Monday, April 11, 2011

Anonymous, You're no Sherlock Holmes

This is petasites hybridus, otherwise known as common butterbur...or pestilence wort.
I planted it several years ago in a boggy spot beneath a seasonal spring at Wit's End, and it has been spreading ever since.  Unfortunately, like all perennials such as day lilies, daffodils and iris emerging so far this spring, the clumps are rapidly dying back.  The photograph above was taken this morning - and the one below, of the exact same spot, on April 9, 2009.
A comment on my last post about Lester Brown was so annoying I decided rather than merely publish it, I should instead reproduce it here - and then try to explain to Sherlock that he has given us a really stellar example of critical thinking.  NOT.

Here's his comment:


Just came across this bit of ozone news & thought I'd share it with you & your readers.

Perhaps Lester Brown isn't alarmed about ozone because ozone concentrations have been in a declining trend across the US over the last decade plus. Since 1998 concentrations have declined from the upper 50s(ppb) to the upper 40s.

Check it out at:

Current levels are well below the 60ppb level that the consensus of scientists think will cause crop damage in 
North America.

Cheer up, I'm sure all those trees & plants are cheering the declining ozone, as well as all that extra CO2!


Why did this comment so peeve me that I have wasted the entire day so far collecting links to irrefutable, unimpeachable sources that directly contradict Sherlock's deductions distortions and misrepresentations? Well, as you read on you will notice pictures in two categories, and therein lies the reason.  One is that of charming spring flowers that represent all the lovely natural bounty that is being rapidly destroyed by air pollution, and will never return.  And the other is of trees that, if they could but speak, would be shrieking in deafening agony - and wishing the worst sort of retribution upon the human race.  They have no voice however, so I am verbalizing in their stead.
Ack, where to begin!?  First of all as we shall see, the consensus of scientists think ozone in the 40 p.p.b.'s - or even lower -  will and does damage vegetation.  Secondly, the "reductions" are reflecting models of trends in compliance - which are themselves based on the annual 4th maximum 8 hour average, which is a dubious (and much debated, both in court and out) method to determine real impacts of concentrations at best, not to mention the largely still-mysterious interactions and synergies of pollutants.  Here's a graph of the trend as shown at this EPA page:
This narrow interpretation neglects some very important aspects of BACKGROUND ozone that I will try to illuminate with links to expert assessments.
The first report is not from the US, but from the European Air Pollution and Climate Secretariat in 2004 - however it's got such a nice description of the distinction that it's a good start to explain the issue.  Everything that follows are passages from various reports; I have highlighted sections in red that are most pertinent, while my few bracketed comments are in lavender:

Measurements that have been in progress since the 1950s show that the levels of ozone in the air over Europe have risen by an average of 2 per cent a year, and that the background level today is two to four times as high as it was in the 1950s. The critical levels, which were presumably only exceeded occasionally at the start of the last century, are now exceeded regularly over almost all of Europe. Figure 7.1 shows where and by how much the critical level for ozone damage to crops is exceeded. The critical level for forest trees is not exceeded as often or as much as that for crops.

[I have to add here that unlike annual crops, trees experience cumulative exposure, year after year that adds up and damages them incrementally.  But let's look at that figure.]

FIGURE 7.1. Exposure of agricultural crops to ground-level ozone. The map shows a five-year average of estimated AOT40 values, i.e. the number of ppm hours that the ozone level exceeds the threshold value of 40 ppb. The critical level is 3 ppm hours (1 ppm hour = 1000 ppb hours). The darker the shade, the greater the exposure. The size of the squares is proportional to the area of agricultural land in each 150 x 150 km square. (Max Posch, CCE/RIVM, the Netherlands, 2000.) 

The limits that have been set to protect people’s health are also regularly exceeded by a significant degree. The situation is worst in the Mediterranean countries of Italy, France, Greece and Spain, and in parts of Germany.

It has been possible to detect two different trends in ozone levels over the past decade, which to some extent cancel each other out:

- There seem to be fewer occasions when levels are really high. It is believed that this is because emissions of ozone-forming substances in Europe have decreased markedly.

- The background level is rising throughout the northern hemisphere because emissions of ozone-forming substances – nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide and various hydrocarbons, including methane – are still rising, especially in Asia.

The latter trend is worrying since the harmful effects of ozone are largely due to cumulative exposure over a long time – short periods when levels are high are not as important in this respect.
[Looking closely at trees, as usual, reveals the extent of damage.]

Following are excerpts from a 2010 EPA Report, "Our Nation's Air," - the Ozone section, which is a little more nuanced:

At any given location, the local ozone concentrations are the sum of three separate components: (1) ozone produced by local emissions and meteorology, (2) transported ozone produced elsewhere in the region, and (3) ozone transported on hemispheric scales (global background levels of ozone) (Dentener, 2004). The time scales and mechanisms for ozone formation, transport, and destruction vary across these three contributors. Local formation typically occurs on the scale of hours, whereas regional and hemispheric transport can occur over days and weeks, respectively. Traditionally, most efforts to improve ozone air quality have been aimed at reducing the local and regional.

It should be noted that global background levels of ozone are very important for climate considerations because ozone formed from emissions in U.S. urban areas and regions represents only a fraction of the overall global ozone and its resulting impacts on warming. Global ozone background levels are determined by global emissions of CH, CO, NO, and VOCs, as well as natural processes like lightning and transport from the stratosphere. Numerous field studies have shown that these global background ozone concentrations can approach 40 ppb ( Jacob, 2007) and have been increasing in recent years (Parrish, 2009).

Current U.S. ozone reduction strategies have tended to focus on reducing peak concentrations rather than background levels and have also focused more on NOreductions than on reductions of other ozone precursors in most locations.

[Following is the abstract of a collaborative study by scientists with NOAA, NASA, NCAR and other international researchers, published in January 2010, titled:  "Increasing springtime ozone mixing ratios in the free troposphere over western North America"]

In the lowermost layer of the atmosphere—the troposphere—ozone is an important source of the hydroxyl radical, an oxidant that breaks down most pollutants and some greenhouse gases1. High concentrations of tropospheric ozone are toxic, however, and have a detrimental effect on human health and ecosystem productivity1. Moreover, tropospheric ozone itself acts as an effective greenhouse gas2. Much of the present tropospheric ozone burden is a consequence of anthropogenic emissions of ozone precursors3 resulting in widespread increases in ozone concentrations since the late 1800s3, 4, 5, 6, 7. At present, east Asia has the fastest-growing ozone precursor emissions8. Much of the springtime east Asian pollution is exported eastwards towards western North America9. Despite evidence that the exported Asian pollution produces ozone10, no previous study has found a significant increase in free tropospheric ozone concentrations above the western USA since measurements began in the late 1970s5, 11, 12. Here we compile springtime ozone measurements from many different platforms across western North America. We show a strong increase in springtime ozone mixing ratios during 1995–2008 and we have some additional evidence that a similar rate of increase in ozone mixing ratio has occurred since 1984. We find that the rate of increase in ozone mixing ratio is greatest when measurements are more heavily influenced by direct transport from Asia. Our result agrees with previous modelling studies, which indicate that global ozone concentrations should be increasing during the early part of the twenty-first century as a result of increasing precursor emissions, especially at northern mid-latitudes13, with western North America being particularly sensitive to rising Asian emissions14. We suggest that the observed increase in springtime background ozone mixing ratio may hinder the USA’s compliance with its ozone air quality standard.
[I have previously published links to research from Dr. Manning of UMass Amherst, but just as a reminder, here are parts of a news article about linking background ozone to food shortages:]

According to Manning, emission controls on cars have been successful in reducing short periods of high ozone levels called peaks, but average concentrations of ozone in the atmosphere throughout the year, called the background level, is increasing as polluted air masses from Asia travel to the US and then on to Europe.
Background levels are now between 20 and 45 parts per billion in Europe and the United States, and are expected to increase to between 42 and 84 parts per billion by 2100.

“What was surprising about this research was that plants exposed to ozone levels that peaked in the late afternoon suffered more damage than plants exposed to a steady ozone concentration throughout the day, even though average ozone concentrations were the same for both groups,” said Manning.
“This shows that current ozone standards that rely on average concentrations would underestimate crop losses,” he added.
This huge, centuries-old beech in the center of our colonial villiage is bleeding.
[Once again - his conclusions are shared by NASA and the US Dept. of Agriculture as described in this report:]
The interior rot is progressing outward.
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. [Rising surface ozone concentrations...did you catch that, Sherlock?]
The study, presented at the American Geophysical Union Joint Assembly meeting, May 24 in Toronto, is based on five years of soybean yields, surface ozone, and satellite measurements of tropospheric ozone levels in Indiana, Illinois and Iowa. It revealed summertime ozone concentrations consistently exceeded threshold levels at which crops are negatively affected. The states, three of the biggest soybean producers in the U.S., account for a large chunk of the country’s $27 billion annual soybean crop. The study estimates damage to the soybean crop – by a yield reduction of approximately 10 percent – of at least several hundred million in some years in those states alone, and possibly more than $2 billion nationwide.

The severe heat that descends on the farm country of the Midwest each summer has combined with manmade emissions to create increasingly higher levels of surface ozone over the past several decades. As temperature and the likelihood of stagnant summertime air masses increase, chemical reactions involving nitrogen oxide, hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide in the air – often the emissions from fossil-fuel burning – create widespread smog and its most prevalent component, surface ozone.

At the ground level, too much ozone causes respiratory problems in humans. Research attributes as many as 4,000 deaths per year in the U.S. to elevated ozone levels in the summer. Ozone similarly affects plants. The compound enters plants through pore-like openings in their leaves and then reacts with surfaces inside the plant to cause oxidizing damage through tissue destruction. The result is depressed photosynthesis, stunted growth and, for sensitive crops such as soybeans, reduced yield.

Climate change scenarios present numerous global problems for agriculture in this century, with the probability of more severe and extended droughts. But there’s also the strong likelihood that as cars, factories and power plants both here and abroad continue to change the fundamental chemistry of the air, the altered atmosphere will negatively impact the biological processes of important crops.

"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."

Since the early twentieth century, surface ozone levels in rural areas in the Midwest have doubled, Fishman said. The U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts that surface ozone concentrations will rise another 25 percent by 2050. In the southern region of the three states studied, peak daytime concentrations often surpassed 60 parts per billion. And so the yields in the southern region definitively suffered. In the northern region of the area studied, averaged concentrations were nearly 20 percent lower, and the impact of ozone was less.

Background conditions are rising. Precursor emissions are rising," said Elizabeth Ainsworth, a professor of crop biology at the University of Illinois. "This is likely to get worse in the future and impact a greater area of the Midwest." 
The methodology used in this study provided a unique, broad-scale look at the impact of ozone on crops. The question of impact on yield has, until now, largely been addressed by closed, chamber studies and on a larger scale at open-air facilities like the one at the University of Illinois, called SoyFACE (Soybean Free Air Concentration Enrichment). This study proved that space-borne satellite measurements of tropospheric ozone – derived from NASA’s Total Ozone Mapping Spectrometer (TOMS) prior to 2005, and from the Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI) since 2005– have provided useful indicators of surface ozone concentration over a far broader area than ground-based monitors. The study used both satellite and surface observations of ozone, historic yield data and a sophisticated statistical model that also included factors such as ozone, temperature and soil moisture. The multiple linear regression analyses isolate the impact of those factors in order to outline ozone’s effect on crop productivity. The results compared favorably to the SoyFACE experiments and other experiments where ozone was artificially increased under controlled conditions.

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." 

[An article in Nature News describes Royal Society study conclusions as follows:]

Background levels of ozone have increased by about 2 parts per billion (p.p.b.) per decade since the 1980s, rising to damaging levels of 35–40 p.p.b. in most of the industrialised countries of the world.
"Once thought to be a local- or regional-scale issue, ground-level ozone has emerged as a global pollutant," the report says. A global agreement to control the growth in background ozone is now needed to avoid potential threats to global food security and increasing numbers of human deaths, it concludes.

The World Health Organisation has ruled that ozone causes effects on human health at levels above 50 p.p.b.. But the Royal Society's study says that impacts have been seen at levels of 35 p.p.b., and according to the European Environment Agency, over 21,000 premature deaths each year are associated with ozone in the European Union.
Impacts on vegetation are thought to generally occur at 40 p.p.b.. In the European Union in 2000, an estimated €6.7 billion (US$9 billion) was lost due to ozone impacts on arable crops, the study says.
[Did you see that, Sherlock?  "Impacts on vegetation are thought to... occur at 40 p.p.b." - not 60 as you said.]
This picture and the next three were taken by Susan from Massachusetts.
[Yet another report, this from the Commission for Environmental Cooperation, describes the situation as follows:]

Transport of ozone and precursor emissions extends beyond North America’s borders. North America is a source of ground-level ozone for Europe just as Asia is for North America. More widely, ground-level ozone levels are rising across the planet and have created “background” ozone concentrations, even in remote areas that are not directly affected by human influence. Retrospective analysis of eighteenth-century data from Europe suggests that ozone concentrations in the Northern Hemisphere may have doubled over the past century in response to the massive industrialization that has taken place. Current “background” ozone concentrations in North America are about 30–40 parts per billion.

In the United States, national ozone concentrations averaged over one hour and eight hours fell by 12 percent and 8 percent, respectively, in the period between 1990 and 2005. Despite the decrease, in 2005, more than 10 percent of Americans lived in counties with air quality concentrations above the ozone one- hour National Ambient Air Quality Standard, and at least 33 percent lived in counties with concentrations above the eight-hour standard.

A recent study suggests that the transpacific transport of pollution from Asia influences North America’s air quality during the spring and summer. Even small quantities of Asian emissions over North America during the summer can have significant implications for air quality management.

In the summertime, emissions from Asia and Europe contribute 4–7 parts per billion by volume (ppbv) to afternoon ozone concentrations in the surface air over the United States, instigating violations of the air quality standard. If Asian anthropogenic emissions triple from 1985 to 2010 as expected, surface ozone in the United States could increase by 1–5 ppbv during the summer.

The long-range transport of Asian pollution across the Pacific reaches a maximum in the spring because of the active cyclonic activity and strong westerly winds. The strongest Asian outflow occurs in the middle troposphere; it can be transported across the Pacific in 5–10 days. During the summer, the export of Asian pollution by convection competes with the export of mid-latitude cyclones. Transpacific transport occurs primarily in the middle and upper troposphere, with an average transpacific transport time of 6–10 days.

According to the analysis, the Asian air masses contained elevated levels of carbon monoxide, ozone, particulate matter, and other chemicals consistent with the dominant influence of combustion emissions over East Asia. High levels of methanol and acetone indicated that natural emissions were combining with the polluted outflow.
[And let's not omit what is said of nitrogen oxides!]

Nitrogen oxides are formed primarily from the nitrogen liberated during combustion processes. Nitrogen oxide emitted during combustion quickly oxidizes to NOin the atmosphere. The NOthen dissolves in water vapor in the air to form nitric acid (HNO3), and interacts with other gases and particles in the air to form particles known as nitrates and other products that may be harmful to people and their environment. Both NOin its untransformed state and the acid and transformation products of NOcan have adverse effects on human health and the environment, harming vegetation, buildings and materials, and contributing to the acidification of aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems.
[With respect to methane as an under-appreciated precursor to ozone, I note parenthetically this new study, which concludes "...that shale gas developed through fracking carries a higher greenhouse gas footprint because the “fugitive” methane emissions at the fracking sites are greater than releases from conventional gas wells." and recommend the movie Gasland where the infrared images of escaped methane are shocking.  I expect it would be simple to find more along the lines of this ominous snippet: "Major sink of methane is its reaction with OH leading to the formation of ozone."  or this one:  Methane, a VOC whose atmospheric concentration has increased tremendously during the last century, contributes to ozone formation but on a global scale rather than in local or regional photochemical smog episodes. In situations where this exclusion of methane from the VOC group of substances is not obvious, the term Non-Methane VOC NMVOC is often used.]
[Furthermore, there is nothing to indicate that models measuring ozone used by EPA or any other scientists are including Peroxyacetyl nitrates from biofuel emissions!]

[Lastly, the EPA - from whence Sherlock derived his shallow critique -  has legally been prohibited from considering the most recent research in their new assessment, currently in the process of re-evaluating standards.]
The DC cherry trees have transparent crowns and meager blossoms this year.
I will end with a new comment from "Q" shared on an older post "Tsunami Haiku" which deserves to be read:
great mother abyss
devouring myriad bodies
vortex well of soul 


  1. In the spirit of George Carlin!
    Katie Goodman
    I Didn't F*ck It Up.

  2. Catman...

    THAT link is fucking BRILLIANT.

    Thank you!

  3. It is complicated; it's no wonder that our Congressmen can't grasp this with their oily brains.

    Some of those photos near the end are so reminiscent of my own ramblings.

  4. Well, Mossy there is a caption under the first picture with a link to GWEN! But it's tiny...

  5. Japan is now at the highest level of nuclear disaster, with radiation leaking into their bay. 'Killing the fire' can also refer to ending the use of fossil fuel. 32 years ago Dan Fogelberg wrote these words.

    Where have I been for the past 3 decades?

    I hear the thunder
    Three miles away
    The island's leaking
    Into the bay
    The poison is spreading
    The demon is free
    And people are running from
    What they can't even see.

    Face the fire
    You can't turn away
    The risk grows greater
    With each passing day
    The waiting's over
    The moment has come
    To kill the fire
    And turn to the sun.

    They'll take your money
    And then take your health
    To line their pockets with
    Unequaled wealth
    These men are under
    The power of gold
    We won't be safe until we
    Shut them down cold.

    Face the fire
    You can't turn away
    The risk grows greater
    With each passing day
    The waiting's over
    The moment has come
    To kill the fire
    And turn to the sun.

    The people came to the capitol town
    One hundred thousand of them
    Laid their hearts down
    They screamed in anger
    And broadcast their fears
    Just to have them
    Fall on deaf ears.

    face the fire
    you cant turn away
    the risk grows greater
    with each passing day
    the waitings over
    the moment has come
    to kill the fire
    and turn to the sun
    to kill the fire
    and turn to the sun

    Please add 'more earth fail warnings' to your links. Thanks

  6. Hey Gail,

    Take a gander at this link I found. Lots of pictures of the Ex.

    What happened to the beard and long hair? No longer fashionable? The fascists don't like beards and long hair. It's interesting, but your Ex is going the opposite direction compared to my trip ticket. I'm shrinking away from Corporatism and refusing to feed it any longer....and I now have a beard, something not acceptable in my previous haunts. The Ex has cut the hair close, what little is left, and is now clean-shaven and walking the hallowed halls of Corporatism.

    Where have all the hippies gone.....singing that to the tune of this song:

    You're still a hippie at heart, Gail....and I respect you for staying true to yourself. Integrity means me, at least.

  7. Marvelous song, Catman.

    Morroco Bama - Ha! You realize of course that moi was the photographer for most of the bearded pictures! Never expected to see them on the intertubes.

  8. I like this one, too.

  9. Chemtrails disturb the natural flow of UV, acoustical, and geo-magnetic radiation essential to plants and animals.

    For instance, the ubiquitous chemtrails block out ~ 20% of UV light.

    The tree problem is some combination of these negative externalities, not just ozone.


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