Mexico City Declares Environmental Emergency as Wildfire Smoke Chokes the Air
The Nezahualcoyotl measuring station recorded particulate matter (PM2.5) levels of 158 micrograms per cubic meter of air at 5 a.m. Tuesday morning, Reuters reported. That's more than six times the WHO recommended level of below 25. While the emergency was declared Tuesday, the air had been thick with smoke since Saturday, NBC News reported.
"You can't escape it," a tour bus operator told Bloomberg News.
In light of alarmingly bad air quality, Mexico City officials issue warning: BREATHING IS BAD FOR YOUR HEALTH. pic.twitter.com/ezIk7V4exf— Laura Martínez (@miblogestublog) May 13, 2019
Government agency the Megalópolis Environmental Commission (CAME) advised residents to stay inside, place wet towels under their doors and avoid activities that could make air quality worse, like cooking with wood or coal, smoking and lighting candles, NBC News reported.
The local government also said it would restrict vehicle traffic Wednesday, according to Reuters. Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum said she was considering closing schools, and a local soccer league, Liga MX, decided to delay its semifinals.
Mexico City's once famously dangerous air quality has improved in recent decades, partly through a policy of restricting traffic on days when pollution reaches elevated levels, Bloomberg reported. But the current pollution comes mostly from wildfires outside the city, not exhaust.
Terrible air pollution generating apocalyptical vibes in Mexico City this weekend. All over the city the air tastes and smells of smoke. pic.twitter.com/fm2buZ9Ca3— Duncan Tucker (@DuncanTucker) May 12, 2019
There were 23 fires burning on Sunday, Mexico City's Fire Department said, as NBC News reported. The fires have prompted authorities to declare emergencies in 11 municipalities in the southern state of Oaxaca. Blazes have also been reported in Valle de Bravo, Tepoztlán and Jalisco. The fires around the city have been fueled partly by hot, dry weather. Mexico City temperatures have been above average on 73 days this year.
"The climate works against Mexico City and the area has a baseline of poor air quality from urban sources," Air Quality Program director and NYU Marron Institute of Urban Management associate professor Kevin Cromar told NBC News.
In fact, by the end of this century, northern Mexico could see its average annual temperatures rise by 3 – 4 degrees Celsius (about 5.4 – 7.2 Fahrenheit). And the rest of the country? It could see temperatures climb by 1.5 – 2.5 degrees Celsius (about 2.7 – 4.5 Fahrenheit).Air pollution has been associated with a growing list of negative health impacts, from lung and heart disease to dementia. It is responsible for an estimated 4.2 million early deaths each year, according to WHO.
A few degrees might not seem like a big deal, but think of it this way: What's the difference between 0 and 1 degree Celsius? Well, that's the difference between ice and water. A small change in temperature can really disrupt the systems we depend on to survive.
As Mexico (and our world) becomes warmer, the fingerprints of climate change can be seen everywhere you look. Climate scientists observe impacts like sea-level rise, longer and more intense wildfire seasons, and devastating droughts (just to name a few). And more importantly, everyday people experience the effects.
NASA satellite imagery showing smoke from wildfires spreading over Mexico Tuesday
Photo credit: NASA Worldview
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.
"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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