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This Is Almost Certainly the Hottest Decade on Record, UN Weather Agency Says

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This Is Almost Certainly the Hottest Decade on Record, UN Weather Agency Says
This map shows the temperature of the land on June 26 in Europe and North Africa. Human induced climate change is causing heatwaves to increase in frequency. Modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2019) / ESA / CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

We are almost certainly living through the hottest decade on record, according to a provisional report from the UN's World Meteorological Organization (WMO).


The WMO's Provisional Statement on the State of the Global Climate in 2019 was released Tuesday on the second day of the COP25 UN climate change conference in Madrid. The report found that the mean temperatures for January through October 2019 were around 1.1 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and that 2019 would likely be the second or third warmest year on record, meaning the past five years "are now almost certain" to be the five warmest years on the books.

"It's shocking how much climate change in 2019 has already led to lives lost, poor health, food insecurity and displaced populations," Dr. Joanna House of the University of Bristol told BBC News, in response to the report's release. "Even as a climate scientist who knows the evidence and the projections, I find this deeply upsetting. What is more shocking is how long very little has been done about this. We have the information, the solutions, what we need now is urgent action."

Since the 1980s, every decade has been warmer than the one before, but just reciting average temperature increases doesn't give a true sense of the impact of global warming, University of Manchester atmospheric physics professor Grant Allen told The Guardian.

"This [temperature rise] does not simply mean slightly warmer summers, it means an increased frequency of extreme weather globally – droughts, heatwaves, flooding and changing patterns in the frequency and intensity of tropical cyclones," Allen said. "These impacts are real and happening now and place huge pressures on communities and countries – put simply, these impacts make for a more unstable world, and are already having profound impacts on our ecosystems and biodiversity."

The report did not limit itself to temperature measurements either. Here are some other notable signs of the climate crisis in 2019:

  1. The amount of heat absorbed by the oceans reached record levels.
  2. Mean seal level rise reached its highest level since high-precision record keeping began in 1993.
  3. Arctic daily sea ice extent was at its second lowest minimum in September, and sea ice extent in Antarctica was the lowest on record for some months
  4. Cyclone Idai was one of the strongest cyclones on record to make landfall in East Africa, displacing 50,905 people in Zimbabwe, 53,237 in southern Malawi and 77,019 in Mozambique.
  5. Seven of the more than 10 million internal displacements recorded between January and October 2019 were due to extreme precipitation or flooding.

The report also listed some impacts from 2018. That year, a record 220 million people over 65 were exposed to heat waves, which are especially dangerous for the elderly. More than 820 million people also suffered from hunger that year. Global hunger had been in decline, but is rising again partly because of extreme weather events and fluctuating temperatures.

Attendees at the COP25 climate conference hoped the release of the report would reinforce the urgency of taking action.

"Now we know that global temperatures are rising to record levels and without action we can expect more climate suffering. It's vital we phase out fossil fuels as fast as possible," Dr. Kat Kramer from Christian Aid told BBC News. "The good news is this is a timely wake-up call at the start of the COP25 climate summit in Madrid. Delegates have no excuse to block progress or drag their feet when the science is showing how urgently action is needed."

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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