Unexpected Forecast for Warming Arctic: Spiders Galore

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A wolf spider in Alaska.
A wolf spider in Alaska.Credit: D. Sikes

Baby boom in the arachnid Arctic

Bet you didn’t see this one coming. Global warming has been proceeding apace, accelerating as you read. The Arctic has been warming faster than anywhere else, and now we learn that the wolf spider is producing two clutches of offspring during the Arctic summer, because it’s becoming longer. Mazel tov. “Climate change is more dramatic here” than any other place on Earth, says the Aarhus University team in its “Spider baby boom” paper in the Royal Society Proceedings. Plants are blooming earlier, cold-loving species are moving further north and the wolf spiders are making hay. If hay means babies. 

Arctic catches fire as temperatures surpass Tel Aviv

The worst heat wave in its recorded history hit the Arctic this week, with temperatures far surpassing Israel’s hottest regions. It reached about 38 degrees Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit) in Siberia, almost hot enough to roast those damn baby spiders. As of writing, Tel Aviv was a balmy 28 degrees, the baked arid area of the Dead Sea was 31 degrees. Yet Verkhoyansk, Siberia, was 32 degrees on June 23 and a week earlier 38 degrees – its hottest temperature ever. You wouldn’t think you’d need an air conditioner in the Arctic Circle.

A fire by the roadside in Taiga, Siberia. Temperatures were hotter than at the Dead Sea in mid-June. Credit: AlexandrinaZ / Shutterstock

Melting ice was blamed for an oil pipeline break in Norilsk and wildfires have ignited throughout the polar region – just as happened last year.

Melting shoes warning in Grand Canyon

Visitors to the Grand Canyon last Wednesday were warned, courtesy of the National Park Service, that their shoes could melt because of the extreme heat. Specifically, the rangers were worried about glue holding the sole to the rest of the shoe melting at the lower levels of the canyon, where temperatures become even more extreme. At a peak of 44 degrees Celsius last Wednesday, it was even hotter than in Verkhoyansk.

Leave it to beavers

Save a tree – eat a beaver, they say. If that’s your partiality, than we have good news: beaver numbers are growing. As Alaska melts, the proliferating rodents are colonizing new areas of the tundra where they’re building dams, as beavers do, creating new lakes. That in turn could accelerate permafrost thaw, releasing more methane and ultimately accelerating climate change, scientists report in Environmental Research Letters. Come on, science, is this a thing? Blaming it on beavers? “In a 100-square kilometer study area near Kotzebue, the number of dams increased markedly from 2 to 98 between 2002 and 2019,” they wrote. Ah.

Planting trees won’t save us

It’s a comforting notion that planting a trillion trees will capture all that carbon and save us (and our cars and cruises) from ourselves. Or not. Trees are nice, but let us count the ways this reforestation drive misleads – or could even do damage. One: only about 10 percent of planted trees survive. Two: The amount of carbon trees remove from the atmosphere is highly variable, not a constant. Three: Biodiversity is good and unnatural forests of few or one type of tree is not good, partly because a single disease can carry them all off. Four: If not planned carefully, the new trees may deplete the local water table, resulting, among other things, in their own death.

Moving on: Chileans paid to reforest began by deforesting, ZME points out. We could continue, but let’s face it – we have to do the heavy work of saving ourselves.

You thought it was corn, it’s plasticrop

Microplastics are notoriously abundant in our environment and falling with the rain, but there has been a question about the harm they actually do. Now, a new report shows they accumulate in plants and impair their growth. And that, dear reader, will likely have implications for future food security. The runtier the plant, the less it will feed us. The researchers tested the thesis on nanoplastics in plants using thale cress. As ZME sums up: “The fresh weight of plants grown in soils with nanoplastics were between 41.7 and 51.5 percent lower, and they had shorter roots than the controls.” So is this avoidable? Not if there’s plastic in our water, and there is.

Adélie penguins like it hot

Finally, a moment of cheer. It turns out that Adélie penguins in Antarctica prefer reduced sea-ice conditions not just a little bit but a lot, explains the Research Organization of Information and Systems in Science Advances. As the Antarctic ice retreats, the Adélies – which science tagged with radio cameras – “can dive anywhere they want, often just entering the water right by their nests. This is more energy- and time-efficient, and it expands their foraging range.” In short, they eat closer to home and better – but this only applies to the penguins living on the mainland. Still, at least somebody’s a winner.

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