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Source of Vast Oil Spill Covering Brazil's Northeast Coast Unknown

Energy

Brazil's main environmental agency said on Thursday the source of a sprawling oil spill along the northeast coast remains unknown, but that the crude oil was not produced in the country.


The spill stretches over 1,500 kilometers (932 miles) of Brazil's northeast coast, affecting 46 cities and around one hundred of the country's nicest beaches since being first detected on Sept. 2.

Brazilian television has shown slicks at sea and oil puddles along shores, as well as turtles covered in black tar. Other marine life has also been found dead.

The Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources, Ibama, said state oil company Petrobras analyzed the spill and determined it came from a single source.

However, it said, a molecular analysis of the crude showed that it was not produced in Brazil, the world's 9th largest crude producer at 3.43 million barrels a day.

Petrobras reported that "the oil found is not produced by Brazil. Ibama requested support from Petrobras to work on beach cleaning. In the coming days, the company will make available a contingent of about 100 people," the environmental institute announced in a statement.

Extent of Damage

The tests were done at the Petrobras Research Center (Cenpes) in Rio de Janeiro.

So far, 105 crude oil spills have been detected.

Since the beginning of September, Ibama, together with the Federal District Fire Department, Brazil's navy and Petrobras, have been investigating the causes.

Ninety-nine locations in 46 municipalities in 8 states have been affected, including Maranhão, Piauí, Ceará, Rio Grande do Norte, Paraíba, Pernambuco, Alagoas and Sergipe. In the Northeast, only the state of Bahia has not been affected yet.

Authorities were still conducting cleaning procedures on the Potiguar coast earlier this week.

"Analysts on the monitoring team concluded that the situation in the state is stable so far," the institute wrote.

Who Is at Risk

Ibama stated that to date, "there is no evidence of the contamination of fish and shellfish" but warned that bathers and fishermen should not have contact with oil.

Authorities also said that anyone who discovers suspicious items in the sea or on the beaches should report it to the city council. They also advised locals that collected oil should be properly disposed of and not mixed with other waste. People were also told not to wash affected animals and to take them for veterinary assessments before returning them to sea.

The institute said that the assessment of the quality of fish caught in affected areas for human consumption is the responsibility of Brazil's health surveillance agency.

President Jair Bolsonaro has been widely criticized for rolling back environmental regulations and monitoring since taking office in January.

Massive forest fires this summer have destroyed large swaths of the Amazon, drawing international condemnation of Brazil's management of the environment.

Reposted with permission from our media associate DW.

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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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