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Sorry, Santa: North Pole Temps Could Climb 50 Degrees Above Normal

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Sorry, Santa: North Pole Temps Could Climb 50 Degrees Above Normal

By Andrea Germanos

Santa will likely be feeling toasty as he does his final checks on the naughty-or-nice list because temperatures at the North Pole on Thursday are forecast to be as much as 50 F above normal.

Temperatures are expected to climb to near the freezing point of 32 F, computer models show.

Zachary Labe, a doctoral student researching the Arctic at the University of California-Irvine, wrote on Twitter that the "persistence and magnitude of above average Arctic temperatures continues to remain quite impressive."

The Washington Post also noted: "For the second year in a row in late December and for the second time in as many months, temperatures in the high Arctic will be freakishly high compared to normal."

Meteorologist Jeff Berardelli explained that the current "warming is being caused by a strong storm near Greenland pumping warm air north ahead of the storm center." Mashable's science editor, Andrew Freedman, added: "Record low levels of sea ice in the Arctic are also contributing to the record high temperatures, along with a weakened polar vortex that has pulled the most frigid air out of the Arctic and redistributed it into North America and Eurasia."

Indeed, last month Arctic sea ice extent hit a record low and the ice experienced a "nearly unprecedented" retreat that "coincided with a period of remarkable warmth across the region, with air temperatures 30 F–35 F above normal," the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said.

In its latest Arctic Report Card, NOAA said last week that the average air temperatures for the region were "unprecedented" and that "Arctic temperatures continue to increase at double the rate of the global temperature increase."

"Rarely have we seen the Arctic show a clearer, stronger or more pronounced signal of persistent warming and its cascading effects on the environment than this year," added Jeremy Mathis, director of NOAA's Arctic Research Program.

Meanwhile, Santa's reindeer aren't doing so well either.

A new study finds that reindeer in Svalbard, an archipelago of Norway in the Arctic Ocean, are shrinking as a result of warming temperatures.

Winter snows may now fall as rain, leaving a sheet of ice that blocks the plants the reindeer would normally be able to access by brushing off snow. That means the reindeer may starve or give birth to stunted carves, who in turn may produce stunted calves.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.

A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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