Friday, August 10, 2012

Define the Truth - Our Mandatory Obligation

Finally I am home after two weeks away, first at the RAMPS mountaintop removal protest, and then to see Dr. Sophie, who began her one-year internship at a racehorse clinic in Lexington, Kentucky right after graduation in June...doing surgery!  Here she is during a rare break from a grueling schedule of being perpetually on-call, seated under a magnificent tree labeled as a White Ash.
It's designated a "Champion Tree" in one of those inadvertently, anthropomorphically ironic labels, since there's really nothing Champion Trees have heroically achieved, other than to have survived first the ax and then the chainsaw.  If it wasn't for people incessantly hacking them down without mercy and replacing them with pavement, Eastern hardwood trees of this venerable age would be in such close proximity their branches would intertwine in a shady dark, seamlessly impenetrable canopy, and this size would be commonplace.

As it is, Kentucky seems to have far more big old trees than New Jersey can boast, perhaps because there were so many more to plunder that some were spared to shelter livestock on farms.
Trees are designed to be resilient and can accomplish amazing things just by growing.  The tree that swallowed the garden sign is located at Ashland, the home of Henry Clay, which is now a museum.
There is much to be learned there about how to survive in an era without fossil fuels, from the 30' deep round brick icehouses that kept food chilled through the summer, to the smoke house where sausages and hams were preserved.  Of course it's all done much more comfortably if you have sixty slaves to maintain your 600 acres, but unless the 1% has their way (and they are trying their damnedest) those days are over.  Aside from being inarguably the most influential Kentuckian in American history, possibly for introducing the mint julep to Washington, DC at the Willard Hotel while a US Senator, Clay's legacy as a keen breeder of pigs, and a passionate promoter of horse racing might be more important.
This is what should cover the landscape, a glorious elm that has miraculously lasted despite the ravages of Dutch Elm Disease.  It looks like it even laughed off a long-ago lightening strike.
But the leaves are harbingers of a future that does not bode well.
Here my flip-flop is dwarfed at the bottom of an ancient oak.
Despite the girth of the trunk, the crown is severely diminished.
Here's my flip-flop lurking at another huge trunk - but this one has a hole.
I was so busy hiking in local parks and visiting with Sophie whenever she got a break from work that I have accumulated scores of pictures.
This set is from the Kentucky Horse Park, where we went one evening because her clinic sponsored a tent for the employees at a show jumping competition.  After spending the day making gazpacho as our contribution, Sophie of course got called in for an emergency.  So, while waiting for her to arrive, I took a long solitary walk in the fading light, looping around the cross-country course to return from behind the stadium, through the stabling area.

For the most part I'm going to let this wide assortment of tree varieties and sizes speak for themselves but I want to point out a couple of significant aspects.  First, all species of trees are in drastic decline - conifers, sycamore, oaks, maples, redbud, locust, elm and others I don't even recognize.  Second, all ages of trees exhibit the same symptoms of decline primarily due to absorbing persistent air pollution - corroded and splitting bark; epicormic branching; holes; cankers; thinning and injured foliage; and broken limbs.
Source
Now that climate change has become so extreme that much of the US in parched by an unprecedented drought and heat wave, that has become the villain of choice to explain all the dying trees, even in parts of the country that aren't in drought at all, or just mildly so.  However, the most deteriorated trees (and those that have already died completely and been cut down to flat stumps) didn't commence their decline this year, but rather several years ago.
It seems obvious that when branches are breaking and bare that the roots underground must be in similarly poor condition, or even worse...and when there are holes at the base of trees, or higher in the trunks, it is indicative of interior rotting.  And yet most people, if the tree has any leaves at all, tend to assume it is fine!  The trees in the park would present a far, far more alarming scene except the crews continuously prune amputate and remove the most glaring eyesores, so there are many that are missing.
A frequent response when trees sense they are going into terminal decline is to throw all their energy into reproduction, and overproduce seeds or cones.
The condition of most of the trees will appear to be more shocking because they are spread apart in the fields, which is more revealing of their true condition than looking at a forest where layers obscure the true loss.
Even in the few that appear normal, a closer inspection reveals ominous signs.
This recently planted oak has lichen covering the bark, which is splitting.
Many of its leaves are turning brown.
Without further ado then, following are recent articles of interest and then three potentially explosive reports about new scientific research - concerning the destruction of the stratospheric ozone layer leading to more UV radiation; the widespread rotting of seemingly healthy trees releasing methane; and the breakdown of ozone into sulphuric acid - could anything be more exciting?  Enjoy the pictures, which are presented in roughly the order I took them as I meandered through the fields.

XRayMike of Collapse of Industrial Civilization continues to churn out short and sweet condemnations of the tyrannical 1% with excellent and thought-provoking posts.  In the instance titled "The Amorality of Science and Rise of Transnational Capitalism" he quotes Chris Hedges:
"For many of us, science has supplanted religion. We harbor a naive faith in the godlike power of science. Since scientific knowledge is cumulative, albeit morally neutral, it gives the illusion that human history and human progress also are cumulative. Science is for us what totems and spells were for our premodern ancestors. It is magical thinking. It feeds our hubris and sense of divine empowerment. And trusting in its fearsome power will mean our extinction…"
I guess Hedges is talking about the royal intelligentsia "We" in this passage, since reportedly a majority of Americans distrust science, at least, climate science - even as they rely on other science utterly whenever they take advantage of technology by using an iphone, having a CAT scan, or flying on a plane.
famous blogger I was privileged to meet the night before I returned to New Jersey told me that he always remembers the response of a women he was speaking to in the mid-90's about overpopulation - when he opined that we should do something to restrict our expanding numbers, she replied "But, that's just not us".
We could agree that it is eminently prudent, however difficult, to accept the hopelessness of our plight, because it is not within our innate abilities to be anything other than what we are - myopic, rash, and greedy experts at denial.
Sadly, a case in point is my former hero, Chris Hedges, in an dismaying interview with Bill Moyers:
Bill Moyers: In one of your earlier books, you wrote that, quote, "We stand on the verge of one of the bleakest periods in human history, when the bright lights of civilization blink out, and we will descend for decades, if not centuries, into barbarity." Do you really think that's ahead?
Chris Hedges: If there's not a radical change in the way we relate to the ecosystem that sustains life, yes. And I see, if you ask me to put my money down, I see nothing that indicates that we're preparing to make that change.
Bill: But here's another paradox then, you present us with a lot of paradoxes. You just-- you and your wife a year and a half ago had your fourth child. How can you introduce another life into so forlorn a future?
Chris: That’s not an easy question to answer. I look at my youngest son, and his favorite book is “Out of the Blue,” which are pictures of narwhales and porpoises and dolphins. And I think, "It is most probable that within your lifetime, every single one of those sea creatures will be dead." And in so many ways, I feel that I have to fight for them.
That even if I fail, they'll say, "You know, at least my dad tried." We've deeply betrayed this next generation on so many levels. And I can't argue finally, you know, given the empirical facts in front of us that hope is rational. And I retreat, like so many people in my book, into faith. And a belief that resistance and fighting for life is meaningful even if all of the outward signs around us deny that possibility.
Bill: That faith in human beings?

Chris: Faith in that fighting for the sanctity of life is always worth it. Because you know, if we don't fight, then we are finished. Then we signed our own death sentence. And Camus writes about this in “The Rebel,” that I think resistance becomes a kind of way of protecting our own worth as an individual, our own dignity, our own self-respect. And I think resistance does always leave open the possibility of change. And if we don't resist, then we've essentially extinguished that hope.

For anyone who claims to understand that "the way we relate to the ecosystem" is going to lead almost inevitably to, best case, "decades if not centuries of barbarity", and then go ahead and have ANY children let alone four is beyond arrogant - it's inexcusably cruel.  Aside from the immorality of overburdening the overpopulated Earth with twice your fair replacement number of progeny, it is above all cruel to the children themselves, who he expects will die early, horrible deaths - but are supposed to be grateful because he had them out of "faith".
Perhaps it is harsh of me to judge him, but no amount of self-indulgent faith justifies knowingly condemning an innocent child to a future of horrific deprivation.
Now that drought is annihilating crops, more people are fearful of that future whether they understand climate science or not.  I suppose it's inevitable that even many who are familiar with the physics of the greenhouse effect haven't completely grasped the inexorable nature of amplifying feedbacks and the profound disruption to the evolutionary process that leads to a cataclysmic convulsion, and not the more civilized disruption business opportunity peddled by that other purveyor of false hope (and father of five), Paul Gilding.
Our production of greenhouse gases is only the initial forcing.  The amplifying feedbacks far exceed the direct impact of CO2 and other emissions...the frantic production of which in the past two centuries or so exceeds any natural, non-anthropogenic instigators that occurred in prehistory.  That is why the outlook is so grim for the survival of any complex life, never mind human, on Earth as the amplification accelerates and threatens to spin into a runaway Venus effect.  Not that it matters.  There are almost certainly other life-sustaining planets, somewhere in the universe.
What amplifying feedbacks have we set in motion on our little blue marble?  Well, very few understand that the death of forests is well-underway which will lead inexorably to a profound and catastrophic loss of a major CO2 sink and rapid extreme heating.  A widely acknowledged and easily understood is the albedo effect, although even though that isn't modeled in climate predictions from the IPCC because nobody can know with even a slight degree of certainty exactly how that will proceed.  

Did you know there has been quite a storm in the Arctic?  It has led to the separation of a huge flow of ice which can be seen in the top left-hand corner of this image:
The summer cyclone has been recorded with at least daily updates at Neven's terrifying blog, where he chronicles with preternatural calm patience the "flash melting" of the ice which is so quick, that when I look at his animations I feel breathless with pure, animalistic existential dread - as though some ludicrous scenario such as lightening chasing me across an open field could be possible.  Oh no wait, that actually happened to people at Nascar.
Well, in another example of how topsy-turvy effects boomerang throughout our poor unbalanced ecosystem, not only is lightening expected to increase due to global warming, but as reported by the DailyImpact, scientists have discovered that the huge size of thunderclouds is punching through the stratospheric layer of ozone creating large persistent holes, a phenomena previously thought to be impossible.  This is of crucial significance to all Ozonists and Ozonistas who are fully comprehend that while tropospheric ozone is toxic to all forms of life, the stratospheric layer is essential to protect plants and people from excessive UV radiation.  And further, UV radiation is part of what creates tropospheric ozone in the first place, when interacting with nitrous oxides and volatile organic compounds.  Yikes!

Scientists at Harvard University have discovered yet another unexpected — not to mention unintended — consequence of  climate change. Thunderstorms on steroids — supercharged by the increased heat energy trapped in the atmosphere — are, as it were, punching massive holes in the ozone layer. The implications for life on earth are profound, and profoundly negative.
The scientists, under the leadership of professor of atmospheric chemistry James G. Anderson, were not even looking at the ozone layer. “We were investigating the behavior of convective water vapor as part of our climate research,” Anderson told Harvard Magazine, “not ozone photochemistry. What proved surprising was the remarkable altitude to which water vapor was being lofted—altitudes exceeding 60,000 feet—and how frequently it was happening.” This was thought to be impossible. (“Anvil head” is the common name given a thunderstorm whose top is sheared flat and spread out, so that it resembles an anvil, by encountering the stratosphere about 30,000 feet up.)
The Harvard team immediately recognized that they had stumbled upon much more than a curiosity. The presence of water vapor at these altitudes initiates the complex chemistry of high-altitude ozone destruction, a process previously thought to occur only over the extremely cold polar regions.
It appears that each of these superstorms affects the ozone chemistry in a large area for a week; that the effects include an increase in the rate of destruction of ozone by a hundredfold, exceeding regeneration rates by two orders of magnitude. And the thunderstorms are not only getting bigger, they are coming more often.
So does it even matter that ozone is killing trees, and is there any point in continually leaving comments like this one on Grist, to an article about the Chevron explosion in California, and the unpaid external costs of fossil fuels - which was twice, inexplicably, purged??  Oh wait, the author is a graduate student at the Yale School of Forestry Logging.  Maybe that explains it, so here it is, since it was too controversial for Grist:
External costs would be valued as even greater if we considered the effects of coal emissions on the health of not only humans, but plantlife as well.  Tropospheric ozone is even more damaging to vegetation, which cannot tolerate a concentration in the atmosphere of greater than 40 ppb.  The constant background level of ozone is that high or higher almost everywhere on Earth, and rising inexorably.
This is a shameful secret rarely acknowledged by professional foresters, climate scientists, and agricultural experts, even though the effects of ozone on trees are well-known and researchers have been trying with no success to develop cultivars of major crops that are resistant.  As a consequence, critical agricultural products are diminished in both yield and quality, reducing the nutritive quality of livestock feed.  Imagine what it means for wild animals.
When trees repair injury done to leaves and needles that absorb ozone, less energy is allocated to roots. This makes them more vulnerable to drought, and likely to fall over. An overall loss in vitality leaves them unable to defend against attacks from insects, disease and fungus, which are typically blamed for the world-wide decline of forests which is now well underway.
This was documented in an excellent book, "An Appalachian Tragedy" published in the 1998 and since ignored, as have been decades of research, including field observations and controlled fumigation experiments.  Perhaps it's easy to pretend that our air is clean, since ozone pollution, unlike sulphur dioxide, is invisible.  Perhaps the implications are just too frightening - a total collapse of the terrestrial ecosystem, a catastrophe that is precisely mirrored in ocean acidification and the loss of coral reefs and shelled sealife.
The book referred to above, which has beautiful photography and is extremely well-written, can be purchased used on Amazon very inexpensively.  I blog and post photos and links to current peer-reviewed science about our dying trees here http://witsendnj.blogspot.com/  and also wrote a book last spring, Pillage, Plunder & Pollute LLC, which can be downloaded for free from this website:  http://www.deadtrees-dyingforests.com/


It was delightfully refreshing to be off the web for a while and away from the compulsion to educate people about ozone, but here I am home one day and stupidly at it again...because, why not?  Nobody else is writing about it anymore!  Those renegade pioneers who wrote "An Appalachian Tragedy" appear to have given up - perhaps they chose to walk away from environmentalism, as Paul Kingsnorth continues to persuasively articulate.

Well, it's not that I imagine myself some sort of Galileo but still, I get some inspiration from his words to astronomer Johannes Kepler:


"My dear Kepler, I wish that we might laugh at the remarkable stupidity of the common herd. What do you have to say about the principal philosophers of this academy who are filled with the stubbornness of an asp and do not want to look at either the planets, the moon or the telescope, even though I have freely and deliberately offered them the opportunity a thousand times? Truly, just as the asp stops its ears, so do these philosophers shut their eyes to the light of truth."    

~ Galileo Galilei


In his videotaped 2005 Nobel Prize acceptance speech, the playwright Harold Pinter said:

"I believe that despite the enormous odds which exist, unflinching, unswerving, fierce intellectual determination, as citizens, to define the real truth of our lives and our societies is a crucial obligation which devolves upon us all. It is in fact mandatory."
In a blistering excoriation of American foreign policy of "full spectrum dominance" which is as relevant today as it was when issued, he also observed:

"Political language, as used by politicians, does not venture into any of this territory since the majority of politicians, on the evidence available to us, are interested not in truth but in power and in the maintenance of that power. To maintain that power it is essential that people remain in ignorance, that they live in ignorance of the truth, even the truth of their own lives. What surrounds us therefore is a vast tapestry of lies, upon which we feed."
Blind optimism fostered by a "vast tapestry of lies" may continue to mask the ability of most people, even scientists, to acknowledge that our pollution is killing the ecosystem upon which we depend for our survival, but not for much longer...although activists continue to quibble over whether 2 degrees C rise in average temperature is a politically reasonable or achievable goal - even though Hansen already said it's a prescription for disaster.
It's not just in the US, but there are now fierce and "unstoppable fires" in Europe's forests.  It's typical that the influence of ozone is not mentioned in the news reports, even though the European site, ozoneinjury.org, meticulously documents the damage it does to plants.  Researchers confess to be nonplussed as to why the fires that have emerged in recent years cannot be controlled, "despite the latest technologies in fire prevention and control":
100,000 hectares of forests have been destroyed by fire in Spain, more than 70,000 in Portugal, and around 15,000 in France so far this summer. In France, intentional fires have been lit by land speculators to facilitate future obtaining of construction permits.
PARIS – Just like every summer in recent years, residents in Southern Europe are horrified witnesses of the fires that consume hundreds of thousands of hectares of forests.
The people living in the Mediterranean coastal areas of France, in parts of Spain, Greece, Italy and Portugal, stand by helplessly as fires burn on, despite the latest technologies in fire prevention and control.

So far this boreal summer, the fires have destroyed around 100,000 hectares of forest in Spain, more than 70,000 hectares in Portugal, and some 15,000 in France.


According to official statistics from Spain, forest fires multiplied from fewer than 5,000 a year in the 1960s to more than 20,000 annually today. The total area affected also grew apace, from less than 60,000 hectares a year four decades ago to around 400,000 during the worst summers in recent years.

According to the Spanish Environment Ministry, this year has seen an increase of 24.8 percent in the number of forest fires reported this year compared to the same period in 2004.

Also growing is the number of large-scale fires, those affecting more than 500 hectares, reaching a record for the past decade. Last year, Spanish authorities tallied 13 major fires, and so far this year there have already been 17.
Similar trends are being reported in southern France, and in Portugal, Italy and Greece.
In late July, Portugal’s General Forestry Directorate reported that in the past five years fire had consumed 820,000 hectares of forest, almost a quarter of the country’s total of 3.4 million hectares of forested lands.

The trend is alarming because the technical capacity for putting out the fires has improved considerably since 1970.
Experts say there are several causes for the recurrence and seriousness of the fires. Climatic factors associated with global warming, such as extraordinarily high temperatures and chronic lack of rainfall, play a role. But there have also been grave errors in reforestation plans, carelessness by campers and tourists, and even acts of arson associated with real estate speculation.
Weather stations in some regions of Portugal, France and Spain have measured temperatures this summer of more than 40 degrees Celsius. In addition to an unprecedented drought, this has created ideal conditions for fire, added to irresponsible actions on the part of tourists and farmers.
Furthermore, during recent efforts at reforestation, the authorities made the mistake of planting monocultures of conifers, which tend to dry up quickly and to burn even with the smallest contact with fire.

Approximately 50 percent of the forest fires in Spain have been intentionally set. And France’s Ministry of Interior reported the arrest of around 100 arsonists in July and August, while in Portugal the police have detained about 70 people on suspicion of starting fires.
Police sources in France say the intentional forest fires have been lit by land speculators to facilitate future obtaining of construction permits.
Once an area has lost its forest to fire, these permits are more easily granted, a French police official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Tierramérica. Thus the intentional burning of forests creates conditions to expand urbanization to areas that previously were restricted.
For Humberto da Cruz, director of the Institute for Research and Cooperation in the Mediterranean Basin and former director of Spain’s Institute for the Conservation of Nature, one way to reduce intentional fires is to establish “drastic prohibitions on changes in land use for long periods of time after a fire.”
And it seems that Southern Europe’s forest fire problems have been fuelled by political decisions.
In France, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy banned since Jul. 31 the use of CL-215 tanker planes made by Canadair, after one of these aircraft crashed into a mountain on the southeastern Mediterranean island of Corsica while flying a fire-fighting mission. Two people died in the crash.
Sarkozy said that until the circumstances of the accident are clarified, the fleet of Canadair planes will not be flown — a ban that deeply complicates the already difficult task of firefighters throughout the Mediterranean region.

In Spain and Portugal, the fires have also claimed many lives, especially among firefighting crews.
Fires in France forced the temporary suspension of railroad services and electricity distribution in the area between Marseilles and Nice, and several towns and resorts have had to be evacuated.
Though many young trees have been planted to replace the originals, they are dying too.  This redbud has more seeds than leaves.

The leaves it retains are mottled because their ability to photosynthesize has been impaired.
Side by side, young and old are equally vulnerable to air pollution.
A recent story in St. Louis Today blames the death of a famous oak in Missouri on the recent heat wave [note that these pictures are from the article]:
The iconic 145-foot Sugarberry Tree in Kirkwood Park has weathered a lighting strike, rotor wash from a Marine helicopter and more than 150 years of unpredictable St. Louis weather, but the recent heat wave was the last straw in its battle to survive.
Just as the sun was rising above the Missouri State Champion tree on July 6, a large portion of the tree gave way. 

"It broke around 6:20 in the morning with no wind," said Curt Carron, Kirkwood Parks superintendent. "It was paper dry to the core."  The tree will be removed later this year.  
Across the region, trees are similarly parched given this summer's heat and drought. As of last week, St. Louis County as well as more than 93 percent of Missouri was in a 'severe" drought, according to the National Climatic Data Center. Just over 23 percent of the state was in an "extreme" drought.
 
In Sunset Hills, public works director Anne Lamitola said the city removed five large trees earlier this month in the rights-of-way. Some had diameters as wide as two-and-a-half feet."Our code compliance officer is working with numerous property owners who have dead trees on their private property," she said in an email. "A dead tree becomes 'hazardous' when that tree can fall on a structure or into a public right-of-way." 
 

Though the region has seen long-lasting heat in past summers, the seasons leading up to summer have usually provided enough rain or snowfall to build up saturation in the soil...
Signs of distress in trees include leaf curling, browning and even defoliation, or loss of leaves...
As for the mighty Sugarberry tree in Kirkwood, the city has removed most of the tree's high branches to prevent more limb breakage. Though bare, the tree will stand in Kirkwood Park until fall, when Carron hopes they will be able to collect its seeds. 

"The thing that stands out about this tree is its longevity," he said. "It would be nice to try to take some of that while it's available to see if we can't propagate that for other areas."
 
The article points to other trees similarly parched by drought and heat, although clearly the decay shown in the photos of the Sugarberry tree - the severe internal rot - is not the result of one or even two season's weather - and "Signs of distress in trees include leaf curling, browning and even defoliation..." have been documented in hundreds of photos for over three years here at Wit's End.
Trees in Boston are faring no better:  In a story titled "A Tree Barely Grows in Boston", it was reported:
"Five years ago, city officials set a goal of planting 100,000 trees by the end of the decade, but they have fallen behind and are struggling just to keep pace with the high mortality of trees that have fallen victim to a spate of heavy storms, disease, and the regular urban onslaught of pollution, road salt, acidic soil, and reckless driving, among other perils. The city and supporting groups have planted only about 10 percent of the promised trees."
So, to the list of other reasons typically blamed for trees dying - the insects and fungus chief among them - we can now add reckless driving!  There's always a new one, and never the real one that underlies all the others - rising levels of constant, background ozone that have surpassed the critical threshold of 40 ppb in even remote regions of the planet.
New research has been reported in various places including ScienceDaily, that methane produced by diseased trees is contributing to greenhouse gases that are warming the Earth.  Following is the version published in SummitCountyVoice in which - as would be expected in a world of research dominated by climate science - there isn't even a hint of wonder about WHY these trees, only 80 to 100 years old, are rotting internally and producing methane, even though the lead author of the study says:  "...the conditions thought to be driving this process are common throughout the world’s forests...".  Even more ridiculously, the article starts off with a superflous reference to the bark beetle infestation, which is also misattributed to climate change...even though the study was about fungus, in Connecticut.  The prejudice is getting tedious!
Along with the potential risk for increased fire danger, there may be another good reason to remove beetle-infested trees from western forests.
Researchers at the Yale School of Forestry Environmental Studies say some diseased trees release methane at a level that may be a globally significant source of the potent heat-trapping gas, according to the study published in Geophysical Research Letters.
Sixty trees sampled at Yale Myers Forest in northeastern Connecticut contained concentrations of methane that were as high as 80,000 times ambient levels. Normal air concentrations are less than 2 parts per million, but the Yale researchers found average levels of 15,000 parts per million inside trees.
“These are flammable concentrations,” said Kristofer Covey, the study’s lead author and a Ph.D. candidate at Yale. “Because the conditions thought to be driving this process are common throughout the world’s forests, we believe we have found a globally significant new source of this potent greenhouse gas.”
The estimated emission rate from an upland site at the Yale forest is roughly equivalent to burning 40 gallons of gasoline per hectare of forest per year. It also has a global warming potential equivalent to 18 percent of the carbon being sequestered by these forests, reducing their climate benefit of carbon sequestration by nearly one-fifth.
“If we extrapolate these findings to forests globally, the methane produced in trees represents 10 percent of global emissions,” said Xuhui Lee, a co-author of the study and Sara Shallenberger Brown Professor of Meteorology at Yale. “We didn’t know this pathway existed.”
The trees producing methane are older—between 80 and 100 years old—and diseased. Although outwardly healthy, they are being hollowed out by a common fungal infection that slowly eats through the trunk, creating conditions favorable to methane-producing microorganisms called methanogens.
“No one until now has linked the idea that fungal rot of timber trees, a production problem in commercial forestry, might also present a problem for greenhouse gas and climate change mitigation,” said Mark Bradford, a co-author and Assistant Professor of Terrestrial Ecosystem Ecology at F&ES.
Red maple, an abundant species in North America, had the highest methane concentrations, but other common species, including oak, birch and pine were also producers of the gas. The rate of methane emissions was 3.1 times higher in the summer, suggesting that higher temperatures may lead to increasing levels of forest methane that, in turn, lead to ever-higher temperatures.
“These findings suggest decay in living trees is important to biogeochemists and atmospheric scientists seeking to understand global greenhouse gas budgets and associated climate change,” said Covey.
That is something I can certainly agree with - "...decay in living trees is important to...atmospheric scientists seeking to understand global greenhouse gas budgets and associated climate change", because I've been trying to tell climate scientists for several years that if they don't account for the loss of the CO2 sink represented by forests, their models about temperature increases are seriously deficient.
I caught glimpses of these little girls with their pony wandering over the course, which brought back many memories of when my daughters were little and loved nothing better than to roam the woods around Wit's End on their ponies.  Back then thought, as recently as when they were children, the woods were still beautiful.  Doubtless these two have no idea that the trees surrounding them are hurtling towards extinction.  One reason I write this blog, and send futile pleas to scientists and foresters and media outlets, is that the trees aren't all totally dead yet, and if we could isolate a source of pollution that could be dispensed with, perhaps the trees could be saved or at least propagated.
I often speculate that perhaps the addition of ethanol to gasoline could be adding to the insidious soup of toxins in the air, since it produces far more nitrous oxide than traditional fossil fuels.  NOx is a major precursor to ozone (see studies from Stanford and the Argonne National Laboratory if you find credence in that prospect), but there may be almost certainly is even more to it than just that.  Predictably, the researchers who have discovered a pathway for the development of a "new and important, atmospherically relevant oxidant" are almost exclusively concerned about its impacts to climate and human respiration, but who knows?  Maybe it's even worse for trees - and maybe they have picked up on reactions from the production of PAN from biofuel emissions?
An international research team led by the University of Colorado Boulder and the University of Helsinki has discovered a surprising new chemical compound in Earth's atmosphere that reacts with sulfur dioxide to form sulfuric acid, which is known to have significant impacts on climate and health.
The new compound, a type of carbonyl oxide, is formed from the reaction of ozone with alkenes, which are a family of hydrocarbons with both natural and human-made sources, said Roy "Lee" Mauldin III, a research associate in CU-Boulder's atmospheric and oceanic sciences department and lead study author. The study charts a previously unknown chemical pathway for the formation of sulfuric acid, which can result both in increased acid rain and cloud formation as well as negative respiratory effects on humans.
"We have discovered a new and important, atmospherically relevant oxidant," said Mauldin. "Sulfuric acid plays an essential role in Earth's atmosphere, from the ecological impacts of acid precipitation to the formation of new aerosol particles, which have significant climatic and health effects. Our findings demonstrate a newly observed connection between the biosphere and atmospheric chemistry."  A paper on the subject is being published in the Aug. 9 issue of Nature.
Typically the formation of sulfuric acid in the atmosphere occurs via the reaction between the hydroxyl radical OH -- which consists of a hydrogen atom and an oxygen atom with unpaired electrons that make it highly reactive -- and sulfur dioxide, Mauldin said. The trigger for the reactions to produce sulfuric acid is sunlight, which acts as a "match" to ignite the chemical process, he said.
But Mauldin and his colleagues had suspicions that there were other processes at work when they began detecting sulfuric acid at night, particularly in forests in Finland -- where much of the research took place -- when the sun wasn't present to catalyze the reaction. "There were a number of instances when we detected sulfuric acid and wondered where it was coming from," he said.
In the laboratory, Mauldin and his colleagues combined ozone -- which is ubiquitous in the atmosphere -- with sulfur dioxide and various alkenes in a gas-analyzing instrument known as a mass spectrometer hooked up with a "flow tube" used to add gases. "Suddenly we saw huge amounts of sulfuric acid being formed," he said.
Because the researchers wanted to be sure the hydroxyl radical OH was not reacting with the sulfur dioxide to make sulfuric acid, they added in an OH "scavenger" compound to remove any traces of it. Later, one of the research team members held up freshly broken tree branches to the flow tube, exposing hydrocarbons known as isoprene and alpha-pinene -- types of alkenes commonly found in trees and which are responsible for the fresh pine tree scent.
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"It was such a simple little test," said Mauldin. "But the sulfuric acid levels went through the roof. It was something we knew that nobody had ever seen before."
Mauldin said the new chemical pathway for sulfuric acid formation is of interest to climate change researchers because the vast majority of sulfur dioxide is produced by fossil fuel combustion at power plants. "With emissions of sulfur dioxide, the precursor of sulfuric acid, expected to rise globally in the future, this new pathway will affect the atmospheric sulfur cycle," he said.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, more than 90 percent of sulfur dioxide emissions are from fossil fuel combustion at power plants and other industrial facilities. Other sulfur sources include volcanoes and even ocean phytoplankton. It has long been known that when sulfur dioxide reacts with OH, it produces sulfuric acid that can form acid rain, shown to be harmful to terrestrial and aquatic life on Earth.
Airborne sulfuric acid particles -- which form in a wide variety of sizes -- play the main role in the formation of clouds, which can have a cooling effect on the atmosphere, he said. Smaller particles near the planet's surface have been shown to cause respiratory problems in humans.
Mauldin said the newly discovered oxidant might help explain recent studies that have shown large parts of the southeastern United States might have cooled slightly over the past century. Particulates from sulfuric acid over the forests there may be forming more clouds than normal, cooling the region by reflecting sunlight back to space.
It's rather interesting that "recent studies...have shown large parts of the southeastern United States might have cooled slightly over the past century" despite the average temperature increase overall due to global warming...because the trees are dying there just as quickly as elsewhere, and yet the "experts" persist in blaming climate change for forest declines.
Sophie observed that the sunsets in Kentucky are often spectacular - maybe it's the sulfuric acid?
I want to express heartfelt thanks as always to friends, virtual friends, and total strangers, for links sent to me about the fate of trees.  I cannot keep track all by myself, so the information you supply is invaluable.  And lots and lots of love to Sophie.

11 comments:

  1. Two commenters gave me the thumbs up. Ozone isn't news to everyone.
    The word is getting out.

    We're fighting the big lie of omission, one of the major kinds of propaganda. Besides climate change and ozone what doesn't MSM talk much about? Don't go there, it's reality!

    http://onlineathens.com/breaking-news/2012-08-10/drought-taking-its-toll-georgia-timber-industry

    catman

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  2. As somebody said, one of these days it will be a "Duh!" moment. But meanwhile we have to keep hammering away. Thanks for posting the link there Catman.

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  3. the week (and more) was very difficult without you!
    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/29/opinion/sunday/listen-to-the-soundscape.html?_r=2

    I survived another week without birds (it is silent summer here), and without stars. How long will this last?

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  4. Michele - thank you, that is an incredible accounting of a loss of sound I have mourned for several years. it's amazing to see it documented.

    Who knows how long it will last? Mark every day as a tiny reprieve...and as I was just recently advised (not sure I can adapt it) DON'T feel guilty. Never feel guilty. We are just us, what we are, exploitative organisms, to the bitter end.

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  5. The drought gets blamed without exception. I live less than a mile from and 23 feet of elevation above Lake Michigan. The soil is mostly sand, trees can, or could, send down a root and take a drink. The trees here look exactly as they do 50 miles NW in the real drought zone. I've walked right on the shore of the lake with friends who insist the trees are suffering from drought. Causation is about what they've been told. Logic and reason and observation have nothing to do with it

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  6. I had someone once tell me that the reason the UV index scale usually only goes to 10 or 11 is because at the time it was devised this was the expected maximums for UV readings. Now it is possible to see UV readings as high as 17 in parts of the world. I can't verify the truth as to the reasons behind the scale only going to 10 or 11 but I have seen many times a UV index predicted to be over 16 in some areas at this website which forecasts UV:

    http://www.uvawareness.com/

    Increased UV could certainly be reacting with gases to create tropospheric ozone even faster, as you've said. Also UV indexes that high may in themselves be damaging if the plants didn't evolve to tolerate those levels. Double whammy I think.

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  7. If despairing climate scientists are still having four and five kids, I take that to be proof that rationality is among the weakest of the forces that drive our human behavior.

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  8. @Anon1 - I agree. I have thought all along that if it's drought, trees right along side rivers and lakes (that still have water) should be at least marginally better off than trees farther away, but there is no discernable difference. Add to that trees being watered in nurseries, still no difference.

    @Anon2 - That is very interesting, I'm going to follow that site and pay more attention. Several ozone indicator sites say that one symptom is "shadowing" where there is leaf damage on exposed surfaces but not layers underneath. I've seen some remarkable examples but always thought it had more to do with excessive UV. I'll have to look around for pictures of it.

    Greatblue: Suzuki also has five. You could say rationality is among the weakest forces, or you could say that the urge to have sex/reproduce (not easily compartmentalized separately) is among the most (if not THE most) powerful and I think that would explain a lot too.

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  9. comment 201 J. Bowers has a list of 20 current links that dispute the denialist claim that increased CO2 will increase plant growth. As you have written.

    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2012/08/unforced-varations-aug-2012/comment-page-5/#comments

    catman

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  10. So, good professor and climate scientist, James Anderson of Harvard, is surprised to find water vapor--clouds lofted into the stratosphere. Duh!

    This is exactly what HAARP does!

    Government weather is the climate change.

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  11. Thanks again Gail...I guess! I know it's true and even if the news is terrible...I like to be informed! I always grooved to Chris Hedges' books interesting comment on him... Hmmm!

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