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Climate Disasters in 2019 Cost Billions, Report Finds

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Climate Disasters in 2019 Cost Billions, Report Finds
The Cave Fire in Santa Barbara, California in November 2019. Santa Barbara County Fire Info

Climate change is getting costlier and deadlier. A new report from British charity Christian Aid found that 15 of the world's largest natural disasters in 2019 — including wildfires, hurricanes, typhoons and more — had links to a warming world. All 15 of those disasters cost more than $1 billion in damages, and seven of them cost more than $10 billion each.



Record rainfall in the spring caused more than $12.5 billion in damages throughout the midwest and southern U.S. due to flooding. On the flip side, a dry summer and record heat waves, which spurred massive wildfires in California, cost more than $25 billion in damages. The report, however, states many of the totals have likely been underestimated.

"These figures are likely to be underestimates as they often show only insured losses and do not always take into account other financial costs, such as lost productivity and uninsured losses," the report states.

Although the financial burden of these extreme events is severe, developing nations are experiencing the worst loss. More than 1,300 people lost their lives to Cyclone Idai in Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi in March. Another 1,900 were killed in Northern India from June to October when monsoon flooding hit record levels. And 673 people were killed during Hurricane Dorian, which many regard as the worst natural disaster to ever hit the Bahamas.

"The great tragedy of climate change is that it is the poorest and most vulnerable who suffer the most, despite us doing the least to cause it," Dr. Adelle Thomas from the University of the Bahamas said in a press release. "However as this year has shown, no continent is immune from global warming and its impacts."

This year is projected to be the second hottest year on record and losses from these extreme weather events are likely to get worse going into the new decade. The report urges world leaders to begin taking serious steps toward mitigating these losses.

"Last year emissions continued to rise, so it's essential that nations prepare new and enhanced pledges for action to the Paris agreement as soon as possible," Dr. Katherine Kramer, co-author of the report and the global lead on climate change at Christian Aid, said in a press release.

The Paris agreement aims to keep global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial averages. But global temperatures have already increased 1 degree Celsius, and without more urgent action, they are expected to surpass the 2 degree mark by the end of the century.

"2019 was not the new normal," the Christian Aid report stated. "The world's weather will continue to become ever-more extreme and people around the world will continue to pay the price. The challenge ahead is to minimize the impacts through deep and rapid emissions cuts."

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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