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Heat-Related Deaths for High School Athletes Increase as Temperatures Rise

Climate
Heat-Related Deaths for High School Athletes Increase as Temperatures Rise

Union of Concerned Scientists

Last year, several high school football players died from exhaustive heat stress, a trend that is, unfortunately, increasing over time. Since 2006, at least 20 high school football players have died from exertional heat stroke according to the University of North Carolina’s National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research.

At a press conference last year convened by the Union of Concerned Scientists, researchers concluded that a combination of increased extreme heat due to climate change and rising childhood obesity can prove lethal for high school football players. Both extreme heat and high humidity can put players at risk.

Fortunately, public health experts note that every exertional heat stroke death is preventable and national and state high school athletic associations have taken notice. Since last year, many have adopted new guidelines or policies aimed at protecting players from higher temperatures.

Football Riskier than Other Sports

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) published a study in August 2010 that concluded heat illness is the leading cause of death and disability among American high school athletes. The CDC estimated that heat stress is responsible for an average of more than 9,000 heat illnesses among high school athletes annually and that football players are 10 times more likely to experience heat illness than students who played the eight other surveyed sports.

According to a recent international climate change study, risks increase when exposure, vulnerability and extreme weather and climate events combine. In the case of high school football, exposure can increase when athletes participate in two-a-day practices at the beginning of the practice season, typically during the first week of August. Vulnerability is higher for more obese players and players who have not exercised over the summer. And climate change has made extreme heat more likely to occur, especially during the summer months.

Heat Waves Are Becoming More Common Due to Climate Change

Scientists expect heat waves such as the ones experienced last year and this year to become more frequent, intense and longer as heat-trapping gases from burning coal and gas and destroying tropical forests accumulate in the atmosphere. Overall, over the last decade, the U.S. has set twice as many record highs as record lows.

According to a U.S.federal scientific assessment, the average temperature in the U.S. has increased 2 degrees Fahrenheit over the past 50 years, while over the past 30 to 40 years, high-humidity heat waves have also increased. The assessment projected that staying on a business-as-usual path with regard to heat-trapping emissions would make extreme heat events that occurred just once every 20 years in the past happen every other year or annually throughout the country by the end of the century.

National and State Organizations Are Working to Better Protect Players

National and state organizations have responded to last year’s string of player deaths by adopting new positions and guidelines on heat acclimatization for high school athletes.

The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) released a new position statement this April. The statement emphasizes beginning training progressively, instituting rest breaks, reducing the amount of equipment athletes wear to avoid stifling in the heat, reducing practice intensity and duration as heat and humidity increase, and having well-defined and practiced emergency response plans in place, including on-site rapid cooling.

In October 2011, Texas’ University Interscholastic League, in which high schools participate, voted to bar two-a-day practices until after a four-day acclimation period. And in March, the Georgia High School Association adopted new policies that require schools to take wet bulb globe temperatures to determine how intense practice should be, a method pioneered by the Marine Corps at Camp Lejeune.

Other states, including Arkansas, Connecticut, New Jersey and North Carolina, have also adopted protective policies over the past few years.

The Korey Stringer Institute (KSI) at the University of Connecticut works directly with states to improve their heat acclimatization policies. KSI maintains a list of state policies and rates them against its recommendations, which include limiting two-a-day practices as the preseason begins.

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

 

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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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