Wednesday, August 5, 2009

the Letter to the Scientists

Well, I did write an open letter to the scientists whose research on ozone I linked to in the last post, c/o of the NYT. Of course, I don't expect them to print it:

Dear Editor,

Below please find an open letter to the following scientists who are researching the effects of ozone on plants:

Dr. Victoria Wittig, University of Illinois
Dr. Elizabeth Ainsworth, USDA
Dr. Shawna Naidu, University of Illinois
Dr. Kevin Percy, Natural Resources Canada
Dr. William Manning, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Dr. Thomas Sharkey, Michigan State University
Dr. John Reilly, MIT
Dr. Peter Cox, Exeter University

Dear Scientists,

Recently I have begun documenting on a blog ( the deteriorating plight of trees in New Jersey. In my state as well as others I have visited along the Eastern Seaboard, the vegetation is in such rapid and universal decline that only a very significant agent, such as one related to climate change, can be broad enough to explain it.

Until recently I could only speculate as to which exact mechanism could cause all species of trees and shrubs, of all ages, to show the extreme symptoms of drought and irreversible decline. I thought it most likely related to the fact that the average temperature has increased from pre-industrial levels, leading to unpredictable weather and faster evaporation of less regular precipitation.

In just the past few days however, the following excerpt of a study by Dr. Cox, and subsequent reading other of your comments and published works, have convinced me that the main (though certainly not the only) driver in the vegetative damage that is now rampant must be due to exposure to ozone:

"The chemical known as ozone may be making a much more significant contribution to global warming than scientists had previously thought, according to a new study published in the journal Nature.
'Ozone could be twice as important as we previously thought as a driver of climate change,' said study co-author Peter Cox.

Ozone occurs naturally in the upper atmosphere, but is produced in the lower atmosphere when sunlight strikes industrial pollutants such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrogen oxides.

Scientists have long known that ozone is a greenhouse gas, trapping radiation within the atmosphere and leading to rising global temperatures. But the new study suggests that ozone may have a much more significant climate impact by adversely affecting plants' ability to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

According to the researchers, high concentrations of ozone and carbon dioxide damage plants' ability to engage in photosynthesis. This weakens the plants, causing their stomata (pores in the leaves) to close. In turn, this reduces that amount of carbon dioxide or ozone that the plants are able to absorb."

(found at

I am writing to you all because you have published research on this topic and it appears to me that to a certain degree, you are laboring in obscurity - at least as far as the media and the general public that it supposedly informs are concerned. Even for someone as alarmed as I am, it has taken me almost a year of writing dozens of letters to foresters and conservationists and environmentalists and climate scientists to finally discover the wealth of research in which you are engaged, about the effects of ozone. Most of the people I wrote to were kind enough to reply, including Dr. Jim Hansen - yet not one of them defined ozone as the likely culprit.

I hope you will take this report of massive and widespread plant injuries with utmost seriousness, because I believe that once people understand that the trees in their own backyards and parks - and the food products on their grocery store shelves - are at risk of extinction, they will wake up and support government action to reduce CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions.

It is, alas, mainly you scientists who possess the truth, and who have the authority to speak out and save humanity from its own stupidity.

Below is a link to an early post that summarizes my motivation in starting this blog. If you go to other entries, you can find pictures and more recent observations.

Frankly, the decline unfolding from week to week is worse than my worst imaginings when I first noticed a year ago that something terrible is threatening our forests. And now, the picture is even more dire, as ozone clearly is dangerous for all plant life, including crops.

We really are in an emergency and should behave accordingly.

Here's the link to the post I mentioned:

Thanks for reading. I am very interested in sharing information and appreciate any responses.

Gail Zawacki
Oldwick, NJ

And, in the interim, thanks to Roger in Massachusetts, I was sent this amazing link:

This young lady had a similar experience to mine, wondering what is afflicting the trees, only she went out and did an actual scientific study and also discovered other research on the topic of ozone. I am hopeful the Museum of Natural History will forward my message to her so we can compare notes.

That's all for now, I have sinus infection and am sweltering at a humid town on the Jersey shore where the beach is littered with rank dead mussels and other bivalves, which everyone pretends is normal.


  1. Gail, I'm surprised you are unaware that New Jersey does not discriminate against the sexual orientation of valves.

  2. Hey, feel free to snark in anonymity as long as you can explain the presence of the following bivalves, partially submerged in the sand, none of which were looking particularly robust, either:

    two of the Veneroidea family:

    dosinius anus larrycraig (one of the infaunal: they bury themselves in sediment. These forms typically have a strong digging foot), and
    humuilaria MarkFoley
    in addition to several lesser-known subspecies, some as yet unnamed;
    Not to mention examples of the order Ostreoida were also found in some abundance, (which, being epifaunal, such a venus clams and cockles, try to attach themselves to surfaces but on the occasion in question, were abjectly adrift) most notable among them the New Jersey native from the Family Pectinaidae, genera amusium mcgreevey.
    Check here for further descriptions of the habits of bi-valves.

  3. Actually, my concerns were aimed at Czech valves and Gates valves, not Ball valves.

  4. And, I should add, not enough attention is being paid to the declining populations of the Butterfly valve - especially those threatened by the construction of the Three Gorges Dam belonging to the family commonly referred to as the Main Steam Stop Valve.


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