Friday, November 4, 2011

"A Powerful and Obnoxious Odor of Mendacity" - Big Daddy, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Grrrr!  Greenman posted a link to the Duke tree study I wrote about yesterday, reporting that trees are not migrating north and up elevations according to climate model predictions.  Of course they aren't, because they're dying from ozone in every direction!

Anyway, it was not a nice thing to wake up to first thing this morning, for several reasons.  As Dorothy Parker was wont to answer the phone whenever it rang, "What fresh hell is this?"  It never ends...

First, was the video he included from the Union of Concerned Scientists promoting urban gardens.  I don't want to denigrate the nice man who is planting trees in Chicago, but he repeats one of the common assertions that annoys me most - that planting trees is beneficial because they absorb our pollution!  And they return good fresh oxygen!  ...without ever wondering what happens to the tree when it absorbs pollution.

That's akin to saying it's nice that little children absorb pollution when they breathe, without ever wondering whether it gives them asthma!  Furthermore, the trees crowns in the video are thin.  You can see by the flowers - cone flower and Joe Pye weed - that it was produced in high summer, so the trees should be fully leafed out.  And yet the crowns are thin, the sun is pouring through them, and the ground is littered with leaves that have fallen off.
Even worse though were comments left by one daveburton, linking to a study from UMichigan about their FACE program, which claims that ozone damage is offset by increased growth from higher levels of CO2.  The duplicity is so rank that it has rendered me aghast.  Following is the sequence of comments from daveburton and me (so far) with screen shots from the video (which is embedded at the end).
The film unwittingly captures trees that are damaged by ozone exposure.  Those giant patches of sky visible in the crown are not normal, and are indicative of lost branches and leaves.

daveburton Says:
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    “The results of a 12-year study at an experimental forest in northeastern Wisconsin challenge several long-held assumptions about how future forests will respond to the rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide blamed for human-caused climate change, said University of Michigan microbial ecologist Donald Zak, lead author of a paper published online this week in Ecology Letters.
    trees bathed in elevated carbon dioxide continued to grow at an accelerated rate throughout the 12-year experiment.
    In the final three years of the study, the CO2-soaked trees grew 26 percent more than those exposed to normal levels of carbon dioxide. It appears that the extra carbon dioxide allowed trees to grow more small roots and “forage” more successfully for nitrogen in the soil, Zak said. At the same time, the rate at which microorganisms released nitrogen back to the soil, as fallen leaves and branches decayed, increased.

    “The greater growth has been sustained by an acceleration, rather than a slowing down, of soil nitrogen cycling,” Zak said. “Under elevated carbon dioxide, the trees did a better job of getting nitrogen out of the soil, and there was more of it for plants to use.”
    Ground-level ozone is known to damage plant tissues and interfere with photosynthesis. Conventional wisdom has held that in the future, increasing levels of ozone would constrain the degree to which rising levels of carbon dioxide would promote tree growth, canceling out some of a forest’s ability to buffer projected climate warming.

    In the first few years of the Rhinelander experiment, that’s exactly what was observed. Trees exposed to elevated levels of ozone did not grow as fast as other trees. But by the end of study, ozone had no effect at all on forest productivity.

    “What happened is that ozone-tolerant species and genotypes in our experiment more or less took up the slack left behind by those who were negatively affected, and that’s called compensatory growth,” Zak said. The same thing happened with growth under elevated carbon dioxide, under which some genotypes and species fared better than others.

    Those are dead leaves all over the ground - and there's a huge pile of stacked dead wood in the background!
    • daveburton Says:


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      Unfortunately, the UofM paper is paywalled, but here’s the abstract:
    • daveburton Says:


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      Imagine if we were anticipating a climate change that could be expected to reduce plant growth rates substantially, world-wide. Imagine if it were known to be a 21% growth reduction for trees, and probably similar amounts for other plants. The prospect would be universally & correctly considered to be an enormous disaster.
      Well, that’s the zero-CO2-growth scenario. 1 – (100%/126%) = 21%. So if we want to avoid that disaster we’d better not curb CO2 emissions!

      This close-up reveals bare branches and wilted leaves, absolutely typical and decidedly wrong.
  2. witsendnj Says:


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    This is from my post yesterday, about this research (link to the full article below):

    You might think that this arboreal refutation would inspire Dr. Clark to reconsider the role of ozone in forest decline, since apparently, climate change isn’t explaining what is actually happening with the trees! I wrote him last April about an earlier study, and this was his reply, as I reported in the spring:

    “Gail, thanks for the note, a few thoughts.
    Ozone is a problem for plants, hard to study for large trees. For crops, it’s increasingly evident that rising CO2 can mitigate effects of rising ozone (or if you prefer, ozone offsets the stimulation that would have occurred with rising CO2). [This is wishful thinking, it is only true for low levels of ozone.] For large trees, it’s difficult to obtain more than leaf to branch level responses. For juvenile trees the evidence for a CO2 stimulation of growth is mixed–when experimentally increased as in FACE experiments, the initial stimulation of growth is not maintained, but it’s hard to manipulate ozone at that scale (whole trees competing for light in closed forests). Nonetheless, all evidence is that ozone is bad for all plants and certainly contributes to the health of trees in our study.

    In any study of mortality, there are risk factors that cannot be experimentally manipulated, so they become the background factors. Ozone levels have been high in our region throughout the duration of this study, and mortality rates could be higher throughout for that reason alone. What we studied are the factors that varied against this background, and they show the differing impacts of temperature, drought, and competition for light on different species. Ozone is not included in the study, because we could not experimentally manipulate it or design the experiment to benefit from a broad range of ozone levels. That does not mean it is unimportant.


    So basically, it is what it is. They study what is happening to trees with the level of ozone in the background as a given, because they can’t make it go away. It’s not unimportant, but it’s not important enough to design a study to see if air pollution is the reason tree range is “contracting from both the north and south” – in other words, they are in total dieback!!

    This tree has lost substantial branches - if it was healthy it would have a dense, solid green cover.
  3. witsendnj Says:


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    daveburton, unfortunately, I suspect that study is, shall we way, suffering from “optimism bias”.

    First of all, the FACE experimenters cut down all the trees in the chambers a year or two ago. They told me over the phone that it was because they had gotten too big, and that it wouldn’t affect the results of the experiments, because the roots of the newly regenerated saplings were the same.

    It doesn’t take a professional forester to see that this reasoning is bogus, because one of the most important negative affects of ozone (although certainly not the only one) is a marked increase in the predations of insects, disease and fungus – which was demonstrated in their own previously published research. Now, all that going on in the branches and trunks would have been removed when they cut the trees down, thus vastly extending the life of the root stock.

    Why would they lie about something so obvious? Let’s look at the funding for this latest paper.

    DOE. ‘nuf said. Other?

    Forest Service. Just by coincidence, I happened upon a facebook post with beautiful photos, about how lovely and magnificent trees are, where someone had left this comment:

    “I agree, that is why I became a forester, unfortunately teh USFS is in the hip pocket of teh timber industry, so My trees were harvested in mass genocide, (clear-cuts) LOL ”

    I wrote the author last night for clarification – he told me he has since retired from what he called the “forest circus.”

    Here’s an excerpt of a post I just wrote about the Forest Service:

    This is the time of year when I generally check in with the USDA Forest Service’s annual national Biomonitering Program, which has been collecting and analyzing samples of leaves for ozone damage at plots around the country, every year since 1994. I wouldn’t want the friendly fellow at the Northern Research Station who returned my call to get in trouble, so I’m not going to reveal his name….because this is pretty much how the conversation went, after I asked him about the most recent results:

    “Because of anticipated budget cuts, we didn’t collect any data this year. Nobody went out in the field.”

    After a moment of silent, incredulous astonishment, I started laughing a little hysterically. “Seriously? What are you guys doing with all that time on your hands?”

    He laughed too. “Well, we’re pushing a lot of paper around on our desks.”

    I’m NOT kidding. That’s what he said. Now, presumably foresters are still getting paid their salaries and benefits so, how much savings did the Forest Service realize by NOT sending them out to collect the leaves??

    Answer: just about nothing. So, why did they decide to stop collecting?

    Answer: the results are getting too scary. Don’t even ask WHO exactly made the decision.

  4. This photo is part of the new release from FACE, linked to by daveburton:
    It's attributed to David Karnosky, who must be rolling over in his grave.  Obviously, since he passed away in the fall of 2008, it is showing the FACE experiment before they cut down the trees.  It has always been a source of deep regret for me that I was never able to ask Dr. Karnosky about ozone - he died almost the same time that I realized the trees are dying.  I think he knew how serious the threat of ozone is to forests, and would have been less likely to dissemble as the damage has been increasing, because he published numerous papers about the mechanisms of insects and disease attacks in elevated ozone.  For his colleagues to shamelessly use his photo from several years ago to illustrate their current "research" amounts to a reprehensible calumny of his legacy.  Here's a more accurate, older release:

Ozone: Bad for Trees, Good for What Eats Them
For more information on this story contact:
Email:Marcia Goodrich

CONTACT INFO: David Karnosky, 906-487-2898,; Kurt Pregitzer, 906-487-2396; Kevin Percy, 506-452-3524,

The trees of the future may be much more vulnerable to a variety of pests, say scientists studying greenhouse gases in northern Wisconsin forests. Their work is published in the Nov. 28 edition of the journal Nature.

Researchers in the Aspen FACE (Free-Air Carbon Dioxide Enrichment) Experiment, based in Rhinelander, Wis., have been measuring the effects of elevated levels two greenhousegases, carbon dioxide and ozone, on aspen forest ecosystems. While the trees, Populous tremuloides (trembling aspen), seem to do relatively well in a carbon dioxide-rich atmosphere, ozone is another story.

Trees growing in an ozone-enriched atmosphere have been hit much harder by their traditional enemies: forest tent caterpillars, aphids and the rust fungus Melampsora.

"This has been a surprise," said Professor David Karnosky of Michigan Technological University's School of ForestResources and Environmental Science, a principal investigator on the Aspen FACE project. "Our experiment was never meant to look at pest occurrence. But it became obvious that the greenhouse gases were affecting the abundance of pests."

Ozone seems to be a special blessing to aphids. Not only did the tiny insects thrive in high-ozone air, populations of aphids' traditional predators--such as ladybugs and spiders--plummeted. "The aphids had free rein," noted Caroline Awmack, an Aspen FACE researcher from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, Department of Entomology.

Studies have shed some light on why the aspen growing in ozone-rich air were turning into so much bug salad: their leaves seem to be undergoing fundamental changes. "Ozone alters the surface waxes," said Kevin Percy, a research scientist with Natural Resources Canada--Canadian Forest Service, who is the lead author of the Nature article, "Altered Performance of Forest Pests under Atmospheres Enriched by C02 and O3."

The number of aphids increased about five-fold in plots with elevated ozone, while the number of aphid predators was cut in half. In plots with elevated levels of both carbon dioxide and ozone, the aphid population tripled, while the number of natural enemies increased slightly, mitigating the aphids' effect on the aspen.

Melampsora infection in the control and CO2-enriched plots was about the same, but increased about 400 percent in the O3 plots and doubled in the plots with extra CO2 and O3. The number of forest tent caterpillars increased by about one-third in the O3 plots and actually decreased slightly in the CO2 plots and the plots with extra CO2 and ozone.

The Aspen FACE Experiment, which involves 11 institutions and 28 researchers, is funded jointly by the Department of Energy's Office of Biological and Environmental Research, the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Forest Service Global Change Program, the U.S. Forest Service North Central Research Station, Michigan Tech, the USDA National Research Initiative Program, Brookhaven National Laboratory and Natural Resources Canada. The FACEsystem was designed by George Hendrey and his Brookhaven National Lab team.

Professor Kurt Pregitzer, another FACE Experiment researcher from Michigan Tech, calls Aspen FACE "a window into the future."

"We're beginning to understand how the changing atmosphere of the Earth is going to impact forests and the interactions that control the growth of trees, the cycling of energy and nutrients, and the movement of water through ecosystems," he said.

"This particular paper points out how important understanding the interactions among plants and insects are in controlling forest growth and forest health.

"We have a lot to learn."
This video, produced when Dr. Karnosky was still alive, (link in case it doesn't play here) tells you all you need to know about the "...sharks that smell blood in the water."  Notice the speckled and shriveled leaves in the elevated ozone - exactly the way all leaves have been looking, everywhere, this past growing season!

Here is the video from the Union of Concerned Scientists from which the screen shots were taken:

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