Wednesday, January 12, 2011


We had our little blizzard last night, so I whipped out the camera first thing this morning, when the snow  was still highlighting the branches of trees, and the early sun made for pink and golden reflections.
A much more overwhelming blizzard, however, is the torrent of information that is constantly emerging, from scientific research and in the news, that fits into the general category of more, faster, and worse than predicted.  Where to begin?
It's clear to me, at least, that there is something in the atmosphere that is causing vegetation to die, most likely ozone, which has long been recognized as toxic to plants - but that doesn't stop me from wondering if there isn't some synergy with some other, more virulent agent that has recently contributed to the process, since trees are suddenly dying at such a precipitous rate.  Perhaps, it has to do with the poorly understood cycle of nitrogen being thrown into disarray.  In this study just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, it is revealed that there is three times the amount of nitrous oxide being released into the atmosphere from the world's waterways as was estimated by the IPCC, most of it derived from the nitrogen-based fertilizers, 220 billions pounds of it produced globally, by way of example, in 2005.
Reliance on such enormous quantities of fertilizer (which happens to require vast amounts of fossil-fuel based input) is essential for current methods of agricultural production.  Going into debt for fertilizer is part of the reason that desparate farmers are committing suicide in horrific numbers, often by drinking pesticides...more than 17,368 in India in 2009.
It has been my doomy contention for over two years that because plantlife is rapidly diminishing as a result of intolerably high concentrations of ozone in the atmosphere, inevitably we will begin to see rapid declines in the populations higher up the food chain - and that is exactly what is happening.  Particularly because not only does ozone stunt overall growth and yield, but it also decreases the nutrient content of the nuts, seeds and grains that are produced.  I don't mean to imply, of course, that every single incident of mass die-off is ultimately related to a reduction in plant material from ozone exposure.  There are many other unrelated factors that exist that can cause animals to die off.  Nevertheless, malnourishment is a major trend.  This is true in the ocean as well, where phytoplankton has crashed.  A most annoying article appeared in the Guardian, with the title "Sustainable fish customers 'duped' by Marine Stewardship Council,"  Apparently, this investigation reveals that the regulatory agency is awarding sustainable certifications for fishery stocks that are "tumbling" and, I might add, by staggering percentages:

"Among the most controversial rulings is the award of an MSC label to the Ross Sea Antarctic toothfish fishery which is still regarded by scientists and the industry as an exploratory fishery. The species is so little understood that researchers still do not know even basics such as where the fish spawns.
Others include krill in the Antarctic, tuna and swordfish off the US coast, pollock in the Eastern Bering Sea where stock levels fell 64% between 2004 and 2009, and Pacific hake which suffered an 89% fall in biomass since 1989."
Argentina is concerned about the low catch of squid:  "Argentine production in 2010 -- a total of 84,409 tons - was higher than the 2009 figure of 71,414 tons. Both volumes contrasted with 255,000 tons harvested in the 2008 season."  And it isn't just squid - their catch of fish is drastically volatile too.
Meanwhile, as it happens, there is a whole new dimension to the consequences of dying trees - which is the rise of mice carrying a disease that can be deadly to humans and which didn't even exist until 1993.  Notice that certain scientists who attribute the death of conifers out West solely to the bark beetle and not to the underlying exposure to ozone have absolutely no bug - or other excuse - to blame for sudden aspen decline:

"A tree-killing syndrome called sudden aspen decline that has wiped out swaths of trees across the West in the past decade has also changed the kinds, numbers and interactions of creatures living around the trees, researchers have found — including some carriers of human disease. Deer mice at hard-hit sites in 2009 were almost three times as likely to carry sin nombre virus — which can be fatal to humans — compared with mice in less-ravaged aspen stands, Erin Lehmer of Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado, and her colleagues reported Jan. 4 at the annual meeting of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology." 
"In study sites that had lost at least two-thirds of their aspens, the researchers found fewer species of small mammals. The most abundant of those species was the deer mouse, which isn’t as choosy about its habitat as the vole is. Lehmer speculated that infection might have risen among deer mice as their growing dominance in the landscape let them encounter each other more frequently and get into more mouse fights. Sin nombre spreads readily among rodents through bites."
Maybe other rodents are dying off, and deer mice are getting into more mouse fights because there isn't enough to eat!  Interestingly, the article makes the same sort of connection - an imbalance of mice population - to Lyme disease in the East.
I was very grateful to receive the anonymous comment copied below, not least because it validates my own observations and in so doing, contributes to maintaining my remaining shreds of sanity - but mostly because it encapsulates some critically important notions in a nutshell (as it were, heh):
"I noticed it happening here in Vancouver Canada back in the summer of 09, though I think judging by some of the trees it has been going on longer than that. It got worse in the summer of 10 and I expect it will be worst once again when the plants start blooming again here in Spring. No one notices except me, or at least if they do notice, they do not mention it. 
Plants are also blooming way out of season. Roses bloomed in December and we had the cherry blossoms come out in late January 2010 which is at least 2 months early if not more. It's been colder this year so we'll see if it happens again. 
I think we're in big trouble. I'm a bit worried what will happen when the sleeping folks wake up to the devastation that is growing around us."
Anonymous has neatly referenced the relatively recent timeframe of rapid decline; the oddity of out-of-sync blooming; the obliviousness of practically everybody; and finally raises the fascinating question, what will they do when they figure it out?  When I consider my own excruciatingly painful journey from blissful ignorance to utter despair, it's hard to imagine that agony multiplied by millions of people in simultaneous recognition of ecosystem collapse.

But, getting back to the topic of rapidly accelerating mass extinctions, as I already mentioned earlier in this post, a Swedish veterinarian stated:  "This winter has been unusually tough and jackdaws may be in poor condition. That makes it easier for them to fly into different objects. There is very little food in the wild compared with previous years and I see dying birds every day."

Most reports, such as these recent bird deaths in Sonoma County, California, offer no definitive reason - as is also the case for two more mass deaths reported in Arkansas.  The author of that post states rather wistfully:

"...biologists are still saying that it is a natural occurrence in wildlife...I have lived in a rural area most of my life and I have never seen birds or fish die in mass amounts, and I have spent a lot of time in the woods and on the lakes."

I have to agree.  I have been a nature lover all my life, choosing to live in as rural an area as I could - and I have only seen a single dead bird three times - never a larger number - and all those three (a hummingbird, a finch, and a bluebird) were all in the past three years.

In any event, two additional stories have come to light that point to hunger as the underlying factor for the mass deaths that have been lately in the news:

First, this report claims that the mystery of turtle doves dying in Italy has been solved, and states that the birds likely died of feasting on food - but wait!  it inadvertently corroborates my theory that they are hungry.  Let's check - what were they "overeating"?

"Nadia Caselli of an Italian bird association corroborated Ridolfi's findings, telling the AP that sunflower seeds from a nearby oil factory are likely the culprit, as they damage the birds' livers and kidneys, though full tests results are still yet to come."
You have to wonder, why were they gorging on poisonous factory seeds instead of eating wild food?

This gruesome story from Chicago reveals another curious incident:
"A bizarre scene is evolving on the Chicago lakefront, with Canada geese and mallard ducks gulping down dead or dying gizzard shad.
A major die-off of what appears to be the 2010 class is happening in Chicago harbors. Thousands, perhaps far more than that, of dead gizzard shad in the 3- to 5-inch range are frozen in the ice of Chicago harbors or floating around in open patches of water."
"The massive die-off was first documented Thursday by Carl Vizzone, a North Side fisherman who sits on the board of Perch America. What caught his eye was Canada geese and mallards eating dying shad at open water by DuSable and Diversey harbors. 'This is not normal,' he said.
He’s right, agreed naturalist Joel Greenberg, author of A Natural History of the Chicago Region. Canada geese and mallards normally don’t eat fish, but, Greenberg said, 'They are opportunistic.'"
Why would Canada Geese and mallards eat dead fish if its not part of their normal diet???

As I already warned with regret, Doomstead Diary has announced plans to eradicate his blog and move on to other pursuits, so I have been trying to read up on old posts before it's too late.  On his profile page I was reminded of this scene of Steve Martin from "The Jerk," which I remember quite well from when I first saw it ages ago, because he embodies with bewildered pathos our shock when we are faced, as we all will be, with the loss of everything we have blithely assumed for our lifetimes was rightfully ours...and thus, it's pure comic genius.


  1. I love that movie. For no reason, and always quite unconsciously, my wife and children will catch me singing this from that movie:

  2. We had the 'georgia blizzard', too. Our third school closing, road closing snowfall this year.
    No one can remember a year with 3 snowfalls here in NE Georgia. I doubt that this counts as an 'extreme' event, but it's not usual. This past snowfall was close to a record though.

  3. I have been feeding our local birds all through this rough winter, and have noticed many more smaller birds, including goldfinches, regularly on the feeders. The other day, I counted 20 varieties, from tiny coal tits to ring-necked doves, carrion crows and jackdaws. They are all hungry because their food has been under the unusually early and heavy snow and, especially, ice we have had since the end of November. I've not found any dead birds in my rambles, but it could just be that the scavengers have got there first.


  4. Serinde, you are so lucky to have that many kinds of birds! You should send me pictures of them. Do you mean you are getting birds that are smaller types, or that the birds are physically smaller than normal?

  5. crystalwolfakacaligrlJanuary 13, 2011 at 7:26 PM

    Gail have you seen this?
    "Earth's magnetic pole shift unleashing poisonous space clouds linked to mysterious bird deaths"

  6. Hey, CWakaCaligrl...

    Yes, I've seen that - also many other explanations. I tend to discount most of them, because they are localized, and the birds are falling dead all over the world...I frankly think that wildlife has been dying off for a while, from scarcity of food, and now it is accelerating into larger groups. When animals are malnourished, they are more vulnerable to diseases, adverse weather, and predators.

    Time will tell! Meanwhile, more reports are piling up, I can hardly keep track of them.

    It's actually so much more fun laughing at Sarah Palin's never ending blunders than contemplating ecosystem collapse, isn't it?


  7. Gail, to answer your question about bird size. The tiny birds are tiny naturally, and I certainly haven't noticed any changes in their size or in the way that the different variety of finches, for example, will flock together this time of year.
    I live in quite a rural area, so there are quite a large variety of birds. There are pheasant and grouse in the fields, as well as buzzards and tawny owls. Even the odd sparrowhawk and, amazingly, a sea eagle was seen fishing out of our local river last week. And if any English reader wonders where all the London house sparrows are, I can tell them: in my holly hedges!

    I grasp these little signs of hope on this side of the Atlantic.



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