Thursday, December 9, 2010

Cri de Coeur

Lately, there is a rising chorus of alarm - if not despair - from oceanographers, about the multiple threats to life in the oceans, from warming, acidification, and pollution.  Of course, this blog is about trees, and how they are succumbing to intolerably high levels of invisible but toxic gases in the atmosphere.
It is worth considering, however, that the ocean is absorbing ozone as well - and almost no one is asking what that means for life in the sea.  So here are some interesting links and excerpts from recent publications, alongside (unless otherwise noted) pictures of ancient trees from a UK Guardian photo essay.  This gallery from the National Trust purports to celebrate magnificent ancient trees, some still alive from a thousand years ago - but instead is inadvertently documenting their soon to be permanent absence from the landscape of our beloved earth.
The Daily Mail had yet another story about research warning that the jellyfish population will surge in acidifying oceans.  I don't know how serious is this blogscience report about the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, but if you lean towards conspiratorial cover-ups, it is compelling.
The Yale360 Forum just published an article titled:  Is the End in Sight for The World's Coral Reefs?" the short answer to which can be found in the subtitle, "It is a difficult idea to fathom. But the science is clear: Unless we change the way we live, the Earth's coral reefs will be utterly destroyed within our children's lifetimes." - in other words, YES, because we are not changing the way we live.
The consequences of warming, acidifying waters were outlined in an earlier essay, about a looming oxygen crisis:

"Unless we find a way to rein in our carbon emissions very soon, a low-oxygen ocean may become an inescapable feature of our planet. A team of Danish researchers published a particularly sobering study last year. They wondered how long oxygen levels would drop if we could somehow reduce our carbon dioxide emissions to zero by 2100. They determined that over the next few thousand years oxygen levels would continue to fall, until they declined by 30 percent. The oxygen would slowly return to the oceans, but even 100,000 years from now they will not have fully recovered. If they’re right, fish will be gasping and squid will be panting for a long time to come. "
Match that up with an article in the UK Guardian describing the destruction of the mangrove forests along the Gulf of Mexico to build the very megacity on the sand, Cancun, where activists and politicians have flocked to dither about the fate of the planet.

Following is my comment to the first article, the "end in sight for coral reefs":

There is a very exact parallel issue to all of the warnings of this article.  I would not diminish the existential threat of ocean acidification - I have seen the death of coral reefs myself.

But I would like to remind our oblivious fellow humans that the terrestrial ecosystem is also in imminent threat of utter collapse.

The level of tropospheric ozone is inexorably rising. Pre-industrial concentration was essentially zero - plants are not adapted to absorb such pollution and it is causing crop failures and death to indigenous trees at a rate that is unprecedented.

Go outside and look around at trees and you will find:

In summer, leaves are singed, burnt, stippled, losing chlorophyll, early autumn color, premature senescence, and just plain falling off.

This time of year, confers still living are losing needles and thin;  all sorts of trees exhibit bark that is oozing, seeping, splitting, corroded, roughened, falling off, and raw.

Our trees are dying!  And we depend upon them for so much - fruit, nuts, lumber, shade, habitat, and the most important CO2 sink, without which, temperatures will become unbearable.

It's time to demand rationing of fuel for only the most essential purposes while we transition to clean energy on an EMERGENCY basis.
What the caption to the panorama of this grand estate says:

"Studley Royal has some exquisite ancient trees, one of the best is the wild cherry, which unfortunately shed much if its crown last year, but is still an amazingly monstrous cherry."

Here is part of the introduction to a paper sent by one of the authors from the University of Colorado, one of the very few scientists in the world investigating the uptake of ozone:

"A significant term in the global tropospheric ozone budget is the uptake by oceans, with an estimated 200–300 Tg yrof ozone being deposited to the ocean surface (Ganzeveld et al., 2009). Despite this important ozone sink term, direct observations of open oceanic ozone flux are scarce. Previous data have been obtained from laboratory experiments, coastal tower observations, or by airborne flux measurements (see summary in Ganzeveld et al., 2009). Uncertainties in the ocean exchange rate can have significant consequences for global budgets; therefore open ocean observations with con- current description of the ocean’s biological, chemical and physical properties are important for better definition of the dependencies of ozone fluxes."

Next, I reproduce a comment from the ocean acidification post at Climate Progress...
...I don't know if this is profoundly true, or just silly.  For one thing, controlled experiments in labs with CO2 along have proven it dissolves corals and calcium-based shells.  But if there's anything at all to it, it constitutes one more urgent reason to investigate the role of ozone in the oceans, as well as in the troposphere:
  1. Pat Frank says:
    Ocean acidification producing mass die-offs during past marine extinction events was almost certainly produced by the mineral acids — sulfuric acid, nitric acid, and hydrochloric acid — and not by dissolved CO2. That would be true whether the event was caused by volcanism (PT extinction, Siberian Traps, by a an extraterrestrial bolide, or both (KT extinction, Yucatan crater and the Deccan Traps).

    Mineral acid acidification is an entirely different kettle of fish than the re-equilibration caused by higher dissolved [CO2]. Mineral acid acidification is non-equilibrium, and isn’t removed by dissolved calcium. Mineral acids require direct neutralization, principally by erosional bicarbonate.

    The argument that coral reefs are threatened by higher CO2 levels ignores fossil stomatal evidence showing that atmospheric CO2 hit 380 ppmv for at least decades at a time, several times during the last 9000 years.

    We’re also talking about a decrease in surface ocean pH of about 0.3 units for a doubling of atmospheric CO2. That’s from pH ~8.1 to pH ~7.8. Let’s call that a slight de-alkalinization rather than an acidification. And that’s only in the top 70 m of ocean.

    It’s hard to believe that corals can’t readily survive that sort of difference, especially when the higher ambient dissolved [CO2] means they’ll have an easier time with uptake.

    Coral reefs may be under stress from human activity, but CO2 doesn’t seem a likely culprit, and is more like a distraction from the gritty and unromantic problems of agricultural run-off, untreated sewage, erosion due to cutting forests for fuel, and the soot from southeast Asian slash-and-burn.
There is never any end in sight of varieties of plantlife vanishing.
The National Trust in Britain is warning that mistletoe could vanish within 20 years because its host apple trees are suffering from "neglect".  How quaint!!  And such a pity, because it wards off evil spirits, and inspires kisses at Christmastime.  Here is more on their dying horsechestnut trees (does anyone see a pattern here yet?):
"BARRINGTON , UNITED KINGDOM - MARCH 04: A tree surgeon on the ground cuts branches from a horse chestnut tree about to be felled after it was identified as being infected with bleeding canker, at the National Trust's Barrington Court on March 4 2009 in Somerset, England. A historic avenue of over 50 horse chestnut trees is being cut down and replaced with a variety of oak after the National Trust decided the trees had to go for safety reasons, as an infection of bleeding canker causes the trees to lose bark and branches and eventually die. The Trust has already had to cull a number of other horse chestnuts at properties around the country and experts at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, have compared the problem to Dutch Elm Disease warning that conker trees are in danger of dying out in Britain unless more is done to control the disease"...from a story in Life.
That photo above is of a horsechestnut, and below, another photo from the Life story.
Next up is a video of foresters desperately trying to rescue clones of butternut trees they believe may be resistant to canker.  The disease has killed as many as 80% of butternut trees in some US states, and has been detected in 99% of trees in Eastern Ontario where this film originates.  The title of the accompanying article is idiotic - "Searching for a Butternut Cure" since the forester is plainly quoted as saying,
“'It’s lethal. … It infiltrates the tree wherever it can and there is no way of stopping it. There’s no cure. There’s nothing you can spray the tree with. So finding resistant trees is the best way to go,' says Fleguel, the field manager of the butternut recovery program for the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority."

And yet the forest pathologists themselves are just as delusional! (short ad first, sorry)
They are taking clippings of bud from a tree that isn't dead yet, so it is supposedly resistant.  But LOOK at this screen shot, below.  There is a huge split in the center of the main trunk, and the branches above and to the left of the climber have peeling bark and are broken!
The National Trust had a number of photos of old trees with spectacular cankers.
My understanding of cankers is that they are caused either by a fungus or a bacteria, and they are ultimately fatal as they grow and girdle the tree trunk, impeding the flow of sap and nutrients.  So just for fun I did a google search to see whether this is, in fact, correct and came up with some terrific images.
Above is from the National Trust - the others below, from the google search.
This canker is on a birch and dwarfs the trunk.

There was a lively discussion on this flickr site about various cankers, most posters expressing astonishment because...well...there didn't used to be nearly so many!  One contributed this beauty, a meter high:
"Cankers are dead sections of bark on branches or main trunks of trees. Bark may be killed by mechanical injuries or by plant pathogens, especially fungi and bacteria. Most plant pathogens are unable to penetrate bark directly but will quickly colonize wounded tissue. Canker diseases may cause extensive damage to trees when they kill all of the bark in a particular area, thus girdling a branch or main stem. Girdling results in death of all parts of the plant above the canker. If the trunk is affected, the entire plant may die."

Foamy canker is apparently quite a plague for almond trees in California.
The photo above is rank enough but the next of foamy canker defies description.
Wildfires threaten runaway climate change is the warning from new research that indicates fires in the interior of Alaska have become much more severe and released more carbon than was sequestered by the region's forests.  Naturally, the potential role of ozone in predisposing trees to fire was not mentioned at all.
"Increased intensity of fires in Alaska's vast interior over the last decade has changed the region from a sink to a source of carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas most responsible for heating up the planet, the study found.
On balance, in other words, boreal forests in the northern hemisphere may now soak up less of the heat-trapping gas than they give off.
The bulk of the released CO2 comes not from the burning trees, but from what is in the ground. 
"Most of what fuels a boreal fire is plant litter, moss and organic matter in surface soils," said Merritt Turetsky, a professor at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada and lead author of the study. 
The findings are worrisome, he said, because about half of the world's soil carbon is trapped in northern permafrost and peatlands. 
'This is carbon that has accumulated in ecosystems a little bit at a time for thousands of years, but is being released very rapidly.' 
While the study, published in Nature Geoscience, focused on Alaska's 18.5 million hectares (45 million acres) of forests, its conclusions likely apply to huge expanses of wilderness in Siberia, Canada and northern Europe as well."
All this canker information inspired me to run outside and find a nice example in my own neighborhood, which took exactly oh, 5 minutes to settle upon this weeping cherry, which is really weeping, now.
When I was growing up there was a house next to ours, whose owner had been in a nursing home for many years, and so I had the very old garden all to myself.
It had the most exotic and outlandish parrot tulips.
I had never seen a weeping cherry before we moved to Ipswich, and I thought it was the closest thing to heaven on earth when I stood under the canopy in spring, with sunlight filtered through the glowing pink petals.
I have saved the most important discovery for last.  I can never thank anonymous Highschooler enough for so much assiduous, diligent research and outstanding contributions to publications for the Basic Premise page (linked at the very top of the blog) - but this is a particularly poignant lament that also has tremendous ramifications...THANK YOU, Highschooler!  I hope you take justifiable pride in your courage and rigorous determination.  Farmers are on the front lines of ecosystem collapse, because they can't pretend away the lost yields like professional foresters and scientists can ignore the universally dwindling biosphere.  Here's the entire article - warning, you will need a hankie before you finish the first paragraph:

Associated Press

Texas pecan farmers say pollution is killing trees

(12-06) 15:51 PST HOUSTON, CA (AP) --
Orchard owner Leonard Baca had been watching his pecan trees slowly die for 12 years when he went into a washroom, put a gun in his mouth and killed himself.
The frustrated 73-year-old had spent thousands of dollars on technology and improvements to try to resolve the problem at his Central Texas ranch without ever learning what was killing the trees that had supported three generations of his family. Now, 18 years after his death, Baca's son-in-law, Harvey Hayek, believes he's solved the mystery: Sulfur dioxide pollution from a nearby coal-fired power plant has slowly killed two-thirds of his family's 250-acre pecan orchard.

On Monday, Hayek and other pecan growers held a news conference in Austin to demand compensation from the Lower Colorado River Authority, which operates the plant, and the city. They also want research done on what and how much pollution is being emitted now and how much will be discharged after the plant installs equipment aimed at reducing emissions of sulfur dioxide, a component of acid rain.

"I've got several little 2-year-old grandkids and my own kids," said Hayek, who joined the family business in 1969 after marrying Baca's daughter, Carol. "If this wouldn't have happened, they could all have been enjoying the pecans. They could have had a family business and continued it on for who knows how many years. It's all been taken away from us."

The river authority said it is investing $445 million to install "scrubbers," which will cut the plant's sulfur dioxide emissions by more than 90 percent. In a letter to the Texas Pecan Alliance, the authority said it "cannot make commitments for unlimited compensation to your group."

It did, however, promise to review a report submitted by Sierra Club scientist Neil Carman, which said up to 15,000 trees have been destroyed by sulfur dioxide pollution. Evidence points to the power plant as the culprit, Carman said, because it is the only and main source of pollution in the county, 72 percent of the air pollution in the county is sulfur dioxide and the pecan leaves have characteristic marks of sulfur dioxide injury. Also, he noted, research published in 2004 by the Alabama Cooperative Extension System showed pecan trees were especially sensitive to sulfur dioxide.

"It's a mess," Carman said. "There's nothing else that would account for it."

Sulfur dioxide's danger to vegetation — and pecan trees specifically — is well-documented. The Georgia Power Company settled a series of lawsuits in the early 1970s with pecan growers who accused its plant of killing their trees. Damage can happen as far as 30 miles away, the Alabama report said.

The Hayek orchard planted in 1900 in Ellinger was one of the first in the state and produced 100,000 to 200,000 pounds of pecans annually, helping make Texas the third-largest producer of pecans in the country after Georgia and New Mexico. Three generations worked under the trees' cool shade, and the winter harvest provided work for corn farmers who were done with their crop in the late summer.

"Everything was merry. We were always able to buy new equipment and we got some of the first mechanical harvesters in the area in 1975," Hayek recalled.

The coal-fired power plant began operating in 1979. Hayek could see it from his farm. In 1980, production declined for the first time.

"And it kept going downhill," Hayek said.

Neighboring pecan farmers had similar problems. The county brought in university researchers, who told them to change their fertilization technique and irrigate. They did both to no avail.

Tree limbs began falling. With each one, Hayek saw his hearty father-in-law lose a little more will to fight.
When the first tree died, it was as though a family member had passed away, he said.

"It's come to the point where some years if we want to have some Christmas cookies or pecan pie around our house, I've actually had to go to the HEB grocery store to buy some pecans," Hayek said. "It puts a knot in my stomach. It actually makes me feel sick."

Proving the power plant's emissions are responsible will require extensive and expensive research. But Leo Lombardini, a professor of horticulture at Texas A&M University who has visited Hayek's farm, thinks it could be worthwhile.

"I could see pecan trees that were dying or dead, which is very rare. Pecan trees die only if for some reason they have no access to water," Lombardini said. "In this case, I don't think that was the issue."

At 60, Hayek knows he will live out his years digging and maintaining water wells — the career he began after the orchard could no longer support his family. Even if he replanted today, he would never get to pick fruit from his trees. It takes nearly 25 years for a pecan tree to produce a marketable harvest.


  1. You are so very correct, Gail. It is the entire biosphere that is at play here, and Humankind's activity is affecting it in innumerable ways, not just Global Warming. I'm not sure if you have seen this video, you probably have, but I found it spellbinding. My only complaint is the hoaky and naive conclusion....and the documentary's sponsors, other than that, though, it brought tears to my eyes on many occasions. Of course, I was under the influence of one the many plants that speak to us.....if we would only listen. Trees and plant life are majestic in their beauty, and their simple, direct and efficient function. We are aliens to this planet when juxtaposed with trees and plant life. We pale in comparison.

    In the process of deconditioning and returning to nature, we should all partake in the ritual of imbibing Ayahuasca, for this wonderful plant root allows one to see and speak to the plants.

  2. The government is permitting a coal fired electric plant in southern Georgia. There are pecan groves in the area. Your posting might be of some importance to them. Riverkeepers.

  3. Here's another cause for tears:



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