Thursday, February 16, 2012

Where Have All the Forests Gone? Long Time Passing...Where Have All The Trees Gone? Long Time Ago...The Answer is Blowing in the Wind...When Will We Ever Learn?

Just so readers of Wit's End won't imagine that all I do (as opposed to almost all) is blog about trees dying from ozone pollution, as evidence I present pictures of favorite paintings taken when I went to the Philadelphia Art Museum on Sunday, to see the special Van Gogh exhibit.  Photography was not allowed inside the actual show, unfortunately, because it was spectacularly, ecstatically absolutely incredible experience I shared with middle daughter and friend Catarina.  The curator had limited the selection to landscapes and other images of the natural world, of which Van Gogh was deeply reverent.
To round out that perspective, a companion display consisted of late 19th century photographs of trees and forests which were novel and quite popular at the time he was painting, often used by artists as aides in composition.  This inspired me to look for archival pictures of trees when I returned home, and so this post will be interspersed with pictures of paintings from the museum, and antique photos of trees.  Almost all of the pictures in this set are from the west, and include axe murderers loggers who are so tiny sometimes you almost can't find them next to the immense trunks.  I've put little ^ signs underneath the smallest to indicate where they are, because it has come to my attention that people think that today's trees are mature.  Except in rare instances of preservation, they are not.
According to research published in 1993 about the continental US,

"By the end of  the 19th century, much of the northern forest had been cleared for agricultural use or heavily logged for timber products, with the exception of extreme northern areas of Maine and  the Great Lakes States and some inaccessible areas in the Appalachian mountains.  Beginning  in the mid-nineteenth century and accelerating in the 20th century, marginal agricultural land has reverted to forest, producing a large proportion of forests in the 25 to 65 yr age-classes"... which would make them now in the 45 - 85 year age-classes.  That is NOT mature for many if not most species of tree.  Maples, for instance, live comfortably to 300 years, oaks easily twice that, and various conifers into the low thousands.
Area of productive forest land by region and year for the continental United States
Although the passage above refers to the northern forest, most of the pictures on this post are from the South and even more predominantly, the West.  This is because much of the old-growth in the North and East was (tragically and ruthlessly) removed long before the invention of the camera.  Still, these photos remain illustrative of several crucial aspects that are lacking in trees today in whatever location.  The sheer size and age that trees can attain absent modern human influence is astounding, and also worthy of note is how they can grow cheek-by-jowl as it were.  Trunk-by-branch?  Anyway they can be snuggled right next to each other and sometimes even on top of each other, and still manage to achieve ancient status...and look extraordinarily robust compared to today's specimens.
This is actually an outlier, from Australia - a venerable eucalyptus
The caption of the above graph, which originated in a US Forest Service document, describes a trend in the northern and southern forests of what looks - to me - like utter decimation, as the "area of productive forest".  Perhaps most people don't realize that the US FS is an arm of the lumber industry.  The old photos I found are mostly from the Forest Service as well, and the captions are similarly Orwellian and surreal.  They read like a necrophiliac's diary.  I'll juxtapose a few of them with pictures, starting with a selection of photos that are convincing testimony to the extraordinary strength and resilience of *healthy* trees.  Today, trees fall over when you look at them cross-eyed, but apparently, that was not always the case:
"A Douglas fir forest is not static. Growth and death occur on the same acre. Tree farming seeks to save the values in forests before the trees sicken, die and fall to the ground as waste. Nature is a far greater waster of forest material than is the logger and topples untold millions of board feet to the ground in old growth forests not harvested when ripe."  Trees are described as "waste" - what pathetic justification for destruction!  Board feet are "ripe" like fruit...but, fruit is a product of the tree, not the tree itself.
"This crew of fallers, carrying cross-cut saws and axes, are coming back to camp after a day in the woods. Tall Douglas fir and Hemlock trees shade the road down which they walk. Harvest, under modern logging procedures being followed today, mark the beginning of a new forest on the land."
Nonsense...modern logging procedures, then and now, utterly ruin the chance a forest with anything like the diversity of the original will replace it.
"Old over-mature, veteran western white pine near Stocking Meadows, St. Joe National Forest, Idaho."  I love the notion of "over-mature".   Most of these photos are of white pine, hemlock, spruce, ponderosa pine, and Douglas fir.  
see the axe buried ^ in the trunk for scale
"1930:  A stand of hemlock and spruce in the Tongass National Forest, 1930. Some sawtimber and pulpwood was sold, but the economics of the period retarded development."  - This refers to the Great Depression, and "retarded development" means even more trees would have been slaughtered, but due to the poor economy there were no buyers. 
Two men............... here ^ and here ^
"These giant ponderosa pines located in Northern California are past maturity and should be cut for merchantable timber. By Removing over-ripe trees like these, forest space can be made available for faster growing young trees that will produce wood for future use. Note forester in center foreground marking tree trunk for cutting."  This is a grotesque distortion of the ecology of forests.  The younger trees will be unable to thrive absent the shelter of the old trees.
    The ^ logger is here
"Fine type of Old Growth Douglas Fir Timber six feet in diameter. The moss indicates constant humidity.  Douglas fir remains Washington state's most important commercial species."  It would be difficult to overstate just how anthropocentric humans are about other living things.  Oddly appropriately, it will be our ultimate downfall as a species.
"This photograph of a virgin stand of white pine was made on Menomonee Indian Reservation land. The stand is typical of the fine forests that once covered much of the Great Lakes area. Land that produced trees like these can again produce forests of merchantable timber if it is replanted and protected from fire."  It's a convenient fantasy that we could replant and achieve a stand like least, not in time frames that mean anything to humans and certainly not the other animals that were dependent on that habitat.
Chopping ^ wood and                       ^ watching
"Virgin timber land before being cleaned up showing decadent growth. Trees will be cut, leaving enough natural seed trees to reforest the area."  First it's over-mature, next you know, it's decadent!
"Old growth Douglas fir ready for harvest. It takes several hundred years to mature trees of this size. Tree farming is a business which deals with lifetimes and requires long range planning."  Tree "farming" is a fallacy which will never produce trees hundreds of years old, because the entire environment has been fatally disrupted, from precipitation to soil microbes.  Even animals play a role in reforestation, and what do you suppose happens to them when everything is cut down?
American Chestnuts, 1910, North Carolina

"Characteristic growth of chestnut in poplar cove. The big trees in the background in the center of the illustration are poplar. The five large ones in the foreground are chestnut. This growth is unusually heavy. The trees are large, sound and free from visible defects. Nantahala National Forest. Old growth hardwoods on Santella [Santeetlah] Creek, Andrew Gannet Tract. Graham Co., NC." 

Fancy that - free from visible defect!!  Try finding a tree of ANY age tree free of defect nowadays...not in New Jersey, that is for sure.  Every single one has at least one prominent symptom of decline, whether it's holes, peeling bark, cankers, or lost needles or broken branches.
Logger in        ^    the center
These Victorian panels depicting the seasons are overly ornate and frivolous, but they remind me of the abundance of nature, so here they are, with an article about ominous Canadian recalcitrance.

Apparently, Canada doesn't want to know, and doesn't want anybody else to know, just how bad tropospheric ozone is, because according to this article, the government has decided to shut down much of the monitoring system:

"'Canada is a bellwether for environmental change, not only for Arctic ozone depletion but also for pollutants that stream to North America from other continents,' Anne Thompson, a professor of meteorology at Penn State University, said in a release. 'It's unthinkable that data collection is beginning to shut down in this vast country.'"

"For the past 30 years, Canadian scientists have also measured the soot and pollution that comes from Europe and Asia from fossil fuels and forest fires through a series of observation stations. Those stations are part of the Global Atmosphere Watch Aerosol Lidar Observation Network."
"But the scientists say five of those Canadian light detection and ranging (lidar) observation stations have been closed and the CORALnet website that distributed the data has disappeared.  Environment Canada warned last fall that budget cuts could affect more than 700 scientific and research positions. Last month, it sent out notices to 60 scientists and researchers that they were losing their jobs."

"But the authors warn these cuts could affect Canada's contribution to four major international agreements that depend on detailed ozone and atmospheric measurements. They include the Montreal Protocol, signed in 1987 to reduce ozone depletion, and the U.S.-Canada Air Quality Agreement, which was signed in 1988."
"'Canada stands to lose an entire community of highly-respected scientists who are experts on ozone and climate if further proposed cuts go through,' said Jennifer Logan, an atmospheric chemist at Harvard University."

"But Canadian scientists say they still can't get any concrete information about exactly how all the cuts will affect their work."

"Thomas Duck, a professor of atmospheric science at Dalhousie University, was one of first people to sound the alarm about the budget cuts last fall.  He says Environment Canada simply won't tell anyone which monitoring stations have been shut down.  'It's cloaked in secrecy. We really have no concrete information.' he said."
"Federal Environment Minister Peter Kent has said in the past his department is "streamlining" its core programs, not cutting them. But Environment Canada didn't respond to CBC's request to comment on the most recent warnings from the international scientists."

"However, Duck hopes that increased international concern over Canada's scientific obligations may help to convince the government that cutting science jobs could affect people's health and the country's reputation."

"'To have such leading scientists weigh in with their concerns about cuts to Environment Canada shows just how serious the situation is,' Duck said."
It's impossible to know if this cutback is really due to budgetary constraints, or is, who knows, more sinister - that they do not want the facts revealed?   Kind of like the US Forest Service discontinuing their ozone biomonitoring program?? 

Speaking of cynicism, I have to include a quote that takes the cake, from an academic whore (the worst kind), which comes at the end of the report "Southern California Air Pollution Puts Residents At Risk Of Death".
From the study, "Estimating the National Public Health Burden
Associated With Exposure To Ambient PM2.5 and Ozone
"The counties with the largest estimated percentage of mortality due to PM2.5 and ozone tend to be in the northeastern United States, the industrial Midwest, and southern California".
             Two gentlemen  ^     ^

"James Enstrom, a researcher with UCLA’s School of Public Health, argues that while there is a connection between air quality and health effects, the EPA study fails to acknowledge regional nuances when it comes to the real risks of premature deaths."
"'The question is whether there is enough epidemiological evidence to conclude that air pollution kills people,” Enstrom said. 'Every piece of evidence for the state of California as a whole shows that there’s no effect (on mortality). There’s some effect in the Los Angeles basin, but that’s not a fair representation of absolute risk.'"
^                                      Woodsman
"Enstrom, who in the past has received research funding from industries opposed to stricter air quality regulations, said the costs of these regulations are 'only justified if it’s killing people.  The other morbidities associated with (air pollution) are lung problems, hospitalizations, asthma, and those don’t amount to enough to affect the cost-benefit ratios,' he said."
I guess he forgot to read the study, which says unambiguously:  "...we estimate 130,000 PM2.5-related deaths and 4,700 ozone-related deaths to result from 2005 air quality levels. Among populations aged 65–99, we estimate nearly 1.1 million life years lost from PM2.5 exposure and approximately 36,000 life years lost from ozone exposure."
Just trees - dense, lush, gorgeous trees

"Among the 10 most populous counties, the percentage of deaths attributable to PM2.5 and ozone ranges from 3.5% in San Jose to 10% in Los Angeles. These results show that despite significant improvements in air quality in recent decades, recent levels of PM2.5 and ozone still pose a nontrivial risk to public health."  And that's just deaths, which is not counting his trivialization of MILLIONS of incidents of respiratory symptoms, asthma attacks, hospitalizations, lost work and school days listed in the study.  Don't you think he'd be embarrassed to be quoted publicly saying that all those illnesses "don't amount to enough to affect the cost-benefit ratio"?  How does this cretin sleep at night?
A saw or axe is ^ embedded in this Douglas Fir

Well, returning to the topic of trees, I decided to check back in with the Aspen FACE (Free Air Carbon Dioxide Enrichment) experimental site in Wisconsin, to see what new research may have how time flies... Since I last looked, a couple of new papers of particular relevance have been published.  I had been sort of horrified when I found out last year that everything had been cut down by 2010 - because, I was told, the trees had gotten too big to fumigate in the outdoor chambers.  I was assured  it wouldn't affect future results, because the roots were the same.  Now, this ignores the rather obvious fact that a copious percentage of any disease, fungus or insect population that had been thriving in a high-ozone regime would be removed, and I still don't see why they couldn't have topped them, but whatever...

Published last June 2011, a study is titled "Exposure to moderate concentrations of tropospheric ozone impairs tree stomatal response to carbon dioxide".  I know it's boring sciency speak, but these two studies go further than most, in my estimation, in making it clear that ozone is a clear and present danger to trees.  I've added some emphasis if you must skim:
^           logger alert
"With rising concentrations of both atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) and tropospheric ozone (O3), it is important to better understand the interacting effects of these two trace gases on plant physiology affecting land-atmosphere gas exchange. We investigated the effect of growth under elevated CO2 and O3, singly and in combination, on the primary short-term stomatal response to CO2 concentration in paper birch at the Aspen FACE experiment."
"Leaves from trees grown in elevated CO2 and/or O3 exhibited weaker short-term responses of stomatal conductance to both an increase and a decrease in CO2 concentration from current ambient level. The impairement of the stomatal CO2 response by O3 most likely developed progressively over the growing season as assessed by sap flux measurements. Our results suggest that expectations of plant water-savings and reduced stomatal air pollution uptake under rising atmospheric CO2 may not hold for northern hardwood forests under concurrently rising tropospheric O3."
               ^   Leaning on his axe

Plant leaf stomata constitute a crucial interface between terrestrial vegetation and the atmosphere, regulating their exchange of matter and energy. Rising concentrations of both atmospheric carbon dioxide ([CO2]) and tropospheric ozone ([O3]); are expected to reduce stomatal conductance (gs), with future atmospheric change thus being projected to reduce plant water use, possibly resulting in increased continental runoff."

[Increased continental runoff?  That sounds like we could expect more landslides and mudslides...oh, wait...]
Trees of all ages
"Impairement of stomatal responsiveness to CO2 in the absence of negative effects on photosynthesis suggests that stomatal functioning is very sensitive to chronic O3 exposure and is likely already impaired over large areas of industrialized regions where ambient [O3] equals or exceeds those in eO3 treatment at in the Aspen FACE experiment."
Men walking home after logging

"Loss of stomatal responsiveness may reduce growth and fitness, particularly under conditions of limited water availability. There are two current hypotheses regarding drought by O3 interactions on plant growth. Either, drought may ameliorate negative effects of O3 on growth as a consequence of reduced stomatal O3 uptake under dry conditions, or elevated O3 may predispose plants to more severe drought stress through loss of stomatal control over transpiration."
[And that's without even factoring in the reduced root mass from ozone damage.]
"The first type of interaction, observed for beech productivity in a free-air O3 enrichment experiment in mature mixed beech-spruce forest, is potentially accounted for in O3 risk assessments based on stomatal O3 flux. Flux-based O3 indices have been shown to perform better than O3 indices based on external exposure in metaanalyses of experiments with both crops and forest trees."
British Columbia.  Pony on left!
"The second type of interaction was observed in the Aspen FACE experiment, where reduced stomatal sensitivity to VPD coincided with more severe drought in pure aspen stands exposed to eO3 during the dry summer of 2005. Incorporation of this type of interaction in O3 risk assessment requires not only additional parameters/functions to represent effects of elevated O3 on stomatal responses to other environmental variables, but also improved ecosystem representation in O3 flux modelling to account for coupled soil-plant-atmosphere interactions."
                      A man leans on the tree ^
"...In conclusion, our results demonstrate that the stomatal responsiveness to CO2 may be significantly reduced in leaves from trees grown under eCO2 and/or eO3 concentrations. Further study of stomatal impairement/acclimation under altered trace gas composition is critically needed, as findings reported here potentially have strong implications for the understanding and prediction of plant functioning and vegetation-atmosphere interactions under atmospheric change."

Another is titled "Acute O3 Damage on first year coppice sprouts of aspen and maple sprouts in an open-air experiment":
         There ^ he is!              

"Tropospheric ozone (O3) is one of the serious air pollutants that have negative effects on both plants and animals.  Results from large-scale field experiments have shown conclusively that forest trees are adversely affected by O3 at concentrations as low as 50–60 mol."
"Due to increasing concentration of O3 in the troposphere, mainly as a result of anthropogenic activities, greater portions of the global forest ecosystem are now subject to toxic O3."

"In plants, O3 toxicity is manifested as visible foliar symptoms such as necrotic lesions, decreases in yield and growth, changes in carbon assimilation and stomatal conductance, and total leaf necrosis."
"Previously, O3 damage was thought to be mainly due to external exposure (external contact with air pollutant not uptake), whereas more recently it is understood that leaf O3 uptake is more directly related to O3 injury."

"Ozone uptake by leaves occurs through stomatal and non-stomatal pathways.  Non-stomatal uptake includes O3 deposition on cuticles, while stomatal uptake is associated with stomatal conductance. Low stomatal conductance observed in Mediterranean plants has been associated with their high O3 tolerance, as this leads to lower O3 uptake, and lower O3 concentration inside the leaf, causing less damage."  [Although to read crop loss assessments from Spain, Italy and Greece, you have to wonder how accurate that last statement is.]
"More recently Fares et al. observed that O3 fluxes inside the leaves were directly affected by stomatal conductance and both decreased with leaf age. Short term acute O3 exposure does not significantly affect stomatal conductance unlike long-term exposure which can cause significant decreases in stomatal conductance, possibly due to the sluggish nature of stomata under high O3 levels."

"Heavy O3 doses could lead to rapid O3 accumulation in intercellular spaces before stomatal closure occurs, resulting in acute O3 damage."
Necrotic aspen leaves - the older (middle) are in worse condition from longer cumulative exposure.
The lowest leaves have fallen off.
"In addition to O3 resistance via low stomatal conductance, the ameliorative effects of elevated CO2 concentration on the adverse effects of O3 have been documented in experiments involving simultaneous exposure to both gases."

"Under elevated CO2 plants often have decreased stomatal conductance, which, in turn, decreases O3 uptake and therefore reduces O3 damage."
"Recently, Uddling et al. reported that the interaction between elevated CO2 and O3 at the stomatal level may not necessarily result in a decrease in adverse O3 effects. This is because elevated CO2 did not decrease stomatal conductance significantly as much as predicted by various models, and hence, stomatal O3 uptake is not decreased much especially in northern hardwood forests."
[In other words, this was a comforting notion not matched in the real world.]
Trees clustered close together
"Most of the previous reports come from studies involving chronic exposure to moderately high O3 and not acute exposure to a high dose of O3 in a short period of time (72–96 h). Hence there is the need to examine the interactive effect of elevated CO2 and acute dose of O3 under field conditions."
"In this paper we report the effects of a short term, very high dose of O3 on first-year trembling aspen and sugar maple coppice regeneration from trees that were exposed to elevated O3 their entire lives (12 years in the former Aspen FACE experiment), harvested, and then allowed to sprout under elevated concentrations of CO2 and/or O3."
"Our objectives were to determine whether: (1) there were any physiological factors that enable maple to tolerate very high doses of O3 without visible foliar symptoms compared to aspen; (2) leaf age affects sensitivity to acute O3 concentration over a short period of time under field conditions; and (3) elevated CO2 will ameliorate the adverse effects of acute O3 dose on aspen leaves."
A logger next to his ^ axe
"...A comparison of the O3 concentration measured in the middle of the rings from 1998 through 2001 (...) is similar to what was recorded in July of 2010 (...).  Because O3 did not differ at plot center between years, it is critical to mention the importance of wind speed in diffusing the highly concentrated O3 at the emitters for efficient mixing with ambient air. The average wind speed at a height of 2 m during the study period was 0.25 m s1 compared with 2.4 m s1 recorded in 1998 when the original planted trees were about the same age and size."
Loggers   ^                behind a felled tree     ^
"But there was no acute O3 damage because the wind helped to diffuse the O3 quickly. Under the 3-day low wind conditions in 2010, the fumigation of between 110 and 490 nmol mol1 over the study period and an occasional brief peaks reaching 1990 nmol mol1, exposed plants near the emitters to very high O3 concentration."

"It should be noted, however, that although we observed little visual evidence of O3 damage in the interior of the treatment rings, those same lower O3 concentrations decreased stand volume growth by 29% after 7 years, which was a function of both smaller tree size and increased mortality."
Trees of various heights and ages
"…Elevated CO2 did not ameliorate the adverse effects of acute O3 exposure.  There have been many reports that elevated CO2 ameliorates adverse effects of elevated O3; however, this is not always the case."

"In our study, although there was ameliorative effect of elevated CO2 on O3 effects with respect to photosynthetic rate, there was no change in stomatal conductance indicating that the CO2 effect on photosynthesis was largely due to a stronger CO2 diffusion gradient. These findings are in agreement with many reports but not all."

"Because the stomatal conductance of leaves under the elevated O3 alone did not differ from leaves under elevated CO2 + O3, their O3 uptake rates were similar."
Several loggers ^ ^ walk down a dirt road
"Interestingly, we observed greater incidence of leaf necrosis in the CO2 + O3 treatment compared to O3 alone. This is consistent with Gupta et al. who reported that elevated CO2 + O3 at times exacerbated the adverse effect of O3 on gene expression of aspen."

"For example, elevated CO2 exacerbated the adverse effect of O3 on senescence-associated genes (SAGs) and genes involved in the flavanoid pathway. The many contrasting reports of CO2 effects on conductance and O3 injury might be explained by variation in responses among taxa and climatic conditions."
"Darbah et al. reported that elevated CO2 significantly decreased stomatal conductance in one aspen clone but not another. In that same experiment, Darbah et al., found that climatic variation among different years contributed to stomatal responses to elevated CO2 and O3. This shows that caution should be used when making predictions about possible ameliorative effects of elevated CO2 on tropospheric O3 pollution, especially where acute exposures are possible."

Red Cedar, Georgia
I don't know about Georgia, but around here the widest is a small fraction of that diameter.
A review in New Scientist Magazine which I linked to earlier, concluding that the largest, oldest trees are dying all around the world, spun off several news reports.  Science Alert had this description, with an intriguing quote:

"Professor Laurance's own work in the Amazon has shown substantial die-off of canopy giants in small forest fragments."
Axe buried in ^ tree trunk
“'Their susceptibility seems counter-intuitive given big trees' life histories, which invariably include periods of drought and other stress,' he said.  'All around the tropics, big canopy and emergent trees are succumbing to strong droughts.'"

"'That's been a surprise to me and many other ecologists, because big, ancient trees would have had to survive many droughts in the past.""
Eastern Red Cedar - young boy on left
Exactly!!  No wonder it's a "surprise" - big, ancient trees WOULD have had to survive many droughts in the past!  So WHY do foresters and scientists, such as those interviewed in this New York Times story, and the authors of this extensive study of "pervasive increase in tree mortality" across the boreal forest, and another review of satellite data plus the USGS documentation that there exists a "relentless increase" in reports of an "accelerated mortality pattern that we can't explain by the normal processes" insist that climate change drought is the culprit that is killing them?
   ^ Logger
For one thing, since the climate is not warming at all evenly around the world - as predicted and empirically demonstrated, the average temperature has soared at the poles and changed relatively little at the lower latitudes - we would expect that if that were the primary cause then trees would be dying off at a much faster pace at higher latitudes, but so far I've seen no indication that is the case.  Second, to the extent that drought is a factor, whether from a changing climate or natural variation, it is well documented in many studies that vegetation is more vulnerable to drought if it has been damaged by exposure to tropospheric ozone.
This all came to mind when I saw a new study just published in the Texas Water Journal.  Texas is, of course, experiencing a terrible drought, and yet this research of tree-ring data establishes that even worse droughts have occurred many times in centuries past.  It could be that Texas is a special case, but given that Dr. Laurance (above) stated that ancient trees in other parts of the world have survived mega-droughts in the past, it seems that other areas have similar records of climate variability, one which trees were formerly able to withstand.  When I get a chance I'll have to look for more dendochronological studies of drought but for now, following are excerpts from that paper, "Extended Chronology of Drought in South Central, South Eastern and West Texas".
"Short instrumental climatic records prevent appropriate statistical and historical characterization of extreme events such as the extent, duration, and severity of multiyear droughts. The best solution is to extend climatic records through well understood proxies of climate. One of the best such proxies is climate-sensitive annual tree rings, which can be dated precisely to the year, are easily sampled, and are widely distributed. We created 3 new baldcypress chronologies in South Central Texas and used them, along with existing Douglas-fir chronologies from West Texas and a composite post oak chronology in Central Texas, to calibrate 1931–2008 and reconstruct June Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI) in Texas climate divisions 5 (Trans Pecos), 6 (Edwards Plateau), 7 (S. Central), and 8 (Upper Coast) 1500–2008. We validated the reconstructions against observed data not used in calibration."
"Most water planners in Texas at present use the drought of the 1950s, 1950–1956, as a worst-case scenario. Our reconstructions show, however, that a number of extended droughts of the past were longer and/or more intense than the 1950s drought. Furthermore, extended droughts have been a consistent feature of southwestern climate since the 800s, including at least 4 megadroughts 15- to 30-years long centered in central or northern Mexico (Stahle et al. 2009; 2011b). This and previous studies indicate that severe decadal-scale droughts have occurred in Texas at least once a century since the 1500s. Current use by water planners of the 1950s drought as a worst-case scenario, therefore, is questionable. When water managers consider past droughts, population growth, and climate change, it becomes highly probable that the future poses unprecedented challenges."
American Chestnut, North Carolina
"Because the Central Texas post oak chronology has insufficient length to reconstruct the 1500s megadrought era (Stahle et al. 2000, 2007; Cleaveland et al. 2003; Cook et al. 2010), we collected 7
new sites and derived 3 new long baldcypress  (Taxodium distichum (L.) Rich.) chronologies (Fig. 1; Table A2) that start in the 1400s. Baldcypress has been used to reconstruct climate in the United States with considerable success (Stahle et al. 1985, 1988, 1998a; Stahle and Cleaveland 1992, 1995; Cleaveland 2000)."
"...The reconstruction of the 20th century seems to have as many long drought episodes as other centuries (Tables 2–6).   While division 5 has only four 10-year periods in the 20th century (Table 2), divisions 6 and 8 have 5 (Tables 3 and 5) and division 7 has 6 (Table 4). This, and the results with the 15-, 20-, and 30-year drought intervals, clearly indicates that, overall, the 20th century in these 4 Texas climate divisions was not anomalously wet or dry and appears typical of the 1500–2008 time period. Therefore, it can be expected that droughts as bad as or worse than the 1950s will occur in the future."
     ^ on the left!                 Logger         

These scientists appear to be warning policy makers that, given their reconstruction of the past, more droughts can be expected to come - and they will be even worse due to climate change...consequently, they had better not use the drought of the 1950's as a perimeter to judge future water constraints.  Inadvertently for the purposes of Wit's End however, they appear to have validated that at least in Texas, trees can survive droughts worse than what is going on now...which begs the question perpetually posed at here - why aren't they?  What is different?  (duh.)
                                 Red Cedar with a figure.         ^    I've never seen one higher than 30 feet.

This brings us back to the SoCAB "weekend effect" I mentioned last week, which refers to a higher level of ozone due to a change in the ratio of nitrogen oxide emissions as compared to volatile organic compounds.  I had regarded this as a curiosity, but upon reflection and at the risk of seeming silly, it occurred to me that perhaps it is significant.  Here's part of the abstract of that paper:

"Airborne and ground-based measurements during the CalNex (California Research at the Nexus of Air Quality and Climate Change) field study in May/June 2010 show a weekend effect in ozone in the South Coast Air Basin (SoCAB) consistent with previous observations. The well-known and much-studied weekend ozone effect has been attributed to weekend reductions in nitrogen oxide (NOx = NO + NO2) emissions, which affect ozone levels via two processes: (1) reduced ozone loss by titration and (2) enhanced photochemical production of ozone due to an increased ratio of non-methane volatile organic compounds (VOCs) to NOx."
American Chestnut

"This work extends current understanding of the weekend ozone effect in the SoCAB by identifying its major causes and quantifying their relative importance from the available CalNex data. Increased weekend production of a VOC-NOx oxidation product, peroxyacetyl nitrate, compared to a radical termination product, nitric acid, indicates a significant contribution from increased photochemical production on weekends."

I confess I do not understand why this study, unless I'm missing something, considers the relative contributions of heavy diesel-powered truck emissions to that of cars but has no mention of ethanol.  At any rate, all this caused me to wonder, maybe there are higher ozone levels elsewhere, and it's not just a SoCAB anomaly, because for some reason there are more VOC's - thus changing the ratio to NOx, leading to increased peroxyacetyl nitrate...which led to a few hare-brained ideas, but since I'm pretty sure that something in the atmosphere is more virulent than in that past, I will record them.
Verdant forest

One possibility already mentioned is that more methane, released from fracking and/or permafrost melt, has tipped the balance towards greater ozone production.  Then again perhaps, because vegetation has been slowly dying from ozone, it has been releasing more VOC's in relation to NOx, creating more ozone - could that have passed a tipping point, leading to an amplifying feedback loop?   It would take an atmospheric chemist to determine if that or biofuel emissions could be changing the behavior of ozone to the extent that it would cause an abrupt and dramatic tree decline, such as has been evident the past few years - but just for fun, I looked around a bit to see if there is anything to substantiate such wild speculations (leaving aside methane, since we already know for a fact that methane is billowing out at unprecedented and frightening rates from the Arctic, and we also know it's escaping from fracking, causing seizures in animals from cows to dogs to chickens).

A paper from January 2008, titled "VOC reactivity in Central California:  comparing an air quality model to ground-based measurements" had the following to say:

"We find that oxygenated VOC play an important role in VOC reactivity throughout central California. Other studies (Yoshino et al., 2006) have found observed ROH,total can be greater than modeled ROH, and that this missing OH sink may be due to reaction with oxygenated VOC. In the Bay Area, up to 50% of the modeled ROH,VOC is due to oxygenated species and this amplifies local HOx production cycles. Oxygenated compounds dominate ROH,VOC in the San Joaquin Valley, where primary emissions of anthropogenic and oxygenated species are currently estimated to be low."
"However, emissions of aldehydes and other oxygenated VOC are currently not well quantified from either anthropogenic or biogenic sources. Detailed anthropogenic and biogenic oxygenated VOC emission inventories could improve the emission inputs to regional air quality models. These compounds are often not measured as part of ground-based measurement campaigns, and they are needed to verify emission inventories, reactivity in the atmosphere, and impacts on gas and particle phase chemistry. More measurements of a suite of oxygenated VOC would provide an additional means of assessing their importance in regional chemistry under present and future climate conditions."

Hmm.  This proves nothing, other than that there do appear to be unmeasured things happening in the atmosphere.  I had no idea what ROH is, so I googled it and up came this chart from a book, "Progress and Problems in Atmospheric Chemistry".  Yikes!!!

Peroxyacl nitrates are haunting me!!  There are all sorts of fascinating things to read in that book, but I'll just reproduce a little bit because I can't cut and paste from google books, I have to type the whole thing (grrr) - but it talks about the same "weekend effect" except it's certainly not restricted to SoCAB or weekends.
"While, in general, increasing VOC concentrations means more ozone, increasing NOx may lead to either more or less ozone depending on the prevailing VOC-to-NOx ratio.  Thus the rate of ozone production is not simply proportional to the amount of NOx present.  At a given level of VOC, there exists a NOx concentration at which a maximum amount of ozone is produced, an optimum VOC to NOx ratio.  For ratios less than this optimum ratio, NOx increases lead to ozone decreases.  VOC to NOx rations sufficiently low to retard ozone formation can occur in central cities and in plumes immediately downwind of NO sources.  Rural environments tend to be characterized by fairly high VOC to NOx ratios because of the relatively rapid removal of NOx from distant sources compared to that of VOC's and the absence of strong local NOx sources.  Indeed, in most of the troposphere, except in areas of strong sources of NOx, the availability of NOx governs ozone production.  Thus NOx sources in rural areas can produce high rates of ozone formation."
p. 50:  "PAN acts as a reservoir for NOx.  It forms along with ozone and can be transported long distances, especially under cool nighttime conditions.  With warmer temperatures, PAN thermally decomposes to release NOx back into the reactive VOC/NOx system."

p. 51:  "...ozone yield will depend intimately on the particular VOC as well as on the prevailing VOC-to-NOx ration.  Because the removal rates of NOx and free radicals depend in a complex way on the concentrations of VOC and NOx, ozone production does not increase linearly with an increase in the precursor concentrations."  Hm!  "Ozone production does not increase linearly with an increase in the precursor concentrations."  I guess that's obvious.  But if models use precursors to make predictions, that could be misleading.
American Chestnut, Tennessee

Turning to the idea, that vegetation may be dying, releasing VOC's in greater proportion to NOx, leading to increased ozone formation, I came across a quaint old paper from 1964 which was funded by our dear overlords at Monsanto.  At that time their quest for world domination was no doubt in its infancy but still, making an apparent effort to blame ozone pollution on plants, "Volatile Organic Material Of Plant Origin in the Atmosphere" nevertheless revealed that as leaves die they release greater proportions of volatile organic compounds.  The authors devised various ways to test this idea:
Just ancient trees with a full understory

"In spring, with the appearance of new foliage, the aromatic content of the air as measured with the gas chromatograph does not increase much, and the air is essentially free of terpenes such as a-pinene. Even when plastic bags are put around young shoots of Aster, no terpenes are detectable inside the bag until the leaves are crushed, when large amounts of terpenes are immediately released."
"Soon the a-pinene content of the plastic bag with the crushed Aster leaves reverts to zero, and rises again upon renewed crushing. Similar experiences were found with other young plants such as Monarda. This indicates that terpenes are produced at all times but are not released until the leaves become older or when their cells die."
^                                Logger on the far left
"Our nose tells us also that upon crushing plants a great deal of volatile aromatics are released. This can also be demonstrated by placing intact or crushed aromatic plants in containers with ozone. Whereas only under the most favorable conditions (proper temperature and ozone concentration) intact branches form a delicate blue haze, a strong blue haze swirls around crushed pine or eucalypt leaves when
dropped in the ozone."

"In October and November, autumn colors developed and leaf drop occurred in two separate waves, the oaks trailing the hickories, sassafras, maples, and herbs by almost one month. Corresponding with these two waves of dying leaves, there were two very pronounced peaks in aromatics as measured with the gas chromatograph (see graph below). Therefore, also in all these cases, high concentrations of organic volatiles occurred during periods of increased numbers of dying cells."

Two pronounced peaks of aromatics in outside air corresponding with the two waves of dying leaves in the autumn.
"…Upon the death of cells large amounts of terpenes are released, explaining the aromaticity of drying hay or of forests during autumn. High concentrations of terpenes in the air were associated with the dying of leaves in autumn, and with the mowing of meadows".

Ha, just as I was finishing up this post, the lead author of the Weekend Effect paper sent me the pdf, so I could read the whole thing.  Here's the first sentence from the introduction:  "Tropospheric ozone (O3) has adverse health effects on humans (e.g., as a respiratory irritant), is damaging to vegetation, and is a major constituent of smog."
And the conclusion:

"As expected from the weekend increase in VOC/NOx ratio, enhancement in the ratio of PAN to HNO3 on weekends indicates increased RO2 formation, which propagates the chain reactions for ozone production. Additional interpretation of the products of NOx oxidation and correlations of Ox to NOx oxidation products using the CalNex 2010 data shows 45 +/-13% and 42 +/- 12% more extensive photochemical processing and 51 +/- 14% and 22 +/- 17% greater ozone production efficiency on weekends in the airborne and ground-based data, respectively, indicating that both contribute to higher weekend ozone levels in the SoCAB."
       A man  ^ looking down a logging road through the woods
So, where HAVE all the forests gone?  Who knows what is blowing in the wind?  The answer is there, but it is obscured, in a swirling blue haze.  Did you know ozone is blue?  When will they ever learn?  When will we ever learn?  Below, the most shocking picture of all:

Three men, dwarfed -           ^ ^ ^ stand to the left of the stump in the center bottom of this picture
You might have to look hard to find them, they are so miniscule.
It's amazing, isn't it, what massive carnage can be wrought, far out of proportion, by such puny creatures.
Lastly, steeped in irony about "working with industry", is a video from a new NOAA project underway to determine exactly why rural Utah is having spikes of ozone, which has also been happening in Wyoming where the gas and oil industries are busy.  Wintertime levels there have reached 140 ppb (averaged over 8 hours) as compared to EPA'S (wholly inadequate) air quality standard of 75.  The video starts out, for effect, saying that ozone should only be detected urban areas in summer; they ought to know better!  Anyway, it's a six-week study, so it could be quite illuminating to see what they decide is causing the high peaks of pollution...except, a NOAA study ALREADY identified emissions from gaseous fossil fuel extraction as causing peaks in ozone in Wyoming back in 2008 - and predicted other likely areas as sources for precursors to be "Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia and China".  I would say this is a blatant example of the famous exculpatory mantra "more study is needed" when in fact, no more study is needed, what is needed is an end to fossil fuel extraction and use.


  1. Thanks for all your hard work, Gail. I hope, people realize the damage that is being done to our environment; before it is too late.

    1. Is all that damage being done by Europeans, or others? Human population has exploded since 1960, when it was (only) 3 billion. Today, it is over 7.3 billion, and those 4.3 billion 'new' people are almost entirely Other-Than-European. The Other-Than-Europeans deforested and created deserts long ago across Africa and the Middle-East, and now, they are the ones that forests are being wiped out for, not Europeans. Urban-Sprawl is another issue caused by them. Them. Them. Them. Go tell them to stop the madness - Europeans stopped two generations ago already. Have a discussion with Native Americans - yes, the 200 million Europeans changed North America - but the 2 billion people that want to come here now - will entirely obliterate it - same as they have everywhere else they live. Europeans were the best thing that ever happened to Native Americans - compared to what the next bunch is going to do to them.

  2. Thanks! I am very close to closing up shop, I have to admit. There doesn't seem to be much else to add to the pool of information, and of course my own contributions are so limited by my ignorance.

    Many mysteries remain but the overall trajectory is clear.

    So I have to question, whether there is any point in continuing the effort to record the trend. So what??

    Anyway, I sincerely appreciate that you took the time to comment.

  3. Nooooooooooooooooo. You must not give up now. Your ozone research is too important. It's always darkest before the light.

  4. Sunny days at higher elevations provide an abundance of UV and short-wavelength visible light. This explains the need for strong eye and sunburn protection in the mountains and why photographs taken at high altitudes have a bluish tint.

  5. Gail, your work is beautiful and haunting and very much appreciated by myself. I thought I knew a fair bit about our plight but had overlooked ozone pollution. Thank you for opening my eyes further than they would have been.
    You are right, I think, to question the point in continuing your effort.
    Politicians will not change track and will not allow the people the will to change them.
    What your work does, though, is help individuals and groups to realise for themselves and allow them to take the necessary actions that could help to make their futures as bearable as possible.

    It is, of course, your decision in the end, but I wanted to let you know your effort is not wasted.


  6. You can't quit now! You've Piled ozone research Higher and Deeper than anyone could ever imagine. This might be one of the world's largest link libraries pertaining to the effects of ozone destruction and the research that backs it up.
    Honorary Degree forthcoming.

    You're a science writer, and a great one, tell the world's leaders, their people will want them to know.

  7. Oh Jeez! Thank you all.

    Catman, I think that weekend effect you sent might be key.

    Anyway...there is never any lack of more material, that's for sure.

  8. Those pictures of the huge trees are awesome. Makes me wish I was born in 1884 instead of 1984. Maybe I'll take a trip over to Cathedral Grove over on Vancouver Island this summer to see some of the last remnants of ancient forest.

  9. Thought you all might find this blog interesting for the pictures. Lots are recent it would appear.

  10. Did you see the pictures on Wit's End of the PNW in 2010? I was really shocked at how many dead trees were on the beaches, it didn't seem normal. Even though it was trivial to find symptoms of ozone and tree decline, it was still gorgeous, humbling, and thrilling to see the ancient trees in the Hoh. You should absolutely go visit the old forests. I wish I could go back!

  11. GREAT blog, lots of terrific links! Thank you!

  12. We absolutely love your blog and find a lot of your post's to be precisely what I'm looking for.
    Does one offer guest writers to write content available for you?
    I wouldn't mind writing a post or elaborating on a few of the subjects you write regarding here. Again, awesome web site!

    Also visit my web site :: Nike Free 5.0 V4 Mens Cheap


Blog Archive

My Blog List

Search This Blog