Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Widening Gyre

I am home again in New Jersey following what seemed like a vertiginous trip to the left coast - this post will have photos of the final segment of my travels, to California, where I was a grateful guest at this delightful farmhouse
which is the home of one of my oldest, bestest friends.
If I thought what I witnessed in the Pacific Northwest (as described earlier in this post) was alarming, then what I found in California was simply terrifying.
The death of trees and shrubs is so blatantly egregious that I simply do not understand what sort of collective insanity allows the residents of this state to go about their daily routines without pausing to reflect on the implications of the ecosystem collapsing in front of their very eyes.
The destination on the first day was Golden Gate Park. It was hideously frigid despite global warming!
The sky was overcast, the terrible fog seeped into useless layers of chilled, dampened clothing, and the trees were in such abysmal condition that I was appalled.
It has been suggested to me that since this blog is all about (mostly) ozone killing vegetation, I should offer a primer for those who haven't been quite as obsessed as I've been, as to what evidence indicates that a tree is afflicted by poisoning from toxic greenhouse gases.
A very short list would be fairly simple to describe and quite evident in a quick tour through any park, yard, or forest.
Golden Gate was no exception, Regard:
Thin crowns.
Bare branches.
Overproduction of reproductive cones, seeds, and flowers - putting all energy into procreation.
Smaller than normal seeds, nuts, leaves.
Wilted leaves, leaves lacking normal color (loss of chlorophyll).
Splitting bark.
Stippled foliage.
After some miserable shivering, the looming Conservatory offered respite.
We plunged inside, where there were spectacular displays of flora.
Interesting blossoms crowded the pond.
And there were delightful orchids
of many varieties
and hues.
Plants I don't recognize from exotic locations refracted brilliant colors

which was a joy to see!
I can't say if the anthuriums are supposed to exhibit this range of palettes.
Perhaps it is normal, or they have been hybridized.
But I can say with some assurance that the leaves of this tropical flower (LOOK at the top right leaf!)
are classic examples of chlorosis.

I have already quoted extensively from the prolific professor, Dr. Garg of India, who has published several other blogs on various topics from yoga to history to algae. He was kind enough to answer my letter - but does not so far seem inclined to dredge up links for his sources behind the encyclopedic references to acid rain and ozone he had amassed while teaching Botany over a 30 year career.
Much of his work is about acid rain, not ozone, as linked to before.
However, I am going to post a series of pictures of leaves that were seen in the conservatory, and obviously not subjected to acid rain.
Yet, they have the identical damage to foliage seen outdoors, in all locations, whether wild forests or suburban plantings.
I will be interspersing some tantalizing quotes, in italics, about ozone - from his blog titled Pollution and Plants:


In presence of strong sunlight and in hot weather a series of complex chemical reactions involving nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons may produce certain photo-oxidant chemicals.
These chemicals do not have any specific anthropogenic source but are formed over wide areas in which suitable environmental conditions are prevailing.
Two such photo-oxidants that can reach ambient concentrations toxic to plants are PAN (Peroxyacetylnitrate ) and ozone.

PAN (Peroxyacetylnitrate-CH3CO.O2.NO2)

Impact of this secondary pollutant is not affected by humidity. However, the impact decreases with lowering of temperature and increasing drought conditions. The impact also increases in the morning and in bright sunlight.
Young plants and young rapidly expanding leaves are more sensitive to this pollutant. PAN interacts with SO2 and O3 in complex manner producing variable impact conditions.

The common visible symptoms of exposure to PAN are chlorosis and necrosis in leaves. It also interferes with photosynthesis, respiration and absorption and synthesis of carbohydrates and proteins.
It inhibits photorespiration, NADP reduction, carbon dioxide fixation, cellulose synthesis and the enzymes associated with photosynthesis and respiration.

Ozone (O3)

The impact of ozone on plants increases with humidity and decreases with drought, darkness, low temperature, high soil salinity, deficiency of soil phosphorus and excess of soil sulphur. Middle aged leaves and young plants are more sensitive to ozone. This pollutant interacts with SO2, NO2, PAN and heavy metals in complex manner.

Common symptoms of ozone pollution are yellowing, flecking and blotching in leaves, premature senescence and early maturity. It interferes with pollen formation, pollination, pollen germination and growth of pollen tubes. Increase in the level of RNA, starch, polysaccharides and number of polysomes is observed in ozone pollution.
Ozone stimulates respiration, inhibits oxidative phosphorylation and changes membrane permeability. In some species, it inhibits the synthesis of glucon and cellulose and reduces the level of reducing sugars, ascorbic acid and ATP while in other species the effect is opposite to it.

Secondary pollution conditions
Certain primary inorganic and organic pollutants in the atmosphere under certain specific environmental conditions, undergo a variety of complex photochemical and other chemical reactions.
These reactions produce certain specific secondary atmospheric pollution conditions that also adversely affect plants. Important such secondary atmospheric pollution conditions are acid rains, photochemical smog, ozone depletion and greenhouse problem.

It was quite a relief to find the section devoted to carnivorous plants.
Of course there were the Venus Fly Traps...
But there were many others I had never seen before -
so here are several, mixed up with more from Dr. Garg.
He has much more to say in that blog about the effects of water-born pesticides, herbicides, industrial effluent and other scourges of vegetation
but it's really too much for me to keep up with all the other sources that conspire to push our ecosystem past a tipping point to where it is collapsing.
But for anyone who has the fortitude, it is worth reading about.
That was a gloomy day in San Francisco,
where the palm trees along the Embarcadero
are shriveling up and dying.
Following that nasty cold interval, I had a few balmy days to explore the area around Petaluma, a town with meticulously maintained, colorful Victorian homes, and more rural enclaves.
They love their roses!
There are huge clumps of blossoms, which I have never seen before.
And long blooming hedges.
They breed particularly luminous mixtures of glowing hues.
And lots of standard formations bordering walkways.
Of course, there are loads of other flowers in the gardens.
Dahlias, and begonias.
This is a grand place to hone in on cultivated flowers.
For all that, the overall picture is bleak.
Shrubs are dying left and right.
Oleander is more robust than most but still is dying back.
Nasturtiums have no more and no less injury than in New Jersey or Seattle!
Evergreens are turning brown.
Leaves are singed.
Conifers are thin.
Crowns are transparent, with bare branches.
The leaves of lemon trees are turning yellow.
Armed with Dr. Garg's refreshingly blunt assessments, I read two articles in the Independent UK, one titled Car fumes raise spectre of 1980's revival, and the other, Acid rain: An environmental crisis that disappeared off the radar.
Then I realized that, though instructive, they are both actually month-old interpretations of this article, originally published in Scientific American magazine, which I already posted, in June(!) along with excerpts from a draft report to the EPA which include some rather dramatic statements about the impacts of ozone on forests...highly deserving of a second read.
To make this nitrogen redux even more delicious, I learned through the googling that the scientist quoted, Dr. Schlesinger, who is president of the Cary Institute for Ecosystem Studies, is also on the Board of the infamously derelict Doris Duke Foundation!!
In re-reading the article I scanned the comments. I don't know who DownRiverDiva is, but she is a woman after my own heart - I loved her remarks, especially because I copied Dr. Schlesinger this letter to tell him that ozone is killing everything, everywhere - and got exactly NO reply!:

"Why is it that there is all this reporting of things happening to the Earth and problems that are potentially devastating to the people and the environment by scientists but when they are asked why or what is going on they don't know? How are they reporting these things but don't understand them? Are the scientist just stupid and pretending to be working? Or are they in over their heads and need to be out painting billboards instead of in a science lab? Or don't they read their own studies? An example: "It's clear that humans are adding nitrogen to Earth's surface. Researchers do not know yet where it all goes, "but we do know that increasing concentrations of nitrogen in unexpected places will cause significant environmental damage that we will all learn to regret," Schlesinger wrote in a 2009 report in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences."  But then who can question scientists who have all kinds of degrees? Of course when this happens in medical science, they always say, "we don't know what the appendix does, but it's ok to remove it. It must not do anything if we can't figure out what purpose it serves."  Never fails. They do it all the time, for decades, till somebody says, "Hey, it does do something and we better leave it alone!" Bunch of educated fools, all of them. And don't question me, I have a couple of degrees too!"
This was a brilliantly outraged smack-down of those I perhaps more crudely have referred to as egomaniacal douchebags.

I do not recognize this shrub
with its waxy, ruby flowers,
But I can see it is dying back, with bare branches extending beyond the living tissue.
a weeping Rosemary
A brazen, winged beast
laughing, ecstatic destruction
a stoney sleep
rent from eternity
leaves on the grass
a hedge that is fading away
A fig tree with distorted leaves
More fun at a fantabulous candy store!
we visited all sorts of luxurious shops
including a purveyor of fine stationary that had a vast collection of shadowbox insects, all sorts of obscure beetles and butterflies arrayed in geometrically pleasing patterns.
At first I was enchanted but later I wondered if they had been collected while alive, and killed for the purpose of giving humans a momentary visual thrill. We so thoughtlessly murder other species for our own amusement and pleasure!
A sunny day trip to San Francisco yielded views of the hills around the ferry terminal.

Brush is clearly fried to a crisp.

The treetops are scorched, and not by fire!
Crowns are abnormally thin.
As we pulled out of the harbor, I took a photo of the receding hills of Marin County.
And then I cropped to look more closely. The zooms are blurry, but it is plain to see
that there are large clusters of totally dead, standing timber
No travelogue of the Bay Area would be complete without a picture of the fog held in abeyance behind the Golden Gate Bridge.
And a skyline of what I have always called the Emerald City.
Plus, the site of many luscious afternoon picnics, at the peak of Coit Tower.
But none of that compares to the pleasure of a visit with youngest daughter.
who I dragged by bicycle caddy to my old lunchtime haunt,
the Tadich Grill
who I already miss terribly as she has relocated to my alma mater, UC Santa Cruz, for her master's program.


  1. Oh Gail what a deliciously elegant and personal report, thank you so much

    I like the way you get all doomerish and then take pictures of flowers and then your daughter... lovely, Thanks

    BTW ..another source for ozone info is a Dept of Agriculture site

  2. Excellent link RPauli! Thanks I will try to make good use of it!


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