Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Ozone Research and Vegetative Impacts Worse Case Scenarios by Ray Knighton, USDA

Today I have reproduced the slides used in a presentation by Ray Knighton of the USDA in 2006, which was given as part of the Agricultural Air Quality Task Force Meeting.  Even without his verbal accompaniment, they represent a concise primer for what ozone does to crops, and range in expression from wholly unwarranted silly cheeriness, to thinly veiled panic, as we shall see.
This is the same Ray Knighton referred to in the minutes of last July's annual meeting of the NE-1013, who announced to those academics that there will be no funding to train new scientists to study ozone:

"Reduced funding for ozone research and challenges experienced obtaining funding were also discussed. Concern was voiced and discussed about the future of the study of plant response to ozone as a whole generation of scientists is being lost now due to lack of funding with no new scientists being trained, while this air pollutant continues to be an increasing problem. Ray Knighton gave a presentation via conference call. General budgetary constraints and funding challenges at the federal level were described. Lack of funding for travel was the reason Ray was only able to attend the meeting remotely, as was also the case for most committee members who did not attend in person."
That is pathetic considering that already in 2006, these scientists understood the serious threat ozone poses to our food supply, not to mention, a threat which is growing non-linearly as background levels increase.  But that comes a little later in the show.
Is there any point in embellishing those bullet points?  1.  Ozone travels; 2. the constant background level of ozone adversely impacts crops and forests; and 3.  the regulators understand that they cannot comply with stricter (safe) standards because of inexorably increasingly high background levels.
Keep in mind that anyone who bothered to look during the past three growing seasons would find precisely those symptoms of stippling depicted - and often even more severe chlorosis, necrosis and marginal leaf burn - on virtually every single leaf!
These describe the losses of direct damage from exposure, but far worse occurs when plants that are compromised become more vulnerable to insects, disease and fungus.
Looking at this chart can we expect anything if not skyrocketing food prices?
The next slides are meant to indicate the several methods that scientists have used to determine that ozone is toxic to vegetation.  It isn't just ONE, but many different types of experiments which have all determined the same thing.  This isn't just a couple of ozonistas making wild pronouncements!
In addition to lab work there have been major, long-term field experiments.
Read says that modelers overestimated CO2 sequestration because they do not account for O3.  Oops, better be can get into trouble in the climate change world for suggesting that!
In addition to trees, much work has been done with crops.  Now, why would the USDA devote so many resources to studying ozone impacts and ways to thwart them, if it was an inconsequential threat?  Answer...they wouldn't, if it weren't a significant threat to food supplies.
The following numbers are just plain scary especially when you consider that,  along with everything else in climate science predictions, the real progression is much faster than anyone anticipated.
Note:  the results were worse in the field experiments than expected from laboratory tests - probably because of the synergistic effects of other variables, especially the aforementioned insects, disease and fungus that preferentially attack plants damaged from exposure to ozone.
This is where it gets cute - "...if we do not find a solution."  What is the solution?  Oh, probably the end of industrial civilization, why pretend?
The first point is so classic - we have to remain competitive with South America!  Note also:  ALL varieties show at least *some* yield loss.  And I don't know why people continue to be perplexed that plants haven't managed to evolve tolerance to ozone in the past hundred years - how long do they think evolution takes?  I doubt we've got the tens of thousands of years that would be required for plants to evolve, any more than it could take less than that for the corals and shellfish to adjust to ocean acidification in a matter of a few decades.  I think people really need to brush up on natural selection and how LONG that takes!
Yep.  Other kinds of pollution are bad for plants too - but nothing beats ozone.  This was discovered in the 1950's and hasn't changed one iota.
Okay this is where the frantic starts to creep in.  It's not just smaller harvests - it is harvests that don't provide the same amount of nutrition to cows, sheep, pigs and horses.  So the problem becomes magnified.
I kind of like this guy Ray.  I'm sure it wasn't HIS idea to defund ozone research, and besides, parse this next slide.
He makes the obvious disclaimers about how complex the systems are and how difficult it is to attribute effects to any one agent but then with this HUGE *Nevertheless* he segues into "the compelling weight of evidence results from the convergence of results from many various and disparate assessment methods including chamber and free air exposure, crop yield and tree seedling biomass experimental studies, foliar injury data from biomonitoring plots and modeled mature tree growth."
Hey, wasn't I just saying that!  Trees are dying and there is a compelling weight of evidence that ozone is the cause.
The last point in the slide above is absolutely key although I don't know if Mr. Knighton realizes it:  "Due to the non-linear shape of many crop-ozone dose-response curves, we might expect a disproportionately larger effect for each unit increase in global average ozone concentrations."  That, my friends, is another way to describe the precipitous build-up to a tipping point, which judging by the rapidly deteriorating condition of trees, happens to be just about where we are at the moment.
The absurdity has fully arrived.  First of all, you have to wonder...exactly WHAT are the worse case scenarios that may come to pass?  Do these scientists and regulators talk about that, behind closed doors?  Furthermore, even IF there could be genetically altered crops bred to survive in the increasingly poisonous invisible soup created from emissions of fuel and fertilizer - IF - what the hell good is that going to do for the infinitely greater number and variety of WILD plants and trees...vegetation that happens to be essential for life to exist on earth, including our own??  Well, NOTHING that's what!  Look below - he ends by looking forward to "useful products".  Magic potions, perhaps?

I actually have amassed quite a few other new articles, studies, reports and books about ozone and the nitrogen cascade over a busy Christmas...and it's going to take some time to sort through them - so I think I'll post just this for now.

I hope everyone is having a lovely holiday!


  1. What Mossey said.

    Sadly, where I live we used to have two maple trees in front our house, neither of which was more than about 30 years old since they were part of the landscaping and that's how old our development is. The first one died a couple of years ago and is gone. I was looking out the window this morning and noticing how sickly the other one looks. I would gather it likely won't survive too many more years.


  2. Big leaf Maples are pretty much going extinct out here in SW BC. I can't even find one anymore than isn't in dire straights. No one cares or notices it seems though.

  3. Every leaf of every big leaf maple I saw when visiting the west coast twice in the past two years - a species I hadn't even known existed before, which is very beautiful - had marginal leaf burn.

    Today, I went to see Sherlock Holmes and wasn't surprised, but still sad, to see that the trees filmed on location in England, France and Germany are precisely as damaged as those around Wit's End in New Jersey.

    There was one scene, at Watson's wedding, that had a close up of leaves in the foreground and they were spotted, tattered and distinctly ugly. And there were forest panoramas with thinning and bare pine trees.

    As you said, Anon, no one seems to care or notice.

  4. Thank you Gail for what you do here. It is so depressing: I'm glad I'm old. Thanks for your eye: I saw the Sherlock Holmes movie and did not notice the state of the trees...

  5. petronelle, it is sort of a joke I have with myself that I can find dying trees anywhere, including recently filmed movies and commercials. Once you recognize the symptoms of damaged foliage, broken branches and cankers and holes and transparent pines and so forth, it's impossible to miss that we are in a very bad trend.

    Thank you for reading, and have a Happy New Year!

  6. I find myself constantly scanning movies, people's facebook photos, old internet photos etc for signs of the decline. It's sort of become an obsession over the last few years for me. I don't know why I do it, it just makes me more depressed but I can't stop.

  7. Well Anon, assuming you're not being facetious, it makes me feel better to DO something even if it won't really change anything. I am toying with the notion of labeling trees with signs that say "Help me, I'm dying!" or something along those lines...

  8. I'm definitely being serious. I have not done the research you have into the causes so much but definitely noticed the trend back in the summer of 2009 and have been watching with great sadness ever since. I like the tree signs idea. I wonder if people would even understand though.

  9. Hm Anon, I apologize, one never knows when Godwin's Law might apply on the intertubes.

    Interesting that you noticed in 2009. I noticed in 2008, and I feel that since I have been a very close observer - for purely selfish reasons, since I am a gardener and have planted many trees - that something important and significant happened then. What, I am not sure...A tipping point? Biofuel emissions? Nitrogen cascade?

    Any thoughts are welcome. They are not coming from the established sources, that's for sure.

  10. Yes I think maybe a converging of numerous factors finally hitting a tipping point. I have noticed certain areas are still faring far better than others but the overall situation seems very grim. I think your area is probably the worst I've seen, but things are quite bad over here in the PNW too, as you've seen.

    That all being said, from what I saw back in 09 I honestly expected something was so drastically wrong that all the trees would be dead by this point. It does seem to take a while for a lot of them to die. There are some cedars here that were quite thin in 09 and still look more or less the same today. Other trees seemingly went from reasonable condition to completely dead in a hurry though, so it's hard to say what causes one tree to suddenly succumb while others cling to life for years. I guess I'm just rambling now , but these are just some things I've observed.

  11. Given how suddenly they started to look damaged, I also expected them to die more quickly. They apparently store quite a bit of energy that they can draw upon when stressed. Trees are very tenacious - think of the old saying about the oaks, 3 hundred years growing, 3 hundred years living, 3 hundred years dying.

    Having said that, in the geologic timescale, they ARE dying in the blink of an eye.

  12. Trees are, as I think you've said, very hardy and life in general is tenacious. I've tried to grow plants in my overheated NYC apt many times, and they always die from the heat, but it takes them a while. A hanging ivy will lose a few strands and then a few more, but it will take a very long time to totally die off.

    Just saw a slideshow of natural disasters from 2011, and many of them were eruptions from volcanoes that haven't erupted in many, many years. Any thoughts on whether those may be related to GW? Here's the link in case you're interested (and yes, I know that not all of these were "natural" disasters):


    Great post, by the way.

  13. Thanks for reading, anon.

    There are definitely scientific predictions that AGW will lead to increased seismic activity, mainly because of melting ice and glaciers - the weight reduction is actually tremendous, and this causes the tectonic sheets to deflect...not to mention that there will be more weight in the oceans.

    Of course, like extreme weather events, we cannot attribute any single event to blah blah blah..did you see the kitchen table comic!?

  14. I totally agree. In geological times it is happening in the blink of an eye.

    In terms of a human lifespan I supposed it could still take a good portion of our relatively short lives.

    Somewhat unfortunately, humans seem to be good at adapting psychologically (more like ignoring) such things when they happen at a somewhat moderate pace in comparison to their own lifespans.

    I think it would take a sudden and very very extreme die-off event worldwide to really wake everyone up. Ironically it would obviously be far too late at that point to really do anything about it.

    I'm fairly doubtful that people could/will even wake up in time to do anything about it as it stands anyways. I think the article you posted about human nature/evolutionary mechanisms summed up quite amazingly why it will be difficulty to avoid this collision course with complete disaster.

    I've always been a bit of a pessimist but I feel in this case it is completely justified.

    Thanks for your hard work on the blog.

  15. Re human irrationality, I recommend Kahneman, "Thinking Fast and Slow", and "You Are Not So Smart . . ." by McRaney. Both have very scary implications for the various catastrophes that are unfolding before our eyes. "Idiot America . . ." by Pierce traces the rise in irrational thinking in the US and its ties to the far right (McRaney does at a few points as well, haven't finished it yet). However, "Life Inc." by Rushkoff, IIRC, debunks the prisoner's dilemma experiment, and a lot of the other research is based on it or experiments derived from it.

    Thanks, Gail, for the response about volcano eruptions, I hadn't thought of earthquakes as being related to GW but I think they probably are. I've read about the permafrost melting, and it is horrific. One Alaskan village is falling into the sea, and the methane gas problem is going to be of horrific proportions. I don't know whether that was predicted back when, I don't recall it.

    Thanks for the blog to the comic spot, will check it out.


  16. Looking forward to finding those books! Here's one pretty good article about seismic activity - but if you just google it with climate change you'll get many, many links:

  17. I highly, highly recommend these books to you. From what you've done here, I think you'd really get a lot out of them.

    Also, Greg Palast wrote "The Best Demoracy Money Can Buy" and it really opened my eyes. Has things about the 2000 election that have never appeared here, and many other dysfunctionalities of American life. He has a new book out, but I think it was a rush job and am not going to read it.

    Have many other recommendations on related topics if you're interested, but those would probably be of most interest to you.

    Will try to write something that coherently explains the relationship between the findings by these psychologists and how they've gotten us to this point.

    I always thought that democracy was a marketplace of ideas. But if you add in the Supreme Court's finding that money equals speech, and thing about Gresham's Law, well, my thinking was naive to say the least and, as much I scoffed at various mythologies of America, I clearly bought into some, perhaps many, of them, however unwittingly. There's a book out called Monoculture that discusses this but it's really very simplistic and not worth any time or money.

    Thanks for sharing your wit and creativity with all of us!

  18. I certainly bought into much of the American myth. I thought it was a responsibility to vote and any suggestion otherwise offended me. But now I can see voting is just validating a system based on propaganda and injustice. I also thought it was critically important to own a home - but now I see that the way it's set up, a mortgage is a form of indentured servitude...and student loans prevent young people from rebelling while conditioning them to be willing participants in a rigged society.

    I guess we'll find out how truly ruthless our fascist overlords are when they start detaining citizens in FEMA camps on suspicion of suspicion...

  19. Just read, "The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule" by Thomas Frank. Details just how the neocons gutted all of our regulatory agencies, and at the end, proposes a very interesting theory of how they Republicans have, very cynically, created deficits so that they can use them to force Democrats to cut spending. He mentions something I'd forgotten, which is that David Stockman, Reagan's whiz kid on supply-side economics, privately came to disavow the theory almost as soon as Reagan got into office , but the conservatives used it anyway simply to blackmail the Democrats.

  20. Frank makes the connection I was trying to between the failure of liberalism and this spate of psychology books showing that no, we are not rational. The liberals count on the conservatives to play fair, and they don't. That was one of my central errors in thinking about democracy as the marketplace of ideas, in which the best idea would win in the end and even though the Republicans were more into self-interest than the Democrats were, even they would have to understand that if we're to survive as a community or society or world, self-interest has to be enlightened. Apparently these people have never head of the tragedy of the commons, or, I now realize, simply don't care. People do not necessarily care when logic or other forms of proof show that they are incorrect. Not in this country, in which over 90 per cent of the country believes in creationism. The frightening thing about the psych books is how easily people dehumanize others and turn to brutality, esp when they are frightened and/or angry and in the grip of groupthink. Kahneman says that when people are shown images of mortality, they become more authoritarian, things like that. Not for the weak of stomach.

  21. I don't think quite 90 percent in this country believe in creationism - if that is as opposed to natural selection (evolution) - figures I've seen are more around 50 percent, indicating such wide-spread ignorance that it is still mind-boggling. But, for sure everything else you relate is part of a very disturbing trent towards fascism, and ruthless individualism, which does not encourage optimism for the welfare of any species.


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