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15,000 Gallon Oil Spill Threatens River and Drinking Water in Native Alaskan Village

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15,000 Gallon Oil Spill Threatens River and Drinking Water in Native Alaskan Village
The Kobuk River in Alaska on Aug. 30, 2011. 16Terezka / CC BY-SA 3.0

Around 15,000 gallons of fuel oil spilled in a Native Alaskan village Saturday, threatening a nearby river and the local drinking water supply.


The spill occurred during a routine fuel delivery to the Northwest Arctic village of Shungnak. The fuel spilled around 12:30 p.m. June 20, but was not discovered by the villagers until 1:06 p.m. They reported it to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (ADEC) immediately thereafter, The Arctic Sounder reported.

"A response crew from Shungnak responded to the spill immediately, removing the spilled heating oil using sorbent material and also by pumping it into containers," ADEC said in a situation report.

There have been no injuries reported and the oil spill has not harmed any wildlife so far. However, there are concerns that it could spread to sensitive areas.

"The extent of contamination has been reported by the incident commander to be approximately 160 feet from the Kobuk River and approximately 295 feet from the Shungnak drinking water source," ADEC said.

The spill occurred when fuel intended for the Shungnak Native Store was delivered to the school instead, KTUU reported. This caused fuel tank #1 to overflow. The fuel was being transferred from a barge on the Kobuk River. All transfers have now been stopped.

The cleanup efforts have been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, Alaska Public Radio reported. Because of travel restrictions, officials from ADEC and the Environmental Protection Agency cannot travel to the spill site. Instead, both agencies are in contact with local responders.

"ADEC will continue to monitor the response actions and review plans being developed to clean up contaminated soils from the area and prevent heating oil migration to nearby resources," ADEC said, according to The Arctic Sounder.

The Kobuk River flows for 380 miles from the Endicott Mountains to Kotzebue Sound, according to the National Park Service. It is one of the only two spawning grounds for the Kobuk/Selawik population of sheefish and also an important habitat for grayling, arctic char, whitefish, chum salmon and lake trout. It is also a subsistence fishing site for Native Alaskan communities and the wintering grounds for the Western Arctic caribou herd.

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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