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China’s Breadbasket Could Suffer the Worst of Climate Change’s Deadly Heat Waves

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China’s Breadbasket Could Suffer the Worst of Climate Change’s Deadly Heat Waves

Deadly heat waves are breaking records and making headlines around the world this summer, but they have nothing on the heat waves that the North China Plain is likely to see in the future if we don't act now to combat climate change.


A study published in Nature Communications Tuesday found that if we do nothing to curb emissions, China's most populous and agriculturally important region could see heat waves deadly even for healthy people by 2100.

"China is currently the largest contributor to the emissions of greenhouse gases, with potentially serious implications to its own population: Continuation of the current pattern of global emissions may limit habitability of the most populous region of the most populous country on Earth," study authors Elfatih A. B. Eltahir of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Suchul Kang of the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology wrote.

The researchers looked at something called wet bulb temperature, which is measured by wrapping a wet cloth around the bulb of a thermometer, according to MIT.

As the water evaporates, the bulb is cooled, but at 100 percent humidity, no evaporation is possible and the cloth has no impact on the thermometer's read.

The measure is important for assessing the joint impact of heat and humidity on health, since humans can only cool themselves through sweat and cannot do so if it is both too hot and too humid.

At a wet bulb temperature of 35 degrees Celsius, research suggests that even healthy humans cannot survive outside for more than six hours. The researchers found that "wet bulb" days surpassing 35 degrees would become more common in the North China Plain from 2070 to 2100 if no action is taken to lower greenhouse gas emissions.

"This spot is just going to be the hottest spot for deadly heat waves in the future, especially under climate change," Eltahir said in an MIT release.

This is a problem because the North China Plain is the country's most important growing region, and many of its inhabitants are farmers with no choice but to work outdoors, The Guardian reported.

Eltahir and Kang have done research into the potential for climate change to lead to similarly deadly heat waves in the Persian Gulf and in Southeast Asia. Those studies also predicted an increase in these events in some places, but none of their previous research has turned up potential impacts this dire.

The most extreme temperatures in the Persian Gulf region were also expected to occur over the water, not over population centers. This is not the case for China.

"This is where people live," Eltahir said in the MIT release.

The research also showed that irrigation in the region made the problem worse, adding half a degree of Celsius of warming to the area because it increased humidity. Water vapor can also act as a greenhouse gas.

"Irrigation exacerbates the impact of climate change," Eltahir said in the release.

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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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