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Russian Mining Giant Admits to Polluting the Arctic With Wastewater

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Russian Mining Giant Admits to Polluting the Arctic With Wastewater
An aerial view shows the pollution in a river outside Norilsk, Russia following an oil spill, on June 6, 2020. IRINA YARINSKAYA / AFP via Getty Images

Russia's Norilsk Nickel ran into trouble earlier this month when one of its subsidiaries accidentally spilled 21,000 tons of diesel that ended up polluting a pristine Arctic lake. Now the company admits that it has been dumping wastewater into the Arctic tundra, as Agence-France Press, (AFP) reported.


The metallurgical giant said on Sunday that it had taken steps to suspend the workers who dumped the wastewater, saying that their actions were in "flagrant violation of operating rules," according to AFP.

Independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta published videos from the scene showing large metal pipes carrying wastewater from the reservoir and dumping foaming liquid among nearby trees.

The company issued the statement just hours after the Novaya Gazeta video surfaced that showed water tainted with heavy metals from the tailings at a nickel-processing plant were being pumped into a river, according to The Associated Press.

As Deutsche-Welle reported, when investigators arrived at the scene, the pipes were "hastily" removed, and a car that had delivered officials to the scene was partly squashed by a heavy earthmoving machine. Nobody was injured in the accident that crushed part of the car.

Before the time when investigators arrived, 6,000 cubic meters of liquid had been dumped over "several hours," reported the Russian news agency Interfax, according to Deutsche-Welle. It was impossible to tell how far the wastewater had dispersed.

The incident occurred at the Talnakh enrichment plant near the Arctic city of Norilsk, the company said, as Al-Jazeera reported. This incident is just one month after the unprecedented fuel leak led President Vladimir Putin to declare a state of emergency.

The journalists who investigated the area claimed the factory deliberately sent the wastewater into wildlife areas and then hastily removed their pipes when they caught wind of investigators and emergency services arrived on the scene. That hasty removal led to the accident that dropped machinery on an investigator's car, according to Al-Jazeera.

The Investigative Committee, which probes serious crimes, said it had received reports of "unauthorized dumping of liquid waste into the tundra" on the site of the facility, and had opened an inquiry.

According to the AFP, Russia's natural resources agency said the decision to remove water from the reservoir was taken to avoid an emergency after heavy rains and recent tests had caused water levels to increase dramatically. The local emergency services in a statement said the wastewater was unlikely to reach the nearby Kharayelakh River.

A similar statement was made by Norilsk Nickel spokeswoman Tatiana Egorova who said on Sunday that employees at the factory had pumped out "clarified water" and that an internal investigation was under way.

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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