Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Trick or Treat?

Trying to save humanity from self-destruction is inordinately time-consuming.
On the morning of Halloween I began cooking like mad for oldest daughter's annual hayride and gourmet food orgy - to which she invites an unpredictably volatile number of families from the developments adjacent to the Frenchtown farm, many of which she doesn't even know!
While the shrimp (wrapped, with goat cheese, in prosciutto) were searing on the grill outside, I wandered to the neglected garden at Wit's End, where ridiculous things were growing - raspberries, and roses.
I didn't plant a thing this year - it's too heartbreaking - but I discovered that even these sweet cherry tomatoes had self-seeded, and are still ripening.
A flock of wild turkeys ran into the woods when I approached.
When most of the prep work was done, we hauled the food to the farm, where Alice had been decorating for days.
Recently we had bought this fantastic stone mushroom folly.  "You actually paid money for this?"  Chuck asked quizzically, inspiring whoops of laughter.
I dragged him back outside.  "Look at that patina!"  I cried.  "That takes years to develop."
"It's a sculpture, not just a couple of stones," I insisted.  "The top has the dark velvety texture of Boletus edulis!"
Chuck remained skeptical, so we went back inside to gather everyone for a stroll in the crisp air and fading light before the hordes descended.
The mushroom will be around far longer than the pine grove that surrounds it.  The bark on the trunks is gruesome, as it is everywhere.
It is flaking off, revealing oozing sap just under the broken surface, which brings us back of course to the original purpose of this investigate the effects of ozone on trees.
The rest then will be pictures from our Halloween event, and some excerpts from recently found articles and papers on the topic - in no particular order!  Blogger has been even less cooperative than usual, destroying several versions of this post, which wasn't particularly noteworthy to begin with.  Aauuggh.  It makes me wonder how we will all cope when the lights don't go on, the gas has run out and the cars sit growing rust, and the teevee is a blank screen...but, I digress....
RPauli sent along a link to this textbook, Plant Ecology.  It's quite technical and I don't pretend to understand nearly all of it, but there are some sections on ozone, starting on page 225, that are comprehensible even to a lay person.  I couldn't cut and paste, so they are screenshots - blurry but legible.
The disparity in levels of ozone considered safe is curious, to say the least.
Moxie is hidden in the dahlias.
Oh, so in the "ample literature"there is a connection between ozone concentration and "forest decline" aka forest death?  Who knew??
So, when damage becomes visible - ie, chlorosis of leaves and needles, which has been universal in trees and even annual plants for 2 years now - it is indicative of SEVERE STRESS!
OH, gosh, did they cite bark beetles as a SECONDARY STRESS?  Why, yes, they did!
YIKES, did somebody mention that emission from ethanol..peroxyacetyl being "particularly noxious?"  oh, wait...
"Forest decline (aka death) has been mainly attributed to such atmospheric pollutants."  DUH.
RPauli also provided a link to a story about evapotranspiration, which is indicative of a truly vast and inexplicable (so far) change in the transport of water from the soils and vegetation to the atmosphere.
"Most climate models have suggested that evapotranspiration, which is the movement of water from the land to the atmosphere, would increase with global warming. The new research, published online this week in the journal Nature, found that's exactly what was happening from 1982 to the late 1990s.
But in 1998, this significant increase in evapotranspiration – which had been seven millimeters per year – slowed dramatically or stopped. In large portions of the world, soils are now becoming drier than they used to be, releasing less water and offsetting some moisture increases elsewhere."

Just as seen at Wit's End, the garden is full of outrageous sights - like strawberries in the fall.
"Due to the limited number of decades for which data are available, scientists say they can't be sure whether this is a natural variability or part of a longer-lasting global change. But one possibility is that on a global level, a limit to the acceleration of the hydrological cycle on land has already been reached.
If that's the case, the consequences could be serious."

"They could include reduced terrestrial vegetation growth, less carbon absorption, a loss of the natural cooling mechanism provided by evapotranspiration, more heating of the land surface, more intense heat waves and a "feedback loop" that could intensify global warming."
We worked our way around to the barns, and then the paddocks with the run-in sheds.
According to this article in the Huffington Post, many companies are fighting new EPA requirements to reveal their emissions - one in nearby Morristown!  I intend to contact this fellow and inform him that, in fact, as a member of the public I most certainly DO need this information.
"The EPA required companies responsible for large amounts of heat-trapping pollution to begin this year collecting 1,500 pieces of information. The data, which is due to be reported by March, will be used in the first-ever inventory of greenhouse gases, a massive database that will reveal most sources of greenhouse gases in the United States...."
"'There is no need for the public to have information beyond what is entering the atmosphere,' Steven H. Bernhardt, global director for regulatory affairs for Honeywell International Inc., said in comments filed with the agency earlier this year. The Morristown, N.J.-based company is a leading manufacturer of hydrofluorocarbons, a potent greenhouse gas used in a variety of consumer products. Honeywell wants the EPA to reconsider its proposal, which the company said would damage its business."
This year willows are an exceedingly ugly blackish olive color, instead of golden.
In another fascinating twist, it would appear, according to this FACE experiment, that ozone exposure reduces carbon soil formation.
I owe many thanks to Flora, without whose help I never would have been prepared for the ravenous deluge of trick-or-treaters, not to mention the carpet baggers who skip the hayride, only to arrive greedy for drinks and dinner afterwards!
"The industrial pollutant ozone, long known to be harmful to many kinds of plants, can also affect the very earth in which they grow.  Researchers at Michigan Tech and the North Central Research Station of the US Forest Service have discovered that ozone can reduce soil carbon formation--a measure of the amount of organic matter being added to the soil."
No trip to the farm would be complete minus a visit with Pipsqueak, the most adorable pony on the planet.
The scientists exposed forest stands to increased levels of two atmospheric pollutants, ozone and carbon dioxide. Soil carbon formation dropped off dramatically in the plots fumigated with a mix of ozone and carbon dioxide compared to carbon dioxide alone.
"This research shows that changes in atmospheric chemistry can cascade through the forest and affect soils," says Professor Kurt Pregitzer, a coauthor of the Nature paper and a professor in the School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science. "Reductions we have observed in plant growth under elevated ozone appear to result in similar reductions in soil carbon formation."
"The findings could have implications for the health of forests in areas with high levels of ozone,' says Wendy Loya, the lead author of the paper and a postdoctoral research scientist. 'Under normal conditions, forest litter, which is made up of fallen leaves, twigs and dead roots, decomposes and releases carbon that is then stored in the soil,' she says. 'Under conditions of elevated ozone, the amount of soil carbon formed is reduced.'"
The dining room was ready for the platters from the kitchen.
"Because increased carbon dioxide tends to cause plants to grow more quickly and take in more carbon from the atmosphere, some scientists and policymakers have speculated that forests could become 'carbon sinks,' absorbing carbon dioxide and mitigating its greenhouse effects."
Bruschetta with Buffalo Mozzarella.
"However, the soil in the plots exposed to an ozone/carbon dioxide mixture gained only half the carbon as plots fumigated with carbon dioxide alone. Thus, plants and soils may be less able to clean the air of excess carbon dioxide when ozone levels are high."
Deviled Eggs - courtesy of the chicken flock at Wit's End.
The report concludes:  "Ozone pollution occurs at levels known to be toxic to both plants and people in many parts of the United States and throughout the world. It is formed when chemicals produced by burning fossil fuels and from industrial processes react in the presence of sunlight and warm temperatures."
Luscious, perfect fresh figs with Gorgonzola Dolce, topped with a crisp glazed walnut.
Could it be any more clear??
Smoked salmon in endive, topped with a dill and tarragon creme fraiche, and caviar.
I have begun reading a blog by the independent journalist, Steven Leahy:  for instance this article  -  "Northern Pirates Gobbling Up Living Resources of the Global South"
The dogwood tree on the patio glowed with Halloween lanterns when the hayriders arrived.
“'We’ve just completed our first complete assessment of the state of biodiversity in Europe and the results really shocked policymakers,' said Richard, a European biodiversity expert."
They catalogued and bartered their loot.
"Most of Europe’s natural systems that provide essential services like food, clean air and water, climate regulation and so on have been in decline for years. But no one in Europe really notices."
"'That’s because the rich are 'geosphere people' who help themselves to nature’s ecological services anywhere in the world,' said Ashok Khosla, an eminent Indian environmentalist..."
and, this article, "Runaway Global Economy Decimating Nature" which he posted from the International Convention on Biodiversity in Japan, on October 31st:
"One-fifth of all birds, fish and animals are threatened with extinction – as many as six million unique and irreplaceable forms of life – an authoritative new assessment warned Wednesday."
The turtles swam around their tank, oblivious to the commotion around them.
"Deforestation, agricultural expansion, overfishing, invasive alien species and climate change are the specific causes, but the main engine of destruction is an economic system that is blind to the reality that there is no economy or human well-being without nature, experts here say."
The teenagers preferred the bonfire at the edge of the pond.
Even worse, Monbiot thinks it's all bogus:  "The British government, which lavishly praised the declaration, tells me it has no printed copies. I've never seen this situation before. Every other international agreement I've followed was published as soon as it was approved.  The evidence suggests that we've been conned. The draft agreement, published a month ago, contained no binding obli gations. Nothing I've heard from Japan suggests that this has changed. The draft saw the targets for 2020 that governments were asked to adopt as nothing more than 'aspirations for achievement at the global level' and a 'flexible framework', within which countries can do as they wish. No government, if the draft has been approved, is obliged to change its policies."

Susan from sent me this photo from New Hampshire; the perfect motif of an ecosystem on the brink of collapse.
Most infuriating is this:  "The US, despite proclaiming a new commitment to multilateralism, refuses to ratify the convention on biological diversity."
I fear environmentalists may be as reluctant as atmospheric physicists obsessed with CO2 to factor ozone into their agenda of saving species from extinction - they spend their careers raising funds for habitat salvation, but since they can't protect habitat from toxins moving through the atmosphere, they may be tempted to ignore the threat.  For instance, the UK Guardian has a slideshow from the International League of Conservation Photographers, one of which is a prime example of the concept of shifting baselines.  These folks admiring this magnificent, ancient cedar seem unaware of the alarmingly thin crowns of the younger trees surrounding it, that will never be able to replace it, if the current poisonous composition of the atmosphere prevails for any length of time.


  1. Dear Gail,
    Fantastic post, as usual!

    Your inspiring, resourceful, and diligent work, carried out and presented with such palpable passion, is both deliciously delightful (in terms of its appetizing packaging), and dreadfully sad (in terms of it's message and its implications).

    As you know, with our eyes openned by your research and writing, we see evidence of 'tree decline' nearly everywhere we turn in New England. And the pieces all fit together quite logically.

    For example, the drying of soils you mention can help explain, at least in part, the accelerating rate of tree blow downs we see, since drier soils would be both lighter and more friable, thus less anchoring. (Damaged root systems don't help, of course!)

    Your giving the gift of 'tree vision' reminds me of the last words in the first verse of a favorite hymn: Amazing Grace! To wit: "I once was...blind, but now I see."

    So, our eternal thanks go to you, Gail. May word of, and respect for, your good work spread like wildfire.

    Warmest regards,

  2. Gail - Excellent post. Thank you for persevering.

    I don't know how long it will take me to get a website up and functioning, but it will be easier to comment then. I will fit one of the categories.

    I wrote my thesis on the perception of environmental hazards in [my home town]. It was amazing to me that there was so little monitoring of the air quality, and so little concern by the citizens. Large commercial businesses had to file reports, but I assume that they did their own testing.

    My questionnaire respondents had only one real concern and that was water quality. I believe that is because the media constantly harped on that one. Well. Let's be the Media. Keep it up. And thank you.

    Do you have any stats on what the emissions are from a busy highway? I guess it is worse as the percentage of ethanol rises. No one speaks of this.

    I like the way you give us the happy stories in your life and the beauty of flowers and fields. It nicely balances the horror and grief I feel as I digest the implications of ozone studies.

    You may paste this into comments if you take out the reference to [my home town]. Hopefully I will be able to use comments directly soon.

  3. Funny, 25 years ago they knew that ozone kills plants. America is suffering from photochemical Alzheimer's, we probably caught it from the president of those days.

    Gail will help us remember.

    Fear Corporate Greed


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