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EPA to Shut Down Open Data Service Friday

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EPA to Shut Down Open Data Service Friday
Screenshot of Opendata.epa.gov taken at 7:50 a.m. on April 24, 2017

Opendata.epa.gov—the U.S. government's largest civilian-linked data service, storing crucial information on climate change, life cycle assessment, health impact analysis and environmental justice—could face shut-down this Friday, according to people familiar with the plan.


"Last week, after numerous conversations with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Environmental Information (OEI), and various technical contractors who support them, we were notified that funding is not available to continue operation U.S. EPA's flagship Open Data Web service," wrote open data scientist Bernadette Hyland—the CEO and co-founder of 3 Round Stones, a platform for publishing data on the web—in a Medium post on Sunday.

A screenshot taken from the site this morning around 7:50 a.m. shows a popup announcing the Friday shutdown.

Hyland noted in her post that the U.S. EPA Open Data Service website, which has been publicly available since 2016, provides human- and machine-readable information for more than 4 million EPA-regulated facilities, from dry cleaners to nuclear power plants. The critical service contains linked open data on 30 years of toxic releases into the environment maintained by the EPA Toxics Release Inventory Program, she wrote.

Hyland detailed how the EPA contacted her Fredericksburg, Virginia-based company and said, "We need to be ready to turn-off the EPA Open Data web service by noon on April 28, 2017—the last day of the current continuing resolution. If Congress does not pass a budget, we will be facing a government shutdown and won't be able to give technical direction to continue any work."

Reports of the EPA Open Data web service going dark spread wide Monday morning, prompting online backlash and efforts to quickly copy the data.

The EPA, however, tweeted today that, "Rumors about the website http://opendata.epa.gov/ are wrong. It's open, working & not going anywhere. This website & the EPA belong to you."

As the Independent explained, if the site were to shut down, this means that "citizens will no longer be able to access information on their environment and climate, keeping them from researching potentially fatal changes to their area."

It is well known that President Trump's administration has been wiping Obama-era climate initiatives off the Internet. Rex Tillerson's State Department has scrubbed from its websites the mention of President Obama's Climate Action Plan to reduce carbon pollution and other efforts on fighting climate change.

And it emerged last week that Rick Perry's Department of Energy has significantly altered its websites on renewable energy, removing references on how clean energy technologies can reduce the nation's reliance on fossil fuels and help lower climate-changing emissions.

Meanwhile, Reuters reported that the president will sign new executive orders this week, including two on energy and the environment to make it easier for the U.S. to develop energy on and offshore.

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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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