Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Facts and Suspicions

On Sunday afternoon I followed the Tewksbury Foot Bassets, hunting for hare.
Of course, the fast, straight-running hare disappeared years ago, so we go in slow circles, chasing bunnies instead.  There's a lot of gossiping along the way.  It was good to get away from the computer and doom, although the doom followed.  Why are the treelines dominated by bare treetops??  We still haven't had a frost, or even close.
This paper by the eponymously named James Woodman, "Pollution-Induced in North American Forests:  Facts and Suspicions" reviews research indicating that ozone injures trees and then summarizes, incredibly, that:
"There is no rigorous proof that regional pollution has changed the average growth rates or development of any North American forest."
Okay, I guess the validity of the statement pivots on the definition of "rigorous proof", but it just seems weird that the whole paper is a lengthy survey of exhaustive research connecting ozone with tree decline and dieback...and then is followed by that preposterous, incongruous conclusion!
An intriguing post on ConservationBytes blog announces the publication of a paper which
"...demonstrates how separate drivers of extinction (e.g., habitat loss, over-exploitation [hunting, fishing, etc.], climate change, invasive species, etc.) tend to work together to heighten the extinction probability of the species they affect more than the simple sum of the individual effects alone."
This is a large old maple.

"In what we termed ‘synergies’, the review compiles evidence from observational, experimental and meta-analytic research demonstrating the positive and self-reinforcing actions of multiple drivers of population decline and eventual extinction. Examples include experimental evidence that wild radishes experiencing inbreeding depression have lower fitness than expected from simple population reduction (Elam et al. 2007), inter-tidal polychaetes succumb to pollution effects much more so at low densities than when populations are abundant (Hollows et al. 2007), and habitat fragmentation, harvest and simulated climate warming increase rotifer extinction risk up to 50 times more than expected from the additive effects of the threatening processes (Mora et al. 2007)."
The bark up and down the trunk is cracking, and breaking away.
"We argued that conservation actions only targeting single drivers will more than likely be inadequate because of the cascading effects caused by unmanaged synergies. Climate change will also interact with and accelerate ongoing threats to biodiversity, so the importance of accounting for these interactions cannot be understated."
At the base, stains beneath a hole indicate the interior is rotting and leaking fluid.  This is a common sight lately.
I guess basically what they are saying is, we're screwed.  It's possible that it is a synergy of effects that is killing trees.  Of course, there are those who refuse to see that trees are dying even after it's been pointed out to them.  But I'm saving that for the next post.
The same call for more holistic research is echoed in this paper:
"There is a significant need to conduct chamberless field studies to determine the effects of ambient levels of O3 on plant growth, productivity, and species fitness, in the context of biological diversity. The emphasis has been on univariate studies (O3 only as the cause of an effect), but there is a need to address the O3 issue in the context of the presence of other air pollutants (47) and the incidence of pathogens (28,47) and insect pests (11,47). The resulting joint effects can be additive, more than additive, or less than additive (47). Because of its complexity, no studies have directly addressed this overall question. The subject becomes much more complex when we try to integrate O3 and climate change (increasing CO2 concentrations, changes in temperature and precipitation patterns, etc.). This holistic research is a prime target for plant disease epidemiologists. In all of these cases, the limiting factor is the integration of the science spanning multiple disciplines."
...the limiting factor is the integration of the science spanning multiple disciplines is another way of saying that scientists need to get out of their specialized labs and collaborate or we will never completely understand, let alone address, what is happening in the real world.
There is an astonishing chronicle of former EPA Head Christie Whitman's fight with Cheney in this Washington Post article, which led to her resignation.  Of course I never believed the "spend more time with family" excuse and according to the reporter, she admitted it was over a policy dispute.  I wish she had made a stink instead of just slinking away, leaving Cheney to destroy the ecosystem unencumbered by dissenting colleagues.

The silhouette of these young oaks is indicative of ozone damage.  The branches are tufted, with more weight on the tips.

This is because the first foliage to emerge experienced the longest and highest levels of exposure, and shriveled  up.  The newer, outer leaves are damaged as well.  It is impossible to imagine trees receiving this toxic dose every season year after year without sustaining cumulative damage that is ultimately lethal.
What follows below are pictures of trees taken over the past few days, interspersed with an article by Amanda Marcotte - "America's Dish Detergent Wars" - an hysterically funny vivisection of a certain, and unfortunately significant, segment of the American electorate:
"Political observers trying to understand the conservative backlash movement in America known as the Tea Party certainly have their work cut out for them. It's a movement primarily composed of Medicare recipients who object to "government-run healthcare". Its leaders claim they're more libertarian in orientation, and yet they routinely back some of the most anti-choice politicians ever to run for such major office. One of their key leaders likes to compare himself to Martin Luther King Jr, but the issues that most reliably get Tea Partiers to hit the streets are reliably racialised to exploit their prejudiced paranoia. They are full of contradictions, often making – and then running from – position statements, and seem to be more about just being angry than listing specific grievances."
"But as a long-time conservative-watcher, I think the best way to understand where reactionaries are coming from is to look at some of the smaller issues that get them all riled up. Take, for instance, the long-standing fight over phosphates in dish detergent. The parameters of this debate provide an excellent insight into the Tea Partiers, what motivates them, and why they're so paranoid."
"Many dishwashing detergents use phosphates as water-softeners, but the problem with phosphates is that when they run off into the local water supply, they upset the balance of oxygen in the rivers and lakes and have the potential to kill off fish. The simple solution to this problem is simply to ban phosphates in dish soap, something numerous states have done."
"It shouldn't be too controversial; the non-phosphate soaps do just as good a job at cleaning dishes, but they may not leave glasses as spot-free, which should be a small price to pay for a healthy environment. This isn't just conjecture. When I had a (relatively cheap) dishwasher in Texas, I bought non-phosphate soap and noticed no real difference. Then again, I'm not one who believes my friends investigate their wine glasses to make sure they have no water stains on them."
"But for many, any price paid to keep the environment clean is too high. As soon as Spokane County in Washington banned phosphate dish detergent in response to oxygen depletion in its rivers and lakes, many residents rebelled by actually driving to Idaho to purchase the same kinds of dish detergent they'd been using before."
It's truly shocking to see bark peeling to this extent.
"On its surface, this seems like illogical behaviour. Surely, getting in a car and driving across state lines just to buy dish detergent costs more time and effort than just rinsing your dishes before you put them in the dishwasher, right?"
This branch is fascinating.  The bark should be smooth, as it still is on the right.  But it is corroding - becoming rough and cracked, as though it has leprosy, but so gradually, no one has noticed.
"But if you see the phosphate ban as an arbitrary act of liberal tyranny imposed for the sheer joy of making Real Americans have to wash their dishes by hand, then getting into the car and driving for a few hours to buy dish detergent can become an easy, risk-free way to feel like a warrior fighting for freedom. And while the big cities in Washington often pull the elections to the left, the countryside and suburbs of the state are stuffed with embittered reactionaries who are eager to believe they're being victimised by a bunch of dumb environmentalists who are incapable of thinking through the ramifications of a policy like this."
Furtherdown the trunk, it is apparent the interior is rotting.
"Rightwing bloggers gleefully seized on this story of dish detergent smuggling, gloating that Washington residents were sticking it to the environmentalists by using more gas to buy detergent and using more water to wash dishes. Of course, the ugly reality is that wastefulness has a larger impact than upsetting environmentalists – it means fewer resources for the future and a dirtier environment, of course – but the sheer glee of potentially inflicting stress on demonised environmentalists was enough to distract from these facts. Erick Erickson of Red State, alarmed by the possibility that a wine glass might have a spot on it that some red-blooded American would have to wipe off with a towel, said, 'At what point do they get off the couch, march down to their state legislator's house, pull him outside, and beat him to a bloody pulp for being an idiot?'"
Even further below, the damage is horrendous.  What's really frightening is how many trees exhibit the same.
"The commenters at Free Republic also enjoyed gloating over the possibility that this would lead to more water use, showing those dirty hippies (their term) how stupid and short-sighted they were. In a telling exchange, one commenter asked, "I'm not exactly sure what the greenies are trying to accomplish, here…", and another replied, 'It feeeeeeeeels good, and it demonstrates their 'concern'. That's all that really matters with the libs, not actual results.'"
About 2 weeks ago the interior needles of white pines turned dramatically yellow.
"Except, of course, that a short Google search would have resulted in immediate knowledge of what the "greenies" were trying to accomplish: reducing the amount of oxygen depletion in Spokane rivers and lakes that was killing off the fish. But the first rule of reactionary politics is: don't learn about the issues, or else you might find your kneejerk anti-liberal reactions weren't as smart as you thought they were."
Soon they will fall off, leaving the trees even thinner.  As this occurs season after season, eventually the tree has no needles left at all.
"Large parts of America have been primed through little issues such as phosphate bans to believe they don't need to know the actual facts behind an issue because they can simply substitute their paranoid hostility towards liberals for understanding."
Spring blossoms persist, whether this is a reaction to ludicrously warm temperatures or a desperate attempt to reproduce, I'm not sure.
"Worse, they've given up any sense of responsibility as citizens towards the common good. Once people have absorbed the idea that wiping off an occasional glass is too much of a sacrifice to save the environment for the good of everyone else, it's not much of a leap for those same people to think that it's a travesty if someone poorer than themselves has decent access to healthcare, that they should have to take public transportation rather than leave the next generation with a planet wrecked through global warming, or that it's worse to raise the taxes on the richest Americans by 3% than have widespread unemployment."
QUITE bizarre to see an azalea bloom in October!
I want to thank Highschooler, who has been assiduously collecting excellent links relating to the impacts of ozone on plants.  I'm adding them to the Basic Premise page, and highly recommend browsing through them.  I'll be reading them myself in the coming days and posting excepts.  Just for a tantalizing example, here's a link to NASA's satellite page titled:
"Satellite Measurements Help Reveal Ozone Damage to Important Crops
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....
"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." 
"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." 
"Observing ozone levels and extrapolating their yield impact could eventually play in role in the development of new, more tolerant cultivars, Ainsworth said."  OMFG, Don't you love it!  Develop new, more tolerant cultivars!!  THAT's their answer to ozone pollution destroying crops?  What about the trees?  Are we going to reforest the world with new more tolerant trees??  AAAUUUGHHH.  This is the stuff that nightmares are made of.

These young beeches recently planted in a park have the classic symptoms of ozone exposure.
Their leaves are stippled and them to this photo from another of Highschooler's links, to the Alabama Cooperative Extension...look familiar??
At the end of the hunt, a hound hustles to catch up with the pack.
First daughter headed back the short way to the Life Camp for the tea.  Check out that gleam on her hand!
A few days ago I uploaded a picture of a parasol mushroom.  They are now only a fraction of the size they should be.  The last two days, edible puffballs have been plentiful.  They used to be as big as grapefruits.  'Nuf said.  I collected them anyway, to cook.
When middle daughter read this post and found out I was making soup for youngest daughter's freezer, she demanded the same - so this week consists of a soup-making marathon every night before she comes to visit this weekend.  Here is the beginning mirepoix for the lobster bisque...
the ingredients assembled for chili...
And the finished clam chowder, which I had to sample...
Next, cream of mushroom with the puffballs, cauliflower cheddar, and minestrone...

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