Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A Slow Awakening

A new study reveals that trees are dying in Africa, and of course blames less precipitation from climate change.  Following are some pictures taken in the past week of trees in Africa which were posted to facebook by Larry Schweiger, President of the National Wildlife Federation.
These gorgeous photos are listed as being taken in Botswana which, if you look at a map of Africa, is far from the Sahel, which was the area studied in the research linked to above.
The Sahel stretches from west to east, comprised of the countries that are brightly colored.  Botswana is the country centered just above South Africa, at the very southern part of the continent.  It should be the beginning of summer in that hemisphere, so why there are so many trees without leaves, so much grass that is brown, and even bare earth, is concerning.  Here's my response on Climate Progress, to the study saying trees are dying from drought:

But, trees are dying in places that have become wetter, too. As is finally becoming more widely recognized, trees are dying in all sorts of habitats everywhere around the world.

Does anyone remember when I was ridiculed for saying so? And banned by Real Climate for suggesting models should take into account the loss of a major carbon sink?
Now even the New York Times is reporting: “With Death of Forest, a Loss of Key Climate Protectors”!
– but they are still blaming irregularities in precipitation from climate change which, although certain to drive trees to extinction eventually, isn’t the underlying reason they are dying so fast.
If it’s not more or less precipitation they have in common, what is behind this unmistakable trend, then?  It seems only logical to ask, what do trees everywhere share in common?
The atmosphere!! Ozone precursors from burning fuel and other industrial processes are traveling around the globe, going in and out of complex chemical reactions. The persistant background level is inexorably rising. Scientists have been publishing research for decades indicating that ozone is toxic to vegetation.

I am afraid we have hit a tipping point where trees and other plants are suffocating in our pollution, either dying directly from exposure, or so weakened they are succumbing to secondary attacks by insects, disease and fungus. This increased vulnerability has been demonstrated in many controlled experiments, which have also shown that trees exposed to ozone are more likely to suffer damage from drought, wind and winter cold.
There is something quite peculiar about the reluctance of scientists, foresters, agronomists and government regulatory agencies to acknowledge what is rather obvious – we are killing the very species that are at the bottom of the food chain. Why wouldn’t they want people to understand this salient fact?
oh, wait…
Here's another story from the New York Times just yesterday, about a study trying to understand why there is such a widespread dieback of trees, this one focussing on the effects of drought on aspen in the western US.  Ho hum, WOULDN'T you think that at some point, some actual scientist might wonder what universal factor underlies a universal trend??  Here's my comment to that one!
I really don't understand why the NYT refuses to even consider including the underlying role of inexorably rising, persistant background levels of tropospheric ozone. There exists vast amounts of published research, including biomonitoring and open-air fumigation experiments, indicating that ozone is toxic to vegetation, and NOTHING ELSE - not drought, insects, disease or fungus - explains why young trees being watered in nurseries are exhibiting the exact same well-known symptoms of exposure to ozone that mature trees in the wild show, as for that matter, do annual crops and ornamentals being watered in pots. As Mr. Gillis has at last acknowledged, insects are opportunists. They and the disease, fungus and certain lichens are preying on trees that are already dying from air pollution.


  1. I can understand that ozone levels may be elevated in the northern hemisphere. But what is raising them in the southern hemisphere? These are largely independent circulation systems. At the least, tree-death in the southern hemisphere should be lagging the north by many years--shouldn't it?

    Whatever is doing it, I agree that the trees are in trouble and where I live have been so for at least a decade. The Halloween slush storm not only broke down a lot of trees, but as I was clearing paths in a nearby park I got to see just how unhealthy the wood was--no visible disease or rot but just totally weak.

    By the way, do you know what the blue-green lichen is that you mentioned in a previous post? We have a lot of it here and I would like to know more about it.


  2. Gaianne,

    I certainly don't have all the answers! I have been told New Zealand is in better shape, due to the separation of the hemispheres. Australia and Africa are terrible, but they have drought. If there is a relation to biofuel, however, that could be a factor because Brazil has been burning it for quite some time.

    As for the lichen, there is more information here: http://witsendnj.blogspot.com/2010/04/lichen-schmiken.html

    There are more than one kind, but the predominant one is the kind I saw at the Boston Museum of Science, described at the bottom of this post: http://witsendnj.blogspot.com/2010/03/that-was-then-and-this-is-now.html
    Flavoparmelia caperata (green shield) and less so a species of usnea, known as Old Man's Beard, which I have seen in Newport, RI, Wellfleet, MA, and most spectacularly in Santa Cruz, which I filmed at the end of this video: http://witsendnj.blogspot.com/2011/12/harvard-forest-being-eaten-alive-by.html

    A professor at Harvard recently wrote (predictably) that the lichen does not harm the tree but YOU WILL SEE MORE OF IT in forests that are in "decline" which to me says, since the lichen is covering entire trees, the forests are declining, ie dying, duh! But of course he wouldn't go that far.

  3. The trees are definitely dying here in southwestern BC and we are DEFINITELY not in drought. You know how it is with scientists though, they'll never push the panic button and say we've got a worldwide epidemic. Whether it is their choice not to or the higher ups have silenced them is a matter of debate. Great blog.

  4. A link to a Guardian article on tree death and drought in the Amazon from earlier this year that might interest you: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/feb/03/tree-deaths-amazon-climate?INTCMP=SRCH.

    There has also been some very alarming news about the melting of the Arctic permafrost which has already greatly speeded up releases of methane, which is incredibly toxic to the atmosphere, and is expected to continue apace. The melting of the permafrost and icecap also has means that a village in Alaska is about to slide into the ocean, I read the other day (sorry, don't remember where).

  5. Thanks Anon - I actually just posted the links to the methane research - but I will check out the Amazon.

    Sigh. So little time, so many trees dying...

  6. If you haven't already seen it, you might want to read this: http://www.salon.com/2011/12/05/extreme_droughts_the_new_normal/. Ties together the environmental catastrophe that's unfolding, as shown by droughts in the SE US, with what archeological evidence show have resulted in the fall of earlier civilizations, and suggest that they were accompanied by violence.

  7. I will definitely check it out! Thanks and stay tuned, cause I'm about to post something about droughts...in a bit.

  8. Thank you very much for sharing this... I wish more people understood what was happening.
    Blogs like this are invaluable.

    Again, thank you.



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