March Heat Broke 15,000 Records; Weather Could Have Deadly Effects

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Discovered in Green: The warmest March ever, the deadly effects of these unusual temps, imported plants import unwanted pests and at least one species can adapt to the acidification of the oceans. 

  • March's warm weather broke a lot of records. Science has confirmed what we all already knew (and feared?), last month was the warmest since 1895, which is as far as the record goes back. "The average temperature of 51.1°F was 8.6 degrees above the 20th century average for March and 0.5°F warmer than the previous warmest March in 1910," explains the research report. In addition, every single state had at least one day of record breaking temps and over the 31 days,  7,755 daytime records and 7,517 nighttime records were broken across the country. Alaska, on the other hand, not included in this tally because it does not fall in the contiguous U.S., had its 10th coldest on record, contributing to the climate change extreme weather theory. Just to give you an idea of the magnitude of records broken, here's a data visualization from the NOAA. [National Climate Data Center]
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    All this wacky weather will kill old people. Speaking of unexpected temperatures, some bad news for the elderly. It's not exactly heat that will do it, but odd temperature variability could lead to mortality for elderly with chronic disease. "The effect of temperature patterns on long-term mortality has not been clear to this point. We found that, independent of heat waves, high day to day variability in summer temperatures shortens life expectancy," explains researcher Antonella Zanobetti. "This variability can be harmful for susceptible people." Consider both January and March had abnormal warmth, we'd bet the Summer has some variance in store for us, which doesn't sound good for our senior citizens. [Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences]
  • Imported plants import pests (and problems). Yearning for the exotic look, America in the last 35 years has increased its plant importing 500 percent, peaking at 3.15 billion plants in 2007. All those foreign plants, however, bring foreign insects. Kind of how Europeans killed off Native Americans with all their germs, American plants don't do particularly well with these pests. Of 82 "high impact and invasive" insects, 95 percent of sap-feeding insects and 89 percent of foliage-feeding insects came from these brought-over plants. Now that we know just how bad it is, what can we do to change it? "The demand for live plants from outside the United States is not likely to diminish," explains researcher Andrew Liebhold. Oh, so not the obvious thing, then what? "As global trade expands, our knowledge of pest pathways must be improved to ensure trade is accomplished with minimal environmental degradation." Vague. [Frontiers in Ecology and Environment]
  • Phytoplankton can adapt to our acidy oceans. Considering the oceans are experiencing "unprecedented" ocean acidification, here's a smidgen of hope for the water's creatures. Some of them, at least the phytoplankton, which feed krill, which feed whales, have shown signs of adaptation. After about 1 year, the equivalent of 500 generations, the species adapts. Even though this is encouraging for the species short term survival, researchers don't sound too optimistic overall. "Earth history tells a convincing story about the limitations to evolutionary adaptation" researcher Ulf Riebesell explains, "environmental changes comparable to what happens right now in the oceans have repeatedly resulted in mass extinctions, even though these changes were 10-100 times slower than what we observe today," he continues. [GEOMAR]

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