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Climate Change Activist Shatters World Record for Fastest Trip to South Pole

Climate
Climate Change Activist Shatters World Record for Fastest Trip to South Pole

It's official—climate change champion Parker Liautaud has completed the fastest-ever unsupported walk from the edge of Antarctica to the South Pole.

The 19-year-old is also the youngest person to ever reach the North and South Poles.

The 2013 Willis Resilience Expedition—traveled with veteran explorer Doug Stoup to shine a brighter light on climate change advocacy—took 18 days, four hours and 43 minutes. The duo skied about 315 miles for up to 12 hours a day at an average pace of 17.4 miles per day while lugging sleds that weighed in excess of 176 pounds.

The ice, snow and blizzards faced from Dec. 6 to Christmas Eve combined for temperatures that got as low as -50 degrees fahrenheit.

Parker Liautaud, left, and Doug Stoup take a break during the record-setting 2013 Willis Resilience Expedition. Photo credit: Willis Resilience Expedition

“It’s an incredible honor to stand at the South Pole after a successful expedition," Liautaud said, according to the expedition website. "Over the past several weeks, I have learned a lot and am very thankful for the support of the team around me that made this expedition possible.

"I now hope to work with our scientific partners in the next phase of the research from this expedition and continue to contribute to reigniting the dialogue on climate change.”

Liautaud and Stoup planned to catch a flight to Punta Arenas, Chile after breaking the record previously held by Norway resident Christian Eide, who took 24 days to complete the mission.

A six-wheel Toyota Hilux served as the communications hub for the expedition, following the two men to film, stream and provide data, but that's about it. The men received no assistance, according to Willis.

“I’m proud to stand next to Parker at the Geographic South Pole after just over 18 days of skiing across Antarctica unsupported," Stoup said. "I’m also proud to be here as an ambassador for climate change." 

Liautaud is a sophomore at Yale University. He has also hiked to the North Pole three times since he turned 15.

He hasn’t discussed specific climate-related plans for his return to the U.S., but he began the trip by measuring and transmitting climate data at Leverett Glacier with the pilot model of the ColdFacts-3000BX weather station. He was also an ambassador for One Young World‘s Wake Up Call campaigned, which the group of young activists used to push for climate change policies in countries like Nepal and Algeria.

"Parker showed remarkable resilience throughout this expedition," Stoup said.

"He is an inspiration for his generation.”

Visit EcoWatch’s CLIMATE CHANGE page for more related news on this topic.

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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