The Arctic Is on Fire and Warming Twice as Fast as the Rest of the Earth
The most immediate impacts of the climate crisis are in the nether-regions world of the world where temperatures are extreme and inhospitable. One of the most alarming examples is playing out in Siberia, which just saw temperatures reach triple digits as it endured its warmest month ever. That June heatwave in Siberia has led to some staggering numbers, according to scientists, as CNN reported.
The wildfires in Siberia started much earlier in the spring than ever before, according to The Washington Post. Permafrost is thawing, infrastructure is crumbling, and sea ice is dramatically vanishing.
"We always expected the Arctic to change faster than the rest of the globe," said Walt Meier, a senior research scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder, to The Washington Post. "But I don't think anyone expected the changes to happen as fast as we are seeing them happen."
The wildfires released an estimated 59 megatonnes of carbon dioxide across Siberia in June, according to scientists at the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS). This spate of fires on landscapes that are typically too cold, wet, and icy to burn is raising alarms for ecologists and climate scientists, according to National Geographic. They fear the rash of blazes is another sign that the Arctic is undergoing rapid changes that could set off a series of consequences on a global scale.
The fires can be a double whammy for the Siberian ecosystem. If they become a regular occurrence, it could cause new species to colonize the area, which would set the stage for more fires. Also, the increased intensity and duration of the fires may accelerate the climate crisis by thawing the ground and releasing trapped carbon that has accumulated in frozen organic matter, as National Geographic reported.
"By how big they are and how hot they are, I would say there's no way they're not burning down," said Amber Soja, an associate research fellow with the National Institute of Aerospace and an expert on Siberian wildfires, to National Geographic.
Already, the area's carbon dioxide emissions for June were its highest in the 18 years of the CAMS dataset, surpassing the record of 53 megatonnes set just one year ago in June 2019.
"Higher temperatures and drier surface conditions are providing ideal conditions for these fires to burn and to persist for so long over such a large area," said CAMS senior scientist Mark Parrington, as CNN reported.
"We have seen very similar patterns in the fire activity and soil moisture anomalies across the region in our fire monitoring activities over the last few years."
Siberia also had a warmer than average winter. CAMS said that the warm winter meant that "zombie" blazes were able to smolder through the winter and may have reignited this spring, according to Phys.org.
Globally, June 2020 was more than half a degree Celsius warmer than the 1981-2010 average for the same month, and on a par with June 2019 as the warmest ever registered. Siberia, which is larger than the U.S. and Mexico combined, was more than 5 degrees Celsius above normal for June, according to Copernicus Climate Change Services satellite data, as Phys.org reported.
Some parts of Siberia had an average temperature that was 10 degrees Celsius, or 18 degrees Fahrenheit, warmer than average. The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet through a process known as Arctic amplification, as CNN reported. Arctic ice melt has accelerated, which leads to seasonal snow cover that isn't as white and absorbs more sunlight, which leads to more warming, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
"To me what's really shocking is how warm it's been relative to average for so many weeks and months," said Zack Labe, a climate scientist at Colorado State University, as National Geographic reported.
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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.
"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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