Friday, May 14, 2010


On Thursday, an enchantingly balmy day, I had a little time to wander around the woods and garden, taking pictures of birds and flowers.
This could be a yellow-bellied fly catcher...and here is the clear clean water of the Cold Brook that borders Wit's End.
Everybody on the Gulf is helplessly waiting for the full force of the oil disaster to hit. Of course, since it appears much of the oil is lurking below the surface, the full force could continue for some untold period of time as it wends its lethal way to shore.
Similarly, and with the same pathetic impotence, citizens of Earth are waiting (whether they realize it or not) like paralyzed pillars of salt for the full force of the ozone disaster to hit. It cannot be emphasized enough that the EPA is perfectly well aware of the gravity of the situation - they just aren't publicizing it, and aren't doing anything about it! Well, what's to be done, after all? We can't just all start riding bicycles and public transportation, now can we? Perish the thought!
So what are the effects of ozone? There are two absolutely stunning EPA documents linked to at the end of this post - the italicized statements in quotes that follow are excerpts taken from them. The conclusions are catastrophic as stated, without even considering that the published studies summarized in these reports are using even older data in some cases gathered a decade or more ago - and so as with everything in climate science, from ice loss to severe storms to methane release, the situation is actually much worse than described...or predicted.

"In compiling more than 55 studies, Wittig et al. (2007) reported that current O3 concentrations in the northern hemisphere are decreasing photosynthesis (-11%) and stomatal conductance (-13%) across tree species. They also found that younger trees were less affected than older trees.

The statement highlighted in red was written in 2007 as a compilation of even earlier studies - and is an example of observations that are no longer true, which can be readily demonstrated in any cursory inventory. The foliage of trees of every age is equally damaged now, as are the leaves of annual plants - and have been rapidly deteriorating since 2008. Whether this is due to the inexorably rising levels of background tropospheric ozone, or the government-mandated addition of ethanol creating emissions of acetaldehyde, or a tipping point through some synergism of other factors, I cannot say.

"A continuing lack of information precludes offering any generalizations about interactive effects of O3 with NH3, HF, or heavy metals."

Don't you love it! A continuing lack of information!! Let's just throw all these toxic chemicals into the atmosphere and see what happens!

In an earlier post, I mentioned that I had discovered a bird's nest, with baby birds, in a box on the porch.
Why would this irate little mother, who labours tirelessly to feed insects to her raucous brood,
choose to build her nest not three feet above Lucifer's lair??
Perhaps, the condition of the trees might have something to do with it. What sort of shelter can they offer anymore?

"New ecological analyses expand the already large body of evidence indicating that O3 exposure causes injury to plants."

"...the average incidence of O3-induced foliar injury was 73% on milkweed in the Great Smokey Mountain National Park in the years 1992-1996."
The luscious plumage above belongs to an oriole, but I don't know what species these next two birds are.
My ignorance shames me. Lately I have been trying to distinguish their myriad songs.
This of course is a robin.
I am so chastened that my species is killing so many others, and I don't even know who most of them are.
Trees lacking leaves have become commonplace.

"...current levels [of ozone] have been shown to reduce the ability of many sensitive species and genotypes within species to adapt to or withstand other environmental stresses. These may include increased susceptibility to freezing temperatures, pest infestations and/or root disease, and compromised ability to compete for available resources."

What is even more alarming is that the leaves of plants, whether annual or perennial, exhibit ever more extreme symptoms typical of exposure to toxic greenhouse gasses. Above is a cluster of perennial hibiscus which should be smooth; and below, a bay leaf. Leaves are wrinkled, wilted, discolored, and frail.

"...the cumulative effects of ambient levels of O3 decreased seasonal stem growth by 30-50% for most trees species in a high O3 year in comparison to a low O3 year..."

Hosta leaves are curled into brittle cups...
and singed at the margins.
The pigmentation of blueberry leaves is unnaturally red
And, incredibly, blueberries are already well formed!!
Another frightful symptom is that last year, while leaves were uniformly damaged, at least flowers were gorgeous. This year, these roses are pathetic
compared to last year:
The same can be said for this shrub
This year the leaves are red compared to last year,
below, when the leaves were green.
The magnolia leaves are stunted and twisted.
Oh well, the iris look great!

"...many national parks and natural areas have monitored O3 levels above concentrations that have been shown to decrease plant growth..."

"This level of exposure has been estimated to cause a 9% biomass loss in 50% of the 49 tree seedling cases studied...1996"

"...current air quality levels could result in significant impacts to vegetation in some areas."

This ruby-red flower is from a chestnut, which I planted three years ago, before I learned that trees are doomed...
UNLESS we recognize that we MUST STOP BURNING SO MUCH FUEL resulting in this stippling and shrinking of leaves in the chestnut, which will ultimately kill the tree. No more nuts, apples, pears, or cherries!
These tiny wildflowers are usually prolific, but now they are in rare supply.
Petals are deformed.
This azalea blossem is now a forlorn, isolated flower on what should be a canopy of pink, and like many flowers this spring so far, is asymmetrical.
Last year's allium, above, and now, even more spindly:

"Yield loss also may include changes in crop quality, i.e., physical appearance, chemical composition, or the ability to withstand storage."
This was astonishing to come across because I have been noticing recently that produce from the store is becoming emaciated much faster than it used to! Root vegetables and fruits are bruising more quickly, and leafy vegetables wilt almost as soon as they come home from the market. Elsewhere it is clear that this impacts the nutritional quality.
The texture of flowers as well as leaves is altered. This next picture from one of last year's clematis has robust petals and color:
but this year, the petals of the flowers are puckered and tissue-thin:

"These symptoms are considered diagnostic as they have been verified in exposure-response studies under experimental conditions. Typical visible injury symptoms on broad leaved plants include: 1) acute exposure (pigmented lesions (stippling), flecking, surface bleaching, and/or bifacial necrosis); 2) chronic exposure (pigmentation (bronzing), chlorosis or premature senescence). Typical visible injury symptoms for conifers include: 1) chlorotic banding or tipburn (acute exposure); 2) flecking or chlorotic mottling, premature senescence of needles (chronic exposure)."

As I wandered around the woods I came across the abandoned children's treehouse, which has fallen into disrepair and should probably be condemned by the Board of Health.
Later by a neighbor's, I found this scene.

One of a cluster of pine trees had keeled over.

"Many studies have demonstrated that root growth is more sensitive to O3 exposure than stem or leaf growth."

The trees still standing nearby are actually thinner and browner than the one that fell.

"...incidence of O3 induced visible foliar injury is widespread across the eastern and western U.S. Visible foliar injury was observed in counties that are meeting the current level of the 8-hr standard and an alternative secondary standard option of a SUM06 of 25 ppm-hr proposed in 1996."

"Ozone and other photochemical oxidants may influence the severity of a disease or infestation either by direct effects on the causal species, or indirectly by affecting the host, or both. Likewise, mutually beneficial relationships or symbioses involving higher plants and bacteria or fungi may also be affected by O3."

"Several new studies have been published on the incidence of foliar injury in the field due to ambient O3 concentrations."

"The oldest and clearest example involves the San Bernardino Mountain forest ecosystem. In this example, O3 appeared to be a predisposing factor leading to increased drought stress, windthrow, root diseases, and insect infestation (Takemoto et al., 2001). Increased mortality of susceptible tree species, including ponderosa and Jeffrey pine, resulting from these combined stresses has shifted community composition towards white fir and incense cedar and has altered forest stand structure (Miller et al., 1989). A shift of community composition towards white fir may make this ecosystem more susceptible to fire."

Next I passed this house, with boxwood dying all around.

"By affecting water balance, cold hardiness, tolerance to wind and by predisposing plants to insect and disease pests, O3 may even impact the occurrence and impact of natural disturbance (e.g., fire, erosion)."

Also, I saw this tree, pretty typical for dying branches indicative of terminal decline.

"...effects on individual keystone species and their associated microflora and fauna, which have been shown experimentally, may cascade through the ecosystem to the landscape level."

Notice the hideous blackened trunk, shiny black from bleeding, and the damaged leaves.

"...small effects on individual tree growth may result in substantial effects on forest stand growth after many years."
"Since it has been established that O3 affects photosynthesis and growth of plants, O3 is most likely affecting the productivity of forest ecosystems."

This tufted appearance exemplifies the average condition - some are better, many are worse...and the picture below, of a mylar balloon caught in the high branches of a tree, exemplifies the wasteful, ignorant, oblivious, squandering greed of our species.

"...the National Academy of Sciences on Air Quality Management in the United States (NRC, 2004) stated that “EPA’s current practice for setting secondary standards for most criteria pollutants does not appear to be sufficiently protective of sensitive crops and ecosystems...”

For anyone who cares to wade through the entirety of these EPA reports, there is actually even more information about the adverse impacts ozone has on human health. That is outside the scope of this blog, which is about trees. That's more than I can handle already! But I do have to wonder, if ozone is so debilitating and even fatal for people, imagine what role it might be playing in the declining population of butterflies, bees, lizards and birds.

"The epidemiologic evidence from recent publications provides further evidence that short-term exposure to O3 is associated with effects on the respiratory system, and also report associations with mortality.

Many new toxicological studies are available on respiratory or allergic effects; in addition, some have suggested systemic effects of O3 on the cardiovascular or neurological systems."

I suppose every cloud has its silver lining, and it appears that heroin supplies will decrease as poppies are dying from some mysterious malady (which of course I would assert is a result of exposure to tropospheric ozone).

Here are the two EPA links mentioned above, from which all the quotes were taken, and thank you very much to the person who sent them to me, who would probably get into a lot of trouble if I mentioned his name:

EPA document 2007, Chapter 7 deals with effects on vegetation

EPA provisional assessment 2009, an update, effects on vegetation start at Chapter 5

Quite frankly, it is astonishing to me that EPA staff could produce these utterly terrifying compendiums and not be screaming from the rooftops that we are facing imminent massive, widespread crop failure, on top of complete ecosystem collapse. And that's not even counting the direct effects on human health!

"Recent results confirm that yields and quality of multiple-year forage crops are reduced at sufficient magnitude to have nutritional and possibly economic implications to their use as ruminant animal feed at O3 exposures that occur in some years over large areas of the U.S. Ozone may also reduce the quality or nutritive value of annual species."
"Ozone can also have indirect effects on herbivorous animals due to O3-induced changes in feed quality."

Aren't WE, if only more or less indirectly, herbivorous animals??


  1. A rose-breasted grosbeak!

  2. Thank you so much, Anon! I tried to identify it using on-line guides but got very frustrated. I am so glad to know I have a rose-breastted grosbeak in my backyard!


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