When I first realized that all the trees are dying, it was a brutal shock. The implications are imponderably drastic, and it's devastating to realize that we greedy, silly, infantile humans are steadily destroying the beautiful, bountiful, dazzlingly complex and interwoven biodiversity that was created over untold eons of evolution, before we even appeared - to begin, as quickly as we could, to plunder its riches.
I had to put up a picture of beautiful autumn colors at the top, but here is the cedar at the entrance of the drive that leads to the pond. At this time any tree or shrub upon close inspection is severely damaged.
It's been over two years since I came to understand that since we discovered oil and coal, and began burning fuel in prodigious quantities, we have massively disrupted the climate system - and corrupted the atmosphere for plants that need to photosynthesize. As I monitor the relentless, accelerating collapse of the ecosystem, I constantly feel freshly shocked, and suffocated, by the burden of this knowledge.
So I can understand the resistance that most people have to this unwelcome, irredeemably horrible comprehension.
Nevertheless, for the past few days I have been rather despondent about the exchange of comments (described here) at Real Climate. If scientists who accept climate change, largely caused by the release of CO2 (so far - wait for the methane release) can't even acknowledge the deleterious and egregious effects of the other greenhouse gases that are emitted in the same process of burning fuels, what hope is there that ordinary citizens - or politicians - will recognize the grave threat posed by volatile organic compounds mutating into toxic tropospheric ozone?
One Light Frost so far - Otherwise these delicate Cosmos would be finished for the winter.
Then it occurred to me that perhaps the reason Jim Bouldin, a pedantic who drifts with the slightest provocation from pompous to petulant, reacted so viciously is because he has some niggling notion that I am fundamentally correct, if not in the details, then in the overall premise. It's either that, or he surely must think I'm insane - and if he truly thought I'm a nutcase, surely he would have ignored me, out of pity. Instead, he accused me of all sorts of nefarious intentions (when all I want is for some scientists to investigate the facts!), and finally put up this message:
This is my gorgeous Japanese Maple - with hair like Belle from Gone With the Wind! But the leaves shouldn't be falling off so soon. Remember - one light frost, with daytime temperatures in the 70's.
"NOTE:The hijacking and spread of misinformation and slander by certain commenters has led to theclosing of further comments on this article. I am however, very thankful to those many who made good points, asked good questions and provided further references, thus contributing to better public education. Jim."
It's especially unfortunate that the other moderators of Real Climate, at least one of whom works at NASA, don't seem to be aware that his own organization is tracking crop damage from ozone by satellite. (I already quoted from their report before, but for new visitors, here it is again..regular readers can skim through the pictures to another amazing, newly published research study from NASA.)
Magnolia leaves are stippled and also have been attacked by scale. Their excretions allow a fungus to breed. High levels of ozone encourage insect and fungal infestation by weakening a tree's natural ability to resist.
"The U.S. soybean crop is suffering nearly $2 billion in damage a year due to rising surface ozone concentrations harming plants and reducing the crop’s yield potential, a NASA-led study has concluded."
Somewhere in the archives is a picture of this tree last winter, when liquid was seeping from its trunk.
"Closer to Earth in the troposphere (surface to 6 miles, or 10 km), ozone forms from reactions between sunlight and manmade emissions and is a harmful pollutant, causing damage to lung tissue and plants."
Now, the bark is popping off.
"The severe heat that descends on the farm country of the Midwest each summer has combined with manmade emissions to create increasingly higher levels of surface ozone over the past several decades. As temperature and the likelihood of stagnant summertime air masses increase, chemical reactions involving nitrogen oxide, hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide in the air – often the emissions from fossil-fuel burning – create widespread smog and its most prevalent component, surface ozone."
I went to the campus of Gill St. Bernards, a school I haven't visited since youngest daughter went there for summer camp. It is set along a valley with splendid views. Quite a few trees were completely bare already.
"At the ground level, too much ozone causes respiratory problems in humans. Research attributes as many as 4,000 deaths per year in the U.S. to elevated ozone levels in the summer. Ozone similarly affects plants. The compound enters plants through pore-like openings in their leaves and then reacts with surfaces inside the plant to cause oxidizing damage through tissue destruction. The result is depressed photosynthesis, stunted growth and, for sensitive crops such as soybeans, reduced yield."
Their trunks uniformly exhibit unhealthy cracking.
"In the 19th and early 20th century, background surface ozone concentrations were relatively low so that an increase of 25 percent, (5 to 10 parts per billion), didn’t affect living organisms," said Jack Fishman, a research scientist at NASA’s Langley Research Center. "But now, we’ve crossed the line where you can expect to see modest increases in surface ozone result in crop growth being stunted."
Both old established trees and younger plantings are equally affected.
"'Background conditions are rising. Precursor emissions are rising,' said Elizabeth Ainsworth, a professor of crop biology at the University of Illinois. 'This is likely to get worse in the future and impact a greater area of the Midwest.'"
Those leaves that remain are shriveled.
"Jack Creilson, a former NASA Langley employee now at the Climate System Research Center at the University of Massachusetts, said the advantage of the satellite-derived method is that it can be used worldwide. Poorer countries have little monitoring capability and even in the U.S., croplands are so vast that a land-based network of ozone sensors would be extremely expensive to construct and maintain. "
Their bark is badly distorted.
"The first benefit of having the information, Ainsworth said, is simply pointing out the problem. Soybeans – along with wheat and rice – are among the more sensitive crops to ozone. Observing ozone levels and extrapolating their yield impact could eventually play in role in the development of new, more tolerant cultivars, Ainsworth said."
"Ainsworth pointed out that while the problem will likely get worse, its effects are being felt today."
"'Yields across the country are lower than they otherwise would be,' she said. 'We are losing a very significant chunk of the potential yield.'"
So while we develop "new, more tolerant cultivars", what will be happening to wild plants, and trees?? It's impossible to believe that with that sort of reduction in annual crops, trees aren't being even more affected due to the cumulative exposure over decades. It's really preposterous to assume anything else - and I would also like to point out that these soybeans aren't being grown in urban areas, so the claim that Dr. Bouldin made that ozone is only a problem in localized urban areas is either nonsensical or dishonest.
Of course in all fairness, they might not know about this new report from NASA, since it just came out (thank youTenney Naumer!)...researchers find ozone levels underestimated! The unknown unknowns are emerging, which will eventually lead to a reassessment of many assumptions, and a paradigm shift. I just hope it is before there are no viable seeds remaining. All this will no doubt cause poor Mr. AllenLefohn many sleepless nights (each part of his name links to a separate post.) Following are excerpts:
"A research team led by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), both in Pasadena, Calif., has fully characterized a key chemical reaction that affects the formation of pollutants in smoggy air in the world's urban areas. When applied to Los Angeles, the laboratory results suggest that, on the most polluted days and in the most polluted parts of L.A., current models are underestimating ozone levels by 5 to 10 percent. "
I made a wide circle around the school. There are farms and fields still intact, and also pockets of McMansion cul de sacs that are lined with dozens and dozens of trees. All of them are in various stages of decay.
"The key reaction in question in this research is between nitrogen dioxide and the hydroxyl radical. In the presence of sunlight, these two compounds, along with volatile organic compounds, play important roles in the chemical reactions that form ozone, which at ground-level is an air pollutant harmful to plants and animals, including humans."
The maple leaves range from burnt to fallen.
"Until about the last decade, scientists thought these two compounds only combined to form nitric acid, a fairly stable molecule with a long atmospheric life that slows ozone formation. Chemists suspected a second reaction might also occur, creating peroxynitrous acid, a less stable compound that falls apart quickly once created, releasing the hydroxyl radical and nitrogen dioxide to resume ozone creation. But until now they weren't sure how quickly these reactions occur and how much nitric acid they create relative to peroxynitrous acid. The JPL team measured this rate using a high-accuracy, JPL-built, advanced chemical reactor. The Caltech team then determined the ratio of the rates of the two separate processes."
This is fascinating and potentially momentous! Too bad I'm not a chemist. But one thing is certain - lichens (which love nitrogen) are spreading much faster than they ever have before. Could this have something to do with ethanol emissions, which produce peroxyacetyl nitrates? I don't know!
The landscape is horribly dull.
"In the end, the researchers found the loss of hydroxyl radical and nitrogen dioxide is slower than previously thought-although the reactions are fast, fewer of the radicals are ending up as nitric acid than had been supposed, and more of them are ending up as peroxynitrous acid. 'This means less of the hydroxyl radical and nitrogen dioxide go away, leading to proportionately more ozone, mostly in polluted areas,' Okumura said."
"Okumura believes this work will cause other scientists to reevaluate recommendations made to modelers on the best parameters to use. For the team, however, the next step is to start looking at a wider range of atmospheric conditions where this reaction may also be important."
A row of very old, tall hemlocks that predates the subdivisions are thin and turning yellow.
"Sander agrees. 'The present work focused on atmospheric conditions related to urban smog-i.e., relatively warm temperatures and high atmospheric pressure,' he said. 'But the hydroxyl radical/nitrogen dioxide reaction is important at many other altitudes. Future work by the two groups will focus on the parts of the atmosphere affected by long-range transport of pollution by high-altitude winds [in Earth's middle and upper troposphere] and where ozone depletion from human-produced substances is important [the stratosphere].'"
Focussing on long range transport of pollution...well, they can't do it fast enough for me!!
Below is the text of an email I received from a reader of Wit's End who wishes to remain anonymous... because, it's kind of funny!
"Gail - I just read the comments at RealClimate. Oh boy. Interesting that you were called out for hostility, as Jim's remarks were dripping with it. This was part of the reason I dropped my goal to pursue a Phd in science. It's too much of a boy's club. You can practically smell the cigar smoke and hear the ice clanking in the whiskey glass during that entire discussion. The protocols for scientific discussion are exact. A lot of women get disgusted and quit their degrees."
"You also had supporters. Isn't it silly that the photos of your kids would be used against you by anyone wanting to put down your compilation of research? Also, the fact that you have not gone through the hazing of a Phd, and that is what it is - hazing, leaves you open to dismissal. "
The sweetgum has an amazing array of different colored leaves, from green to yellow to red to pure black!
"Maddening. It is what is wrong with our culture, that status trumps the fate of the trees and us. Mustn't rush the old boys, you know. And it doesn't look good to allow an "hysterical woman" to challenge them. I would really like to know who funds his research, though. wouldn't you?"
"You sound, to me, like you have a background in science. Oh well. Now you know to just suggest links to that Jim guy - no theories, much less conclusions. That is, if you don't want to be deleted. Women are held to a higher standard - they must be ladylike while the guys can be bastards."
The branches have a strange growth that I have only seen once before - flat wings, sort of.
"Give it a few more years and a lot more folks, even scientists, will be feeling rather hysterical. I sure do already.
The fight to hamper EPA efforts to tighten standards goes on (and on and on) as described in this article at Bloomberg.com, which makes me shake with fury.
Seriously, these leaves are all black. Weird!
"The EPA has estimated that the proposed regulations would cost utilities and oil companies as much as $90 billion, and save $13 billion to $100 billion in medical expenses and for missed work days."
Another view of the growth.
And that doesn't even factor in the cost of ozone causing the entire ecosystem to collapse! I wonder what THAT'S worth?
Another development is planted with rows of willow oak.
Here are some passages from a page of the GreenCity/BlueLake website in Cincinnati, Titled "Trees and Air Pollution." (many, many thanks as always to Highschooler for sending me invaluable links)
They don't look too awful at first glance.
Smog may be contributing to the decline of sugar maples, one of Northeast Ohio's iconic trees — and our high-mileage lifestyle is a big cause
"Tropospheric or ground-level ozone is the primary constituent of smog, and it is the most widespread phytotoxic air pollutant in the United States. Unlike ozone in the upper atmosphere (stratosphere), which has a beneficial effect of it shielding us from the harmful effects of UV radiation, tropospheric ozone probably has the most negative impact of all air pollutants on tree health and growth."
One of the residents expressed frustration that so many trees have already had to be removed. Of course, she had no idea why. I thought about telling her but I looked at her baby in the stroller and thought, What good would it do?
"On average, tropospheric ozone is increasing at 0.5–1 percent per year. However, tropospheric ozone is considered a regional pollutant, and urban areas are major sources of ozone precursors that can travel hundreds or thousands of kilometers."
"Because plants are generally more sensitive than humans to ozone, many of our air pollution laws are based on decades of research conducted on plant species that vary in their tolerance to ozone. Certain plant species have been used as bio-indicators of tropospheric ozone levels in field studies across the United States.
"The overall effects of ozone in plants are that it damages tissues and accelerates cellular aging in leaves, not unlike what happens when ozone enters our lungs. Ozone enters the leaf through open stomata. Once in the leaf, ozone reacts with water to form highly reactive, oxygen free radicals, damaging membranes and directly inhibiting photosynthesis."
"Plants may close their stomata so that ozone cannot enter the leaf; however, this avoidance mechanism also prevents atmospheric CO2 from entering the leaf and carbon fixation rates decline. Plants that are more tolerant to ozone synthesize antioxidant compounds that scavenge these oxygen free radicals before damage occurs, and often repair tissue if damaged."
"In some tree species that are more tolerant to ozone, there will be no visible sign of foliar injury; however, a reduction in growth often occurs because newly-fixed carbon is reallocated to antioxidant production and injury repair mechanisms."
"Although Acer saccharum (sugar maple) has been considered moderately ozone tolerant, some of my research has shown that ozone not only accelerates visible signs of leaf senescence in sugar maple, but that leaf physiological processes such as photosynthesis start shutting down in August under ozone levels typical of what we find at Holden."
"This significant decline in photosynthesis in mid-to late August reduced the seasonal carbon fixation for some maple trees by as much as 25-30 percent and reduced growth in some plants by as much as 50 percent by the end of a three-year exposure regime."
"Trees are long-lived perennial organisms that have a carbon storage system (similar to a savings account) that they can tap into during times of stress. Ozone is a background stress for many urban-influenced trees, and it is one that negatively impacts a tree’s ability to fix and store carbon. Any reduction in stored carbon can not only reduce growth, but increase a tree’s susceptibility to other stresses such as pest or pathogen invasion."
"Smog is an air pollutant stress that is often overlooked as one of the multiple, interacting causes of sugar maple decline, most likely because, until the last decade, sugar maple was thought to be fairly tolerant to ozone. "
In other news, the Center for Ecology and Hydrology attributes bee and other pollinator decline to fewer wildflowers, from habitat conversion. Perhaps however, the wildflowers are disappearing because they are sensitive to ozone...as I mentioned towards the end of this post, wildflowers are disappearing around my home in New Jersey, in habitat that hasn't changed in the thirty years I've been here.
Last link is to a not-to-be-missed savory story - "Starving Russian Bears Treat Graveyards as Giant Refrigerators!" followed by a video, about oak trees dying in Colorado from a mysterious new ailment. It looks like we will have roses into November this year...