Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Salt Marsh Dieback

Desdemona had this story about disappearing salt marshes in Cape Cod. These particular scientists are investigating whether a burgeoning crab population is eating the grass.

However this earlier story published by the National Park Service in 2006 makes note that in fact, marshes have been dying all over New England and as far south as Georgia for some time. That article postulates all sorts of reasons for "sudden wetland dieback," many of which have been ruled out - but it is obviously far more extensive than can be accounted by a crab problem on the Cape.
Credit: NPS/Stephen Smith
Credit: NPS, Stephen Smith
Oddly enough, not one of the possible influences mentioned has anything to do with atmospheric pollution. Given that all the trees, shrubs, and other plants around Cape Cod (as documented here and here last August) and for that matter in Cambridge last March here) exhibit the symptoms of exposure to toxic levels of atmosphere ozone, I really think they should at least consider it!

"In Cape Cod National Seashore, mudflats now replace as much as 12% of emergent marsh. In fact, Cape Cod appears to be the "epicenter" of salt-marsh dieback in the Northeast."

It is all too familiar for scientists to look for proximate causes for forest decline - insects, invasive species, fungus, disease, extreme weather. Sure, all those things happen. But when so much vegetation is suddenly subject to "Sudden Death Something" [insert, apsen, oak, maple, sycamore, beech, etc., see list here and photos here] and in addition to unexplained crop failures (and that was 2009 - just wait for this season!) and now I discover we have Sudden Wetland Dieback being blamed on crabs - well, it just seems logical that if vegetation OF ALL SORTS is dying then there must be a broader cause than individual, species-specific pests, disease and fungus - all of which are documented to be exacerbated by exposure to ozone, by the way. The question for me is - what do all plants have in common? They must photosynthesize and produce chlorophyll. What is well-known - and ubiquitous - that impedes that ability? Ozone.

But for a scientist to even raise that question would intrinsically require a fundamental challenge to our entire capitalistic, profit-driven, fuel-guzzling brain-dead consumerist modus operandi. And who is willing to risk that?


  1. Imagine a world without oxygen.

    I've got the answer for the question that Bill Cosby posed so many years ago: Why is there air?

    So we can breathe.


  2. Good point, cm306!

    I'm not as sceptical about scientists and their research as you seem to have understandably grown to be, Gail, but I suspect it is because I'm broadly involved in the academic community here. If I won the lottery, I would set up a group of hungry PhD and post doc students, crossing disciplines, with funds to discover exactly what links all these different catastrophes, giving them your hypothesis as a basis. There's nothing quite like the desire to see the old guard overturned to concentrate the mind. The flaw in all this is, of course, the improbability of my winning the lottery.


  3. Serinde, I hope you DO win the lottery and fund a group of academics!

    Of course I think most scientists embody integrity. But there are subtle ways they can be influenced - there is no funding for research into the effects of ethanol emissions, for example. Also the scientists might supply the best data to the EPA - who may even record it (or not). But even if they do that doesn't mean they advertise it, or explain in plain terms what the implications of the data are...let alone propose regulations that are consistent with the threats. Of the number of industrial chemicals in use today - some 70,000, only a fraction, something like a few hundred, have been tested before entering the market.

    The collusion between BP, the politicians, the military and local law enforcement to deny access to reports and scientists in the Gulf is pure fascism. That more than anything else has made me cynical...that, and the fact that the highest levels of government have know literally for 60 years about climate change and obviously, every administration chose to sell out to short-term profits for corporations over saving the Earth from destruction. See this Climatecide post for an excellent perspective!


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