“Tuning” the silk: How spiders use vibrations to learn about their prey, mates, and web

The fine craftsmanship of a spider's web helps these eight-legged arachnids catch their prey. But these silk-threaded designs can tell a spider a lot more than what they will be having for dinner. The spider that sits in the middle of its web monitors the silk threads for vibrations. And according to a new discovery by researchers at the Universities of Oxford, Strathclyde, and Sheffield the frequencies of these vibrations carry specific information about the prey, mates, and even the structural integrity of the web.

Wasted heat from air conditioners causes warmer nighttime temperatures

With summer temperatures fast approaching, households across the country are installing and prepping air conditioning units in anticipation of hot, sticky weather. However, a potentially brutal cycle may be in store if summertime extreme-heat days are projected to become more frequent and intense as a result of climate change. According to a new study conducted in Phoenix by Arizona State University researchers, so much wasted heat is emitted by air conditioning units that it actually raises the city's outdoor temperature at night by 1-2.7 degrees! Consequently, these warmer temperatures may encourage individuals to further their demands and energy use of their air conditioners. The research, published last month in the Journal of Geophysical Research, investigates the effects of air-conditioning systems on air temperature and examines their electricity consumption for a semiarid urban environment.

How forest debris affects freshwater food chains

While one may think that forest and lake ecosystems are two separate networks, new research shows how forest debris is an important contributor to freshwater food chains. How? Debris in the form of organic carbon from trees washes into freshwater lakes, which consequently supplements the diets of microscopic zooplankton and the fish that feed on them.

10,000-Gallons of Crude Oil Spilled in L.A.

Yesterday morning, black oil sprayed nearly 20 feet into the air in Atwater Village, a neighborhood in Los Angeles, California after a "valve malfunction" caused the oil to leak. The LA Fire Department (LAFD) estimates that 10,000 gallons have spilled and while much cleanup progress has been made, it will will take a few days to clean up all contamination. Crude oil was spilled across a half-mile area, according to an LAFD alert. The oil spill had created a pool approximately 40-feet wide and was knee-high in some areas.

Climate Change vs. Natural Variations: Why is Greenland Melting?

The climate change debate continues. Are anthropogenic causes of global warming responsible for melting ice and rising seas or are natural cycles and climate variations to blame? There's no question that Greenland's glaciers are in fact melting. And while the obvious culprit may be global warming caused by rising carbon dioxide emissions, University of Washington atmospheric scientists have estimated that up to half of the recent warming in Greenland and surrounding areas may be due to climate variations. The kicker? These climate variations originate in the tropical Pacific and are not connected with the overall warming of the planet.

Saving the Lesser Prairie Chicken, 1 Million Acres at a Time

Due to it's restricted range in the prairies and sandhills of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Colorado, and Texas, the Lesser Prairie Chicken is considered a "vulnerable" species. Because of human activity as well as persistent drought, habitat destruction has directed the species towards candidacy for a threatened or endangered listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). In fact, reports estimate that the grouse's population has declined to approximately 17,615 individuals, and the species currently inhabits only 17% of its historic range. However, not all is lost for the Lesser Prairie Chicken as recovery and conservation efforts are on the rise. The Lesser Prairie Chicken Range-wide Conservation Plan (RWP) developed by the Western Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) outlines tools and provides incentives to encourage landowners and others to voluntarily partner with agencies in habitat conservation efforts. One such company dedicated to the conservation front is Occidental Petroleum Corporation (Oxy), an oil and gas exploration and production company who announced last week that it will commit $12 million over a three-year period to enroll nearly 1.8 million acres of its interests in conservation programs to support the recovery of the grouse species.

New kind of wristband could help monitor environmental health

Launched in 2004, the "Livestrong" bracelet started a trend of popular wristbands that have come to represent and popularize different causes. From starting as a token to raise monies and awareness to combat cancer, the wristband has been used to promote hundreds of other avenues. Besides donning these bands for your favorite charity, new research suggests that a version of these bracelets may have some other benefits. By wearing the popular fashion, scientists have come up with an idea that could help us identify potential disease risks of exposure to hazardous substances.

Spotting Whales from Space!

Counting individuals of a species is important in order to track wildlife trends. Absence or decline of a species could mean detrimental habitat modifications or that parts of the ecosystem are unbalanced. For marine populations though, trying to count and monitor these species is often a daunting and expensive task as finding these individuals in the vast ocean can be like looking for a needle in a haystack. Thankfully, scientists lead by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) have demonstrated how new satellite technology can be used to count whales, and ultimately estimate their population size.

USGS Develops Tool to Help Track Oil Spills

Each year, tons of oil can be spilled into the ocean. Whether it comes from an oil tank spill, a leak that occurs during offshore drilling, or even natural seeps that occur within the ocean, oil spills can cause grave environmental and economic damage to marine and coastal ecosystems. When an oil spill occurs, the oil that floats on water will usually spreads out rapidly across the water surface to form a thin layer called an oil slick. As the oil continues spreading, the layer becomes thinner and thinner, eventually turning into a thin layer called a sheen. Managing and predicting the spread and path of oil is often very difficult for first-responders and clean up crews, however, a newly developed computer model holds promise to helping scientists track a spill. U.S. Geological Survey scientists developed the model as a way of tracking the movement of sand and oil found along the Gulf of Mexico since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Sydney Coastal Waters See Successful Seaweed Transplant

In its natural environment, seaweed plays a major role in marine ecosystems. Not only does the plant provide nutrients and energy for organisms up the food chain, but these plants also provide shelter and habitat for many different species. So when 70 kilometers of seaweed vanished from the Australian Coast in the 1970s and 1980s due to high levels of sewage, we would expect to see some dramatic environmental problems. But thanks to recent recovery efforts, a habitat-forming species known as crayweed is making a successful comeback in Sydney's coastal waters.