the resolution of some deep ocean floor areas from 1-kilometre grids to 100 metres. The sharper focus is available for about 5 percent of the oceans like in the Hudson off New York City, the Wini Seamount near Hawaii, and the Mendocino Ridge off the U.S Pacific coast.
Discussing a practical use of Google Earth is that one can easily visualize the scenic beauty and adventurous route, the steep gradients of Shirui Peak, aerial view of Loktak Lake within few minutes. One can even map the boundary of each constituency, municipal corporation -zila parisad jurisdictions. Planning and execution of any developmental programme can be easily geo tagged and verified using it. Because of its portability (mobile//tablet/laptop) and user friendly nature even a commoner can do many findings that are immensely helpful for local administrations, environmentally based NGO’s, teachers and students for study projects. A vivid example of the time lapsed images (2009-19) of the Langol reserve forest and surrounding area clearly showed the emergence of new NIT complex during the last decade.
Despite its manifold utilities, it has been viewed by some as a threat to privacy and national security, leading to the program being banned in many countries. Some countries have requested that certain areas be obscured in Google’s satellite images, usually areas containing military facilities. Many a times, the NASA’s satellite even forgoes the international and national boundaries of the Indian Government which can be misleading to the common masses. When zoomed in much detail, the satellite images and aerial photos have mismatched boundaries due to differences in the date of the images. Names of many places are in American language hence drastically different with the local ones. 3D viewing and terrain analyses also require some training otherwise the first time users can develop pseudo visuals. Considering the pros and cons, Google Earth is every geoscientist’s first choice of foundational research of any part of the earth. The best part is that the programme is freeware and anyone can access it with the internet connectivity.