Thursday, November 11, 2010


Another new study reports that coral reefs are under threat from acidification of the ocean waters.  These reports are becoming more frequent and substantially amending the previous mainstream research attributing the death of coral reefs solely to bleaching from warming.
"While other research has looked at how the world's increasingly acidic oceans affect adult coral, this is the first one to document its impact on coral's early life stages."
"'Reproductive failure of young coral species is an increasing concern since reefs are already highly stressed from bleaching (due to unusually warm sea water), hurricanes, disease and poor water quality,' said Chris Langdon, associate professor at the Rosenstiel School and co-author of the study."
As the editor of EPOCA, Jeanp-Pierro Gattusso, pointed out on his website, the title of the article in Newsweek is unfortunate:  "Coral Reefs under siege from acidic oceans" - because the oceans are, in fact, alkaline and likely to remain so.  That sort of inaccuracy is candy for deniers.  It's important for people to understand the distinction - that ocean waters are not acid, but are other words, sliding along the ph scale at a "rate that hasn't been known to occur naturally for the last 60 million years."
Be that as it may, I expect that a similar transformation will eventually occur in the scientific mind-set when somebody with more qualifications than I possess notices (and has the courage to report) that

1) trees of all species all over the world are dying at a rapidly accelerating rate; and

2) drought, warming, disease, fungus and insect damage are all secondary to the acute "acidification" of the atmosphere, in which the inexorably rising level of toxic background tropospheric ozone has become intolerable to vegetation, reducing the ability of plants to produce chlorophyll and fend off natural pests, disease, and severe weather.
These photos of bare and yellowing pines were taken along a rural road that follows the undulations of Round Valley reservoir in Clinton, New Jersey - a route that is lined for miles by the stark evidence of standing dead trees.  Following are some excerpts from this report, "The Global Sweep of Pollution:  Satellite Snapshots Capture Long-Distance Movement."  (Another refutation, as if any more were needed, to Jim Bouldin's assertion that ozone is a localized issue!)
Towering smokestacks were a popular mid-twentieth-century “remedy” for industrial emissions. Pump the stuff high enough into the air, went the thinking, and the problem would go away. But evidence collected since then has strongly suggested that tall smokestacks are not sufficient to mitigate the effects of pollution—those pollutants eventually came down somewhere, dozens or thousands of miles away. 
At the same time, we also now know that tall stacks are not necessary for pollutant emissions to waft great distances, as verified by scores of individual studies showing that one pollutant or another—such as ozone, particulate matter (PM), and sulfur dioxide (SO2)—can blow from country to country, and continent to continent.
Beginning in the 1980s and accelerating since about 2000, satellite surveillance with increasingly sophisticated instruments has enabled us to better visualize the complex fluctuations of several important pollutants as they ebb and flow around the planet. This new capability is partly serendipitous. “Most of these satellites weren’t designed to have an air quality focus,” says Terry Keating, an environmental scientist with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and co-chair of the Task Force on Hemispheric Transport of Air Pollution, which was created in 2004 by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe’s Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution. “But we find ourselves with this stream of data, and we are figuring out how to use it,” he says.
Indeed, we still have a long way to go before we can fully document and accurately forecast pollution streams and their effects on the ground. But data from satellites, aircraft, balloons, ground-level monitors, chemical transport models, and other tools are already improving our understanding of the global transport of pollutants as individual nations and international collaborations struggle to better address emissions and the effects they have on downwind countries and continents.
Studies conducted over the past 15 years or so that are based on airplane data, ground monitors, and other instruments have provided substantial evidence that long-distance transport of ozone can affect other countries and continents. For instance, a report by Arlene M. Fiore and colleagues in the 15 August 2002Journal of Geophysical Research noted that transport from outside North America can boost ground-level ozone by 15–35 ppb on summer afternoons in the United States. These imports of ozone can, in some places on some days, spike levels in some counties above the EPA standard of 75 ppb.
The long-distance spread of ozone has played a role in the large increase in ozone concentrations in many areas of the planet since about 1950, according to Roxanne Vingarzan, a senior scientist with Environment Canada. In a July 2004 Atmospheric Environment article she reported that ozone concentrations around the globe have roughly doubled since then. As scientists become more adept at using satellite imagery to track long-distance ozone movement within the troposphere and down to ground level, more detail should become available.
But the spectral properties of ozone make it difficult to take advantage of satellite instruments to track ground-level concentrations. “We have had satellites measuring total column ozone for some time,” Keating says. The problem, he explains, is that 90% of the ozone is in the stratosphere, so “measuring ozone in the troposphere requires looking through the stratosphere for the proverbial needle in a haystack.”
Schoeberl says the solutions to this problem likely lie in better algorithms to analyze the satellite data, as well as in new instruments aboard satellites. But he expects it may be a decade or so before there is a new ozone instrument in orbit.
The dieback in the crown of this magnificent tree is a certain indicator of it's impending death.  Trees store quite a bit of energy, and so they die incrementally.  I can't help but wonder if they feel pain.
On the basis of what he’s seen so far, Keating says satellites just might pan out for the EPA in terms of monitoring air pollution. “I think there are some potential national applications. But it’s still in the developmental process.”
Cankers, triggered by a fungus lately proliferating on many species, are ultimately lethal.

Part of that process includes plans by NASA, ESA, and others for about a dozen new satellites in various stages of conceptualization, planning, or design that would include air pollutant – tracking instruments. These could be launched anytime from 2009 to 2020 and beyond, and could replace and possibly improve upon the current fleet of at least nine satellites that track pollutants. Keating says the EPA is currently talking with NASA about specific pollutant tracking needs.
This deep fissure in the trunk is lethal too.
Nonetheless, competing interests and funding limitations may hinder the growth of the Earth-observation field, including pollutant-tracking efforts. On 14 January 2004 President Bush announced “a new vision for the Nation’s space exploration program,” emphasizing human and unmanned exploration of our solar system. Much of the initial focus is on returning to the moon and staying for extended periods, then going to Mars and eventually elsewhere. Little additional money has been budgeted for these projects so far, so the funds will come primarily out of existing NASA programs.
“Earth science is a little on the back burner,” says Schoeberl. “NASA isn’t quite sure what it wants to do [given] the White House’s new focus on Mars.”
Here is a drab view across an old cemetery.
With launch dates for satellites routinely being pushed back years at a time, and with changing government priorities, Keating says the current fleet may be as good as it gets. “We’re already in the golden age of atmospheric chemistry information,” he says. “[But] we wonder how long these satellites will be in play. We’re very concerned there might be a dry period.”
The trunk of this maple is in the mid-range of interior rot that has become ubiquitous just in the past year.
Oh, what a surprise!  The reason more people don't know about the dangers of ozone is because the politicians who are beholden to fossil fuel companies refused to fund essential research - preferring, instead, to fund studies of Mars!  Maybe that's so they can escape to another planet when the SHTF, leaving the rest of the poor slobs of humanity to fry and/or drown.  Now, they're back at it, following the elections:  "Republicans could scale back US science budgets."
According to an analysis by Clemins which shows what could occur if Republicans are able to make across-the-board cuts, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) could see its budget slashed by 34 percent or 324 million dollars.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) could lose nine percent of its budget or 2.9 billion dollars, and the National Science Foundation (NSF) could see a 19 percent cut, or one billion dollars gone from its coffers.
The US  agency NASA's spending could shrink by 15 percent or 1.6 billion dollars.
"'I don't think we should be cutting back on research and development, because if we can develop new technologies in areas like clean energy, that could make all the difference in terms of job creation here at home,' Obama said."
Another typical tree trunk - shards of bark splitting off, and creeping lichen.
My my, why would the Republicans want to stifle research at NOAA, and at the National Institute of Health, which publishes fascinating results such as those found in this study, indicating air pollution models are not taking into account the role of nitryl chloride in accelerating the formation of ozone?  Nitryl chloride?  I never even heard of it before!!

The following pictures are a comparative study of the same locations in northern New Jersey, the first set taken (by Colorado Guy) on November 21, 2007; another as I followed his footsteps on November 8, 2009, and again last Sunday, November 7, 2010.  The first is a view of the Passaic River from Horseshoe Road Bridge...with some passages from the aforementioned report.
Above, 2007 - below, almost 2 weeks earlier, in 2008, where the trees are almost leafless.  One interesting thing - and I have no way of knowing if this is just a trick of camera angles - but it appears that the reflection of trees is retreating towards the shore.
Below, this year.  Even though there are more leaves on the trees than 2009, the expanse of sky reflected in the water is wider, indicating a shrinking of the treeline height.
Shipping ports face a newly discovered air pollution problem—the production of the ozone precursor nitryl chloride. Nitryl chloride was detected for the first time in the lowest part of the Earth’s atmosphere by a team from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that was monitoring air quality in Galveston Bay to understand why nearby Houston, Texas, has one of the worst air pollution problems in the nation. Salts in ocean mists were thought to be relatively inert until the connection to ozone was uncovered. “People never before thought that nitryl chloride was important,” says James Roberts, a NOAA research chemist and the team’s coordinator.
This is the entrance to Kyocera Headquarters in 2007.
In 2009, 2 weeks earlier in the season, the trees are already almost totally bare, as are the flaming bushes.
This year, one day earlier than 2009, many more leaves remain on the trees (although not the shrubs) - but they are very dull compared to 2007.
No wonder the color is drab - the leaves are burnt on the edges, and riddled with holes, a classic symptom of stomates damaged from exposure to ozone during the growing season.

The bark on the tree trunks is splitting and cracking, indicative of serious interior disruption.
In the summer of 2006, the researchers used chemical ionization mass spectrometry to detect trace levels of airborne chemicals, including nitryl chloride. They found that when ship exhaust plumes rich in nitrogen oxides (NOx) meet ocean air at night, unexpectedly high levels of nitryl chloride form due to the NOx species dinitrogen pentoxide combining with chloride in sea mist. After the sun comes up, this buildup of photoactive nitryl chloride splits into chlorine atoms and nitrogen dioxide. These compounds then accelerate the production of ozone, a key component of smog.
This is the park across the street from Kyocera in 2007.
Here is the uninviting view from 2009.  Below, in 2010, there are a few more leaves, but dull.
The amount of nitryl chloride measured by Roberts and colleagues—as high as 650 ppt by volume, or about 15% of total reactive nitrogen species from ship exhaust—is much greater than that estimated by standard air pollution models, which have taken into account neither the heightened presence of nitryl chloride around ports nor its importance in forming ozone. “This preliminary study indicates that nitryl chloride chemistry could make a significant contribution—up to ten to thirty percent—to ozone production during the morning hours in Houston,” says Roberts. These results were published in the May 2008 issue of Nature Geoscience.
This is a sweetgum tree in the park.
About half the world’s population lives near coastlines where industrial pollution meets ocean air, Roberts says, so nitryl chloride could play a major role in air quality worldwide. The same reaction likely occurs inland, where chloride-containing aerosols drive the chemical reaction. Inland sources of chloride include natural soil salts such as calcium chloride and de-icing compounds spread on winter roads.
The leaves are shriveled while still on the branch.
“We don’t know how widespread nitryl chloride is as a source of ozone pollution,” says Roberts. The health consequences of nitryl chloride itself are unknown. As for ozone, an April 2008 report by the National Research Council, Estimating Mortality Risk Reduction and Economic Benefits from Controlling Ozone Air Pollution, links even short-term exposure with premature death.
High up I located one leaf that retained a semblance of the brilliant scarlet they all should be. 
The tree above in 2009 was looking bad, and in this year's photo, below, more dead branches have fallen on the ground to the left of the trunks.
In 2009, the higher branch of the Y (on the top left) extends well past the lower section..
By this year, it had broken off.
The distinctive cluster below, in 2009, had fresh terminal growth at the tips,
which in one year has been drastically reduced.
On November 21, 2007, the park was glowing with gorgeous foliage.
On November 7, 2009, workers were already blowing away the fallen leaves.
This year, some leaves still cling to branches,
But the trunks are nightmarish.
One after the other, all through the park,
the bark is bursting off in hideous blisters.
It's a tragedy to which most people are completely oblivious.
The witchhazel is blooming even though it shouldn't be, until January or later.
On the way home I stopped to clamber through a fence and hike across a field - to pay homage to this famous tree, three centuries old.
Of course the bark is peeling, but the lowering sun lit up the crown in a gorgeous warmth.
Not so long ago, this world was verdant and crowded with venerable specimens like this mighty oak...standing sturdy and almost immortal, their limbs intertwined and harboring countless other species of life - many already lost and forgotten - within and below their massive shoulders.  They evolved together, over millennia, in an intricate, delicate, and complex web of connectivity that we humans barely comprehend.
I have always felt I would gladly give away every material modern comfort imaginable for the rest of my life if I could wander for just a day through a truly primeval forest - and witness its mystery and inexpressible beauty...far more complex and inspiring than than even the highest achievements of human culture - sublime as though Shakespeare, Miles Davis, and Jackson Pollock, plus all the other geniuses of literature, art, and music - may be!

But I never had that opportunity, and however many future generations of humans follow, none will ever be graced to even imagine the vestiges that I have been so fortunate to know.

Here's the excellent, updated "Story of Stuff" - kind of long, settle in with a drink and a snack first!

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