Palm Trees in Canada? It Could Happen, Thanks to Climate Change

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Human-caused global warming has the potential to transform coastlines, weather patterns, and entire populations. According to a new study published in Scientific Reports, the creep of palm trees into higher latitudes could be another sign that our planet is changing. If our climate continues to warm, the tropical flora could soon be spotted as far north as Canada.

In the new study, reported by Earther, researchers from Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and two Canadian institutions looked at the temperature tolerances of palm species best suited for chillier weather. Many varieties don't need a year-round tropical climate to thrive: As long as the average temperature for the coldest month of the year for the region is above 36°F, some palms can grow in northern latitudes. This is why you can see palm trees in Greenville, North Carolina, where average temperatures for January fall above 36°F, but not Washington D.C., where average January temperatures tend to dip below that number.

But that could soon change. As is the case with most northern states, average temperatures in D.C. are rising and winters are getting milder, which means it's shaping up to be an inviting habitat for palm trees. Not all palm species tolerate the same climatic conditions, and the effects of the species' competition with native and non-native plants in more northerly regions remains to be seen. But if the palms do migrate that far north in the coming years, the Northeast, Northwest, and even parts of Canada could be next.

A future of palm trees in Canada isn't as far-fetched as it may sound. Winters in these areas are already warm enough for people to plant palm trees in their gardens. In a controlled environment, these trees can flower and spread fruit, but average temperatures will need to climb a little higher before palm seedlings can survive in the wild.

[h/t Earther]

How Waffle House Helps Measure the Severity of a Natural Disaster

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iStock

There are a lot of ways the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) assesses and addresses the severity of a natural disaster. Meteorology can predict movement patterns, wind gusts, and precipitation. Resources are dispatched to areas hit hardest by torrential weather.

But when the agency needs an accurate, ground-level gauge for how a community is coping during a crisis, they turn to Waffle House.

Since 2004, FEMA has utilized what former administrator Craig Fugate called the “Waffle House Index.” Because the casual dining chain is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, tracking to see if a location is closed or working with limited supplies can help inform the agency as to whether affected areas are ailing or taking steps toward normalcy.

“If a Waffle House is closed because there's a disaster, it's bad,” Fugate told NPR in 2011. “We call it red. If they're open but have a limited menu, that's yellow ... If they're green, we're good, keep going. You haven't found the bad stuff yet.”

For FEMA, the ability to order a plate of smothered and covered hash browns is an important analytic. If a Waffle House is having trouble getting stock, then transportation has been interrupted. If the menu is limited, then it’s possible they have some utilities but not others. If its locations have locked their doors, inclement weather has taken over. The chain’s locations would normally stay open even in severe conditions to help first responders.

The company has opened a Waffle House Storm Center to gather data in anticipation of Hurricane Florence, a Category 2 storm expected to touch down in the Carolinas this week. But not all locations are taking a wait-and-see approach. One Waffle House in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina has already closed due to the looming threat, making it the first red dot on the Index.

[h/t CNN]

Cigarette Butts Are the Number One Source of Ocean Trash

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iStock

The health consequences of smoking have been well-documented, but cigarettes can continue to do harm long after they've been stubbed out. As Business Insider reports, cigarette butts account for the largest source of trash in the world's oceans, outnumbering plastic items like straws and water bottles.

Even with cigarette sales sharply declining in recent years, the amount of litter they produce remains significant. It's difficult to recycle filters and often dangerous to throw them in the trash with flammable materials. With public ashtrays scarcer than they once were, many smokers opt to leave the remains on the ground.

Most filters contain cellulose acetate, a non-biodegradable type of plastic. So instead of breaking down over time, the waste washes into streams, rivers, and, when they're disposed of on beaches, directly into the sea.

The Ocean Conservancy estimates that roughly 60 million cigarette butts have been collected from the ocean since the 1980s. Unlike other waste items that pollute the ocean but often get more attention, including plastic bags and six-pack rings, cigarette filters can inflict serious damage on marine life. They contain many of the same chemicals as full cigarettes, including nicotine, lead, and arsenic.

Some unusual initiatives to clean up cigarette butts have been proposed over the years, including training crows to collect them and using them to pave roads, but real change needs to start with cigarette smokers. Instead of leaving them on the sidewalk, filters should be extinguished and safely stored until there are enough of them to send to a special recycling center that handles difficult-to-recycle materials. TerraCycle will even send you a special recycling receptacle designed for collecting cigarette ashes and filters.

[h/t Business Insider]

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