Monday, June 20, 2011

A Colossal Scavenger Hunt! Find the Trees Dying in South Dakota, Maine, Alabama, Saskatchewan, Missouri, US Open Congressional Competition...oh...and New Jersey

A farmer/photographer named Randy Halverson has created a hauntingly spellbinding time-lapse video of his big South Dakota sky.  It has become disconcerting to me that in just about any contemporary film or photograph I happen upon, there can be detected evidence of inexplicable tree death.  I don't know whether people aren't noticing that trees are dying, or perhaps it's less painful to ignore this corollated minor, niggling question when they see them:  What is the implication for the rest of life on this planet?
"Plains Milky Way" is an enchanting reverie despite the stealthy presence of dead and dying trees - like the stark examples in the screenshot above.  I personally take comfort in the glorious motions of the clouds and stars, because what is happening here on earth's surface is getting less inspirational with every passing day.

If you don't already know why trees are dying so fast that their hulking carcasses are proliferating in all sorts of films unbeknownst to the producers and their audience - like a silent growing population of clandestine zombie hulks, shrieking mutely - please read the Basic Premise pages linked to at the top of the blog, where there are links to scientific research about how pollution is lethal to vegetation.  This post will consist mainly of a hodgepodge of the accumulating evidence garnered from a random assortment of links.  Look at it as a game - sort of like a scavenger hunt.  Find the dying tree in the scene!  And try to remember - dead trees were not so long ago about as frequent as the sight of a human cadaver prostrate in the woods, deteriorating in a parking lot, decomposing along a city street, or putrefying in your backyard.  Now the sight of degenerating trees is unavoidable - and no amount of camouflaging, amputation and triage by landscapers and tree services can conceal the carnage.
So let's get started on our Monday tour!  The first set of photos from Ogunquit, Maine was forwarded by Roger and Susan Shamel, founders of the Global Warming Education Network (GWEN).   Aside from a sign which inadvertently misspelled the name of this blog (!) they also fowarded a series of dilapidated trees that are suffering from all the classic effects of stress from background tropospheric ozone.

But wait!  To digress from their trip for a moment, first consider - many foresters and scientists persist in the outmoded conviction that air pollution is a problem restricted to trees in the immediate proximity of precursor sources, such as cars in cities and power plants, despite the overwhelming evidence those volatile organic compounds travel huge distances, evidence of which is maintained even by our remotest national park services.  Or take by way of example the research originating from an observatory on Mount Bachelor, which is a dormant volcano in the Cascades of central Oregon, an area generally believed to be pristine.  A consortium of scientists as been detecting massive plumes of pollution from China from as far back as 2006, and this map should be sufficient to raise questions not only ordinary fuel emission pollution but radiation from Fukushima as well!
Here is an excerpt from their website:  "Recent research efforts by groups at Mount Bachelor and other sites, in addition to several airplane-based field campaigns and extensive satellite imaging have revealed a significant influx of asian pollution plumes to the Pacific  Northwest.  Such plumes are particularly prevalent during the springtime, when trans-Pacific transport events are observed to be strongest and free radical-induced photochemical ozone production is at its peak.  This pollution, as well as the ozone generated during transport and subsidence, may have important consequences for air quality in western North America, particularly in rural and remote regions where sources of ozone precursors are minimal."
The pictures from Downeast, such as the above crowns scarcely half leafed out, will be interspersed with excerpts from the Maine Public Broadcasting Network, which recently reported on the escalating harm to human health from ozone.  It's important to compare this to the fact that plants are even more susceptible to insects, disease, fungus, and extreme weather, when compromised by air pollution.

"With scientists around the world calling the last decade the warmest in 50 years, there is new fear in some scientific circles that ozone levels will worsen with rising temperatures. Different ingredients go into creating the high ozone levels that make it difficult for some people to breathe: Take pollution from cars and factories, add strong sunlight and hot weather. Ozone is an issue for Mainers, who are on the receiving end of air pollution wafting over from other parts of the country, and who also have an above-average rate of asthma."
"Even a small increase in ozone due to a warmer climate would have a significant impact on public health," says Liz Perera of the Union of Concerned Scientists, which released a peer-reviewed report today on the health effects of climate change-induced increases in ozone. "It would mean more asthma attacks, respiratory illnesses, emergency room trips and even premature deaths." 
"For Maine, the group projects that climate change-induced ozone increases will lead to nearly 15,000 more cases of serious respiratory illness by 2020, at a cost of $36 million."

"The Union of Concerned Scientists says Americans can try to strike down both ozone pollution and climate change by cutting fossil fuel emissions."
"But some, including Gov. Paul LePage, question the extent to which humans are contributing to global warming. During his campaign last fall, LePage said it could be less than one percent. The Maine Department of Environmental Protection says it has not developed a position on climate change."

"'A lot of the research really belongs in the university level because there are a lot of uncertainties out there,' says the DEP's Chief Meterologist Tom Downs. He says there's no questioning the science that if temperatures rise, ozone levels will too. But he says that's assuming that emissions from cars and power plants increase. And because the Obama administration is proposing stricter smog standards, he doesn't think they will."
"'With the new ozone standard states that will have to address emissions and lower them to get them to attain the standard, so I do expect emissions to go down,' he says."

"But others are more alarmed by the new report. Ed Miller of the American Lung Association in Maine says that global warming is happening and will have an impact on ozone levels. 'People who have lived in Maine for a period of time know that there was a time when not too many people in Maine had air conditioners and they have them now.'"
"Miller says that ozone is a problem for the roughly 10 percent of Mainers who have asthma--compared to 7.8 percent nationally. Ozone, he says, also exacerbates the health of the elderly and people with chronic conditions. "

"He points out that pollutants are dangerous, but without the sunlight and higher temperatures, it isn't converted into ozone. 'It's really the more warm, sunny days that you get, particularly the days in a row of hot and sunny days that's going to determine how much ozone you produce," Miller says. "And so climate change that increases the number of warm days in the summer then you're going to get more ozone days and more health effects.'" 
"In Maine, environmentalists see the report from the Union of Concerned Scientists as a call to use less fuel and conserve more energy. Groups such as the Natural Resources Council are promoting a state fund for energy efficiency projects in businesses. Environmentalists say that such projects not only save costs for Maine businesses now, but Mainers' health over the long haul."

For another perspective on the report, click here.
These leaves in Maine exhibit the same alarming shriveling I see all over New Jersey, which began weeks ago and continues to spread.

Following is another random example I came across during intertube wanderings that amused me no end, which is a screen shot from a youtube advertisement from May, 2010, for a right-wing candidate for Alabama Agriculture Commissioner.  So intent is Mr. Peterson on warning us of the incipient dangers posed to our freedoms by godless liberals, he appears to be completely oblivious to the dying tree behind him!
Here he is posing with his rifle, with even more bare branches in the background.
In the next ad, paid for by the "Family Research Council", he pledges to "shoot" the lame duck congress, which according to him is possessed of the frightful anti-Christian agenda as follows:
Here's his duck heading for the Capitol, aiming straight for Washington's sickly trees.
Do I need to remind anyone that wooded glens were once dark from shade, and not the sunlight filters through?
Back to the duck, charging up the hill past a pine tree that is also transparent...
Just for fun, watch him actually shoot the duck!  Wait, was this before or after Gifford was shot in the Arizona massacre?  I guess it must have been before so has he since refudiated it??  Nope, it's still up there on Youtube as an example for our young folks!
Here's another sample of accidentally recorded dying trees, from the beleaguered midwest, where more and more pictures of floods also reveal images of bare trees against the rising waters.
The same can be found in pictures of extreme precipitation in Canada like the one after this snip from a news story:

"In Regina, wind gusts hit 70 km/h overnight, ripping branches from trees and downing others. 'We heard a big crash and looked out and there was one of the city trees had fallen over and all across Victoria Avenue,' Regina resident Murray Loose said.
Several other trees around the city were torn from the roots because of the strong wind. City workers have already cleaned up most of the debris."

Of course, it's blamed on weather, but looking at the condition of trees, it's not surprising their root systems are too compromised to withstand high winds.
Fascinating new research using cell phones as monitors in the Himalayas indicates that model simulations of pollution are grotesquely underestimating the deposition of black carbon - by 3 to 5 times less than actually recorded.  This is critically important to the formation of the monsoons, the disruption of which is creating havoc with water supplies and cycles of precipitation in Asia.  I think it's at least worthy of the question whether a similar distortion in model predictions is true for ozone formation.  The research referenced above also states that "Reducing ground-level ozone can help increase crop yields.  It also can help restore the ability of forests, grasslands and mangroves to sequester carbon, a function now being degraded by ground level ozone."


1.  Crop yields are stunted from air pollution and 2.  vegetation is losing its ability to absorb CO2, ie, it is dying back.


A great place to observe the trend of tree death is on golf courses, because it's possible to see specimens standing alone, rather than in a layered forest setting that obscures the decay.  This is apparent despite the maniacal grooming that characterizes meticulously maintained private clubs.  For instance, let's take a look at pictures from a photo gallery shot this past weekend, at the US Open Congressional, in Maryland.
These crowns silhouetted against an overcast sky look a bit thin, but nothing alarming to the uninitiated.
On the other hand, the pine trees on the left are clearly in desperate shape.  Almost all the needles are gone on the stand below.
This enormous deciduous tree has the habit of an oak.  The fact that you can see through it means it is not long for this world.  It looks to be huge, but just think.  Before the chestnut blight decimated that species in America, they were typically 200 feet tall with a 14 foot trunk diameter.  When was the last time anyone saw a hardwood tree that big?

The tall older trees have been amputated but even so, there are lifeless branches, and there is an attempt to replace them with young saplings.  If we continue to spew millions of tons of toxins into the air, new plantings are a wasted effort.
This shot reveals the splitting, peeling bark that is afflicting trunks of all species.
The following are photographs from a golf course near Wit's End, taken last week.
The clubhouse sits on a circular drive.   Annual ornamentals have stippled foliage, a symptom of exposure to air pollution.
The engine of this convertible was left idling for the entire half hour I was there.  Apparently the owner doesn't realize it is ILLEGAL in New Jersey to idle an engine for more than a minute or so, because the emissions are poisonous!  Or else, more likely, he wouldn't care even if he did know.  He was there to play golf.  It's going to soon be a considerably less verdant pastime, when all those sickly trees are finally removed.
The cute little carts are parked in front of leafless trees.
I stopped every now and then on the way out, where all along both coniferous and deciduous trees are equally miserable.
When you think about the effort that goes into keeping the grounds of a fancy exclusive enclave like this flawless, it makes such scenes even more indicative that an uncontrollable descent of biodiversity is well underway.
For every tree that remains looking this unhealthy, you KNOW that many others have been taken down completely.
Bark is splitting and smeared with lichen.
This is the lichen part of BALDing Syndrome - Bark Atrophy Lichen Decline.  You can find it everywhere.
So, here's the Wit's End Scavenger Hunt Challenge!
Submit a link to an online movie, video, or photo gallery that accidentally happens to include a picture of at least one dying tree.
The winner gets a free, postage included, Climate Hawk Pin!
Here in the parking lot there is an ongoing attempt to replace the dwindling numbers of established trees, but the young plantings are, incredibly, in no better condition.
This is most likely because not only are they exposed to cumulative damage from years of exposure, but the levels of background ozone are rising...and also, it's possible if not probable that emissions from biofuels, the percentage of which are significantly increasing, cause more ozone to be formed and are significantly worse for vegetation than those from fossil fuels.
The subject of biofuel emissions is enormous mainly because there is so little study.  Apparently no one wants to know about it.
This is quite similar to an amazing segment in a movie I watched over the weekend (for free!) on Hulu - The Corporation.  It's a long documentary but I highly recommend it.  Hulu is great because you can pause and resume whenever you like.  In addition to an historic overview of corporate personhood and the countless ways that status is wrecking the earth, it includes the incredible recounting of how Monsanto threatened Fox News to prevent them from reporting the dangers to children who are STILL drinking milk from cows injected with their hormone.
The advertisers did not want such inflammatory information to reach viewers and so FOX first tried to bribe and then threaten its own reporters into silence.
Beyond the putting green, the stables of the US Equestrian Team are visible.  Look at the tops of the treeline, in a couple of zooms:
This is far, far worse than last summer.  It's critical to understand that there is a progression occurring, which is, in terms of geologic time, happening like lightening.
Here are trees along the drive to the stables:
With a close up:
Below is the line of trees that runs along the public road at the entrance to the club.  Blackbirds perch on the bare branches.  Blackbirds, as I have noted before, are very clever omnivores and appear to be amazingly numerous, whilst smaller songbirds are noticeably fewer in number.  It is only to be expected as sources of natural wild food decrease - things like seeds, nuts and grains - and as habitat shrinks, leaves are not only fewer in number but contain lower nutritive quality.  Purely by coincidence I saw this horrid article, "Starving Blackbirds Resort to Cannibalism"...which is something I hadn't predicted but sadly, an outcome which isn't surprising, and no doubt is something we will hear more of.  Ugh.
This past weekend I saw balloons on mailboxes everywhere, for myriad graduation parties.  I went to my little local farmstand to get flowers for a friend's celebration.
Here is the nursery stock, turning brown, and the tree tops cross the street.
This row of trees is particularly appalling, because they line an antique avenue leading to a farmhouse situated far from the main road, and were not so long ago a magnificent, impenetrably thick and elegant entry.  Now the branches are just mostly sticks.
The rhubarb is turning odd colors because it cannot photosynthesize and produce chlorophyll.
This chlorosis is exactly what is described by the US Department of Agriculture when foliage is damaged by exposure to tropospheric ozone.
As the stomates are damaged, chlorosis leads to necrosis - early senescence.  Death.
For the party, I went to a bakery to pick up dessert.  The birch tree on the left is obviously quite dead, and it's twin on the right will soon follow.

I parked my car under this tree.  The lower trunk is out of proportion to the upper trunk.
It is distorted  because there is a large canker near the ground, which is swelling, and constricting flow above it, so the trunk is shrinking.  Of course the lichen is delighted.
As with most trees now, there is a hole.  It doesn't show up in the picture but I could see the interior is rotted.
When I look at a tree this size and age, I cannot understand why more people don't realize something is terribly wrong.
When the branches are this bare, it means the roots are rotting below the ground.
Every year this maple has fewer leaves and soon it will have none.
Next door, the neighbors determined this tree to be some kind of hazard.  There is a constant, unremitting attrition that is scarcely remarked upon, certainly by the media, or by professional arborists.
Here is the collection of sunflowers, snapdragons, and lavender in a mound before the party.  Behind them are trees and sky.  If the trees still possessed a full complement of leaves, the sky wouldn't be visible!


  1. Your contest needs to somehow get out to the internet masses.

    Can I suggest that you devise an internet test to show how the trees are dying? Pictures from this post would work fine. If millions of people suddenly become aware of this silent menace, we might get something done about ozone, VOCs, and ethel alcohol combustion bi-products.

    An internet test or game, showing, perhaps by getting points for recognizing the damage to today's trees when compared to trees from just a decade ago, might be another way to get the message out to the young people. Was this picture taken this month or this month ten years ago?

  2. Perhaps you are on to something, Anon! I had thought of it as a joke, but you never know what will garner attention on the 'tubes, so maybe a contest is the way to go. I have dreams that something will trigger a mass awakening in time that we could avert at least this one disaster, if not all the others in the pipeline.

    Let me cogitate a little on the possibilities. It could be a contest with multiple categories, and different prizes. What I would really like to do is a youtube with a "tree rap" I've been composing - I think that's the way to appeal to a larger number of people. But I'm hopeless with the video camera - even though I bought one I have yet to figure out how to use it in even the most rudimentary way.

    Help from anyone with the inclination is hereby solicited! Please write to me directly with any ideas - witsendnj at yahoo dot com.

    Thanks to all.

  3. The trick might be to get some gamers interested in what you've discovered about dying trees and the gradual effects of atmospheric pollution on trees that might normally have lived 200 years. To my limited knowledge, there are no video games about dying trees and air pollution. Gamers are always looking for something that hasn't been done before. These guys are into shock and awe. And what's more awesome then a future without trees? Why not go to the gamers websites and online magazines and invite them to visit witsend and see if there isn't a kickass video game that can be created to educate about dying trees.



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