Thursday, May 31, 2012


The climate blogs are all in a dither - and why not? - with the news that the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has taken a precipitous, if not to say vertiginous, leap upwards.  Greenman has a particularly good post on the subject, where he quotes the Washington Post:  "The world’s air has reached what scientists call a troubling new milestone for carbon dioxide, the main global warming pollutant."
"Monitoring stations across the Arctic this spring are measuring more than 400 parts per million of the heat-trapping gas in the atmosphere. The number isn’t quite a surprise, because it’s been rising at an accelerating pace. Years ago, it passed the 350 ppm mark that many scientists say is the highest safe level for carbon dioxide. It now stands globally at 395.

It’s been at least 800,000 years — probably more — since Earth saw carbon dioxide levels in the 400s, Butler and other climate scientists said."

Greenman adds:

"Actually, a bit longer than that.  The most commonly cited measures of atmospheric CO2 are those contained in Antarctic ice cores, which, so far extend about 800,000 years back.  Several years ago, a team from UCLA actually pushed the credible measurements back quite a bit further, using isotopic analysis of shells in deep sea sediments."
"You would have to go back at least 15 million years to find carbon dioxide levels on Earth as high as they are today, a UCLA scientist and colleagues report Oct. 8 in the online edition of the journal Science."

“'The last time carbon dioxide levels were apparently as high as they are today — and were sustained at those levels — global temperatures were 5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit higher than they are today, the sea level was approximately 75 to 120 feet higher than today, there was no permanent sea ice cap in the Arctic and very little ice on Antarctica and Greenland,' said the paper’s lead author..."

Since the increase is especially high at the Arctic, I think it might be an ominous signal that the much-dreaded amplifying feedback of methane release has begun in earnest, like these bubbles frozen in the lake:
Or, the jump could be from the fact that we are losing our forests, which are in rapid decline from tropospheric ozone, so they're not absorbing as much CO2...which of course is the entire premise here at Wit's End.
I'm delighted to announce that today, ta-da! - we have more compelling evidence that this it true.  It derives from the embarrassing problem of pollution besmirching the vistas and weakening the trees in our beautiful National Parks - and so, the photographs today that illustrate Earth's wild and natural places are taken from the facebook page of the MilkywayScientists - where there are also many lovely celestial scenes if you're interested in that sort of thing.

An article in the HuffPo reveals the level of pollution, and the difficulty Park officials have in doing anything about it, since the precursors derive from outside their jurisdiction.  Park representatives have always been more forthcoming about the damage done to trees and other plantlife by ozone, because they're not beholden to the timber industry, or the chemical, pesticide and fungicide manufacturers...unlike Forest Service and Agriculture Department employees, or scientists looking for grant money.
Of course, that may change if the Republicans corporations have their way and instead of merely illegally leasing rights for drilling, mining and logging, actually privatize the parkland (which happens to belong to all the American people).  But that's been their agenda all along - to dismantle the New Deal and the Great Society.  They have tried and succeeded in making government so dysfunctional that they can point to it and say it is the problem.  They are unimpeded in the process of privatizing everything for profit - schools, the post office, prisons, the military.  It's why they hated the single payer health care option, even though it would drive down costs dramatically by eliminating the insurance companies not to mention mountains of unnecessary paperwork and layers of bureaucracy.
The funny thing is that aside from the very wealthiest, the right wingers are going to suffer just as much when services are no longer available to them.

Oh wait, did I digress?  Here's the HuffPo story, which is followed by an article written for the AP by Tracie Cone, which cuts spectacularly to the chase.  Be patient, it's the report I've been dreaming of!
"The flora and fauna within America's national parks may receive protection, but the air above the parks is not immune from the problems that plague more developed parts of the country.
The list below, compiled by the Associated Press with data from the National Park Service and Environmental Protection Agency, ranks U.S. national parks that recorded the highest number of days with air violations and their highest smog levels in 2011."
"California's Sequoia National Park garnered the top spot, with nearly a quarter of the year, or 87 days, recording dangerous smog levels."

"According to AP, 'the only way' to improve the park's air quality is to clean up the air throughout the entire San Joaquin air basin, 'something that so far has proved elusive given the myriad sources of pollution.'  The National Park Conservation Association's Emily Schrepf said, 'Ozone levels here are comparable to urban settings such as LA. It's just not right.'"
Sequoia National Park, Calif.: 87.
Joshua Tree National Park, Calif.: 56.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, N.C.: 12.
Yosemite National Park, Calif.: 8.
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colo.: 8
Big Bend National Park, Texas: 7.
Mojave National Preserve, Calif.: 6

"An ozone reading of 75 parts per billion or higher, which the EPA says is 'unhealthy for sensitive groups,' is considered a violation of the agency's regulations. The following parks exceeded that level in 2011:
Sequoia National Park, Calif.: 98 ppb (unhealthy for everyone)
Joshua Tree National Park, Calif. 91 ppb (unhealthy for everyone)
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, N.C.: 83 ppb (unhealthy for sensitive groups)
Big Bend National Park, Texas: 80 ppb (unhealthy for sensitive groups)
Yosemite National Park, Calif.: 79 ppb (unhealthy for sensitive groups)
Mojave National Preserve, Calif.: 78 ppb (unhealthy for sensitive groups)
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colo.: 77 ppb (unhealthy for sensitive groups)"

So there you have it - ozone levels are hideously high even in remote wilderness, and let's not forget that according to MIT research, the threshold above which vegetation is damaged is only FORTY ppb - and then look at those numbers again.  What do we suppose a doubling in the concentration could imply for trees exposed to cumulative absorption?  The following analysis makes the answer as clear as the skies are murky -  the only information it lacks is the fact that what is true in the park is true all over the world:
Sequoia Smog Damaging Redwood Seedlings.
~ Tracie Cone

On a clear day, the view from Beetle Rock in Sequoia National Park extends west for 105 miles across the patchwork of crops in California's agricultural heartland to the Coast Mountains and the Pacific Ocean beyond.

The problem is there are few clear days, even at 6,200 feet.

The Sierra Nevada forest that is home to the biggest and oldest living things on earth -- the giant Sequoia redwoods -- also suffers a dubious distinction. It has the worst air pollution of any national park in the country.
Mountaintops that should offer awe-inspiring views of California's geologic grandeur often are muddled by a disorienting gray soup of smog.

"Ozone levels here are comparable to urban settings such as LA," said Emily Schrepf of the nonprofit advocacy group the National Park Conservation Association as she beheld the diminished view. "It's just not right."

This is not the place to take in a whiff of fresh mountain air. Smog is so bad that signs in visitors centers caution guests when it's not safe to hike. The government employment website warns job applicants that the workplace is unhealthy. And park workers are schooled every year on the lung and heart damage the pollution can cause.
Ozone also is to blame for weakening many stands of the park's Jeffrey and ponderosa pines, leaving telltale yellowing of their long needles. Instead of absorbing carbon dioxide, they soak up ozone through the stoma in their needles, which inhibits photosynthesis. Ozone also stresses young redwood seedlings, which already face challenges to survival.
Although weakened trees are more susceptible to drought and pests, the long-term impact on the pines and on the giant redwoods that have been around for 3,000 years and more is unclear.
"It's not a great story to tell, but it's an important story to tell because you can look at us as being the proverbial canary in a coalmine," said Annie Esperanza, a park scientist who has studied air quality there for 30 years. "If this is happening in a national park that isn't even close to an urban area, what do you think is happening in your backyard?"
It's a problem in a handful of the nation's 52 parks that are monitored constantly for ozone, including Joshua Tree National Park in California's Mojave Desert and North Carolina's Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which is ringed by power plants and several major highways including Interstate 40, a major tractor-trailer shipping route. But none is in the ballpark with Sequoia and its neighbor, Kings Canyon.

Under the Clean Air Act, the region that encompasses Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks has been designated a "Class 1 air shed," which means by 2064 it must have pure air with no degradation of visibility. But that apparently didn't take into consideration its proximity to one of the worst air quality basins in the country.

"It does take visitors by surprise," Esperanza said. "On a day it's unhealthy, we ask people if you're going to do a rigorous hike, we recommend early morning. It's limiting, it's quite telling, and it's very sad."
While forest fires create some pollution, the lion's share comes from the San Joaquin Valley, the expanse of farmland that is home to the California's two busiest north-south trucking highways, diesel freight train corridors, 1.7 million dairy cows, food processing plants and tens of thousands of diesel tractors plowing dusty fields. Its trough shape traps pollutants, and high-pressure systems act like a lid on a pot.

Smog is created when the sun's rays hit pollutants such as oxides of nitrogen and volatile organic compounds that are in motor vehicle exhaust, solvents, pesticides, gasoline vapors and decaying dairy manure.
"There is no simple answer to ozone pollution," said Thomas Cahill, a researcher at the University of California, Davis who studies air problem in Sequoia and across California.

Breathing ozone at high levels for even a short time can blister the lungs like UV rays blisters skin, scientists agree. The problem in quantifying exposure levels, however, is that some people suffer pulmonary damage at lower doses than others.

Dr. David Lighthall, health science adviser for the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, says ozone levels at high altitudes don't drop at night like they do in the valley, which leads to "more cumulative exposure for those who live and work there."
Southerly breezes from the San Francisco Bay collect pollutants and push them to the valley's southern rim, where they bounce back north. Between Fresno and Visalia -- just below the park -- the warm air hits the cooler air pushing south and gets trapped in a swirling vortex called the Fresno Eddy. The warm, polluted air then rises up the canyons of three rivers that begin in the park.

The only way to improve air in the park is to improve the San Joaquin air basin, something that so far has proved elusive given the myriad sources. Even with hundreds of millions of dollars spent to retrofit diesel engines and replace gasoline lawnmowers with electric ones, residents pay a federal fine for the region's failure to meet even minimal EPA ozone limits.
"We don't create a disproportionate amount of pollution; it's just that we have these natural challenges so that the pollution we do create can take literally weeks or months to clean out. It just builds up over time," said Jaime Holt, spokeswoman for the valley air district.

Already this year, the level of ozone in Sequoia park has exceeded federal health standards, even though it's early in the summer ozone season. During the June-to-September summer season last year, the park violated the National Ambient Air Quality standard at least 87 times, compared with 56 at Joshua Tree and 12 at Great Smoky Mountains.

"It's tragic that the National Park Service is known for clean air, and then you see a sign saying it's unhealthy to breathe," Esperanza said. "It's so contrary to the national parks idea."
Because ozone is so rarely attributed as the underlying cause of tree decline, being an Ozonista, I often wonder how much it is also being ignored as a factor in hospitalizations and deaths during heat waves.  It seems that since people are warned to stay indoors on "high-alert" ozone days, and to avoid exercising and breathing deeply, a health threat must exist - and yet, you almost never see pollution mentioned when deaths from heat waves are quantified or predicted.  This is true even though the voluminous EPA Integrated Scientific Assessment lists hundreds of research papers linking ozone to human health effects, and besides, if it's not an issue, why regulate it?  I would like to see a study comparing mortality increases at the same high temperatures for the same period of time in, say, Paris or London or Chicago or Beijing - with a control group in cleaner air, let's say, maybe Madagascar or western Australia or Equador.  But I don't know of one.

When I saw an article this week that discussed a new study published with the title "An Examination of Climate Change on Extreme Heat Events and Climate–Mortality Relationships in Large U.S. Cities" I decided to write the lead author to ask about it, and he very kindly answered with a link to the full study -

    Thanks for your interest in the research.  Attached is the PDF of the article.  With respect to your question, we did not include ozone-related deaths in the study.  We have examined the relationship between heat and ozone extensively in the past, however.  The short version is that when the heat is high, deaths are higher (regardless of ozone levels).  Ozone contributes on a long-term basis to illness and mortality, as you point out, but on an acute day-to-day basis it's very minor compared to the heat.


"your friendly scientist"

This caused me to do a little digging around with the google and I wrote back the following yesterday, and have not yet had a response:

Dear friendly scientist,

Thank you so much for sharing your paper.  I confess I do not understand all the algorithms and technical information but I did read through it.  Of course there is a correlation between heat and increased mortality but I am still perplexed as to why ozone is not considered a factor in your study, or as only a minor influence in the long-term.  I noticed a reference to the heat wave of 2003, and found this paper:
The Relation Between Temperature, Ozone, and Mortality in Nine French Cities During the Heat Wave of 2003

During August 2003, record high temperatures were observed across Europe, and France was the country most affected. During this period, elevated ozone concentrations were measured all over the country. Questions were raised concerning the contribution of O3 to the health impact of the summer 2003 heat wave.

We used a time-series design to analyze short-term effects of temperature and O3 pollution on mortality. Counts of deaths were regressed on temperatures and O3 levels, controlling for possible confounders: long-term trends, season, influenza outbreaks, day of the week, and bank holiday effects. For comparison with previous results of the nine cities, we calculated pooled excess risk using a random effect approach and an empirical Bayes approach.
For the nine cities, the excess risk of death is significant (1.01%; 95% confidence interval, 0.58–1.44) for an increase of 10 μg/m3 in O3 level. For the 3–17 August 2003 period, the excess risk of deaths linked to O3 and temperatures together ranged from 10.6% in Le Havre to 174.7% in Paris. When we compared the relative contributions of O3 and temperature to this joint excess risk, the contribution of O3 varied according to the city, ranging from 2.5% in Bordeaux to 85.3% in Toulouse.

We observed heterogeneity among the nine cities not only for the joint effect of O3 and temperatures, but also for the relative contribution of each factor. These results confirmed that in urban areas O3levels have a non-negligible impact in terms of public health.
Also, a US government publication says:

Poor air quality, especially in cities, is a serious concern across the United States. Half of all Americans, 158 million people, live in counties where air pollution exceeds national health standards.

While the Clean Air Act has improved air quality, higher temperatures and associated stagnant air masses are expected to make it more challenging to meet air quality standards, particularly for ground-level ozone (a component of smog).
It has been firmly established that breathing ozone results in short-term decreases in lung function and damages the cells lining the lungs. It also increases the incidence of asthma-related hospital visits and premature deaths.

Vulnerability to ozone effects is greater for those who spend time outdoors, especially with physical exertion, because this results in a higher cumulative dose to their lungs. As a result, children, outdoor workers, and athletes are at higher risk for these ailments.
Californians currently experience the worst air quality in the nation. More than 90 percent of the population lives in areas that violate state air quality standards for ground-level ozone or small particles. These pollutants cause an estimated 8,800 deaths and over a billion dollars in health care costs every year in California.

Higher temperatures are projected to increase the frequency, intensity, and duration of conditions conducive to air pollution formation, potentially increasing the number of days conducive to air pollution by 75 to 85 percent in Los Angeles and the San Joaquin Valley, toward the end of this century, under a higher emissions scenario, and by 25 to 35 percent under a lower emissions scenario.

Air quality could be further compromised by wildfires, which are already increasing as a result of warming.
Because ground-level ozone is related to temperature, air quality is projected to become worse with human-induced climate change. Many areas in the country already have plans in place for responding to air quality problems. For example, the Air Quality Alert program in Rhode Island encourages residents to reduce air pollutant emissions by limiting car travel and the use of small engines, lawn mowers, and charcoal lighter fluids on days when ground-level ozone is high. Television weather reports include alerts when ground-level ozone is high, warning especially susceptible people to limit their time outdoors. To help cut down on the use of cars, all regular bus routes are free on Air Quality Alert days.

Pennsylvania offers the following suggestions for high ozone days:

• Refuel vehicles after dark. Avoid spilling gasoline and stop fueling when the pump shuts off automatically.
• Conserve energy. Do not overcool homes. Turn off lights and appliances that are not in use.  Wash clothes and dishes only in full loads.
• Limit daytime driving. Consider carpooling or taking public transportation. Properly maintain vehicles, which also helps to save fuel.
• Limit outdoor activities, such as mowing the lawn or playing sports, to the evening hours.
• Avoid burning leaves, trash, and other materials.
Traffic restrictions imposed during the 1996 summer Olympics in Atlanta quantified the direct respiratory health benefits of reducing the number of cars and the amount of their tailpipe emissions from an urban environment. Peak morning traffic decreased by 23 percent, and peak ozone levels dropped by 28 percent. As a result, childhood asthma-related emergency room visits fell by 42 percent.  [this is one of my favorite statistics]

Ground-level ozone concentrations are affected by many factors including weather conditions, emissions of gases from vehicles and industry that lead to ozone formation (especially nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds [VOCs]), natural emissions of VOCs from plants, and pollution blown in from other places.
A warmer climate is projected to increase the natural emissions of VOCs, accelerate ozone formation, and increase the frequency and duration of stagnant air masses that allow pollution to accumulate, which will exacerbate health symptoms.

Increased temperatures and water vapor due to human-induced carbon dioxide emissions have been found to increase ozone more in areas with already elevated concentrations, meaning that global warming tends to exacerbate ozone pollution most in already polluted areas. Under constant pollutant emissions, by the middle of this century, Red Ozone Alert Days (when the air is unhealthy for everyone) in the 50 largest cities in the eastern United States are projected to increase by 68 percent due to warming alone.
Such conditions would challenge the ability of communities to meet health-based air quality standards such as those in the Clean Air Act.  Health risks from heat waves and air pollution are not necessarily independent. The formation of ground-level ozone occurs under hot and stagnant conditions – essentially the same weather conditions accompanying heat waves.  Such interactions among risk factors are likely to increase as climate change continues.

And a paper about heat mortality in England and Wales also links ozone:

High ozone concentrations are an important co-exposure during heat waves in England. High ozone concentrations were reported during the 1976 heat wave [6]. Excess exposure to ozone and PM10 were recorded for all regions in England, most notably in London and the South East. Between 21% and 38% of the excess deaths (where excess deaths were predictions based on previous time series studies of air pollution and mortality) in the 2003 heat wave were estimated to be attributable to ozone and PM10, although that study assumed no interaction between high temperatures and high pollutant exposures [7]. This study has not attempted to separate out the effects of pollutants and temperature.
Even the US Sports Academy warns coaches that ozone is a serious health risk:

“How Hot Is Hot” … enough for Heat Stroke is variable because it depends on Primary and Secondary Risk Factors. Athletes can have a Heat Stroke at 70* Fahrenheit if other Risk Factors are in play, most notably the Primary Risk Factors. A dangerous Air Quality Index is a Primary Risk Factor. It directly affects the Airway, Breathing, Circulatory and Cardiovascular systems, the ABC’s of Resuscitation. Medications and infections are Secondary Risk Factors. They are less fatal Risk Factors.

“An Air Quality Alert means the air is expected to be unhealthy for Sensitive Groups. Sensitive Groups include active children and adults and people with lung disease, such as asthma. With an Alert these groups are recommended to reduce prolonged or heavy exertion outdoors.” The Air Quality Index was expected to reach 106 on the 20th, the day the Athlete collapsed. The detrimental pollutant was increased ground level Ozone. Sensitive Groups can make their first appearance fatally.
Exercise to Exhaustion in Ozone characteristically produces a shift to Lymphocytes in the CBC 1 to 3 hours after weight lifting and 1 to 3 hours after running gassers to exhaustion. Lymphocytes are hailed to the blood stream by epinephrine and norepinephrine during Exercise to and beyond Exhaustion Stress as many, many immunologists have reported who are concerned with the affects of Exhaustion on Athlete Immunity, an important global topic nowadays.
“The health implications of Global Warming are the deadly effects a heat wave combined with Ozone have on Athletes practicing or playing outside.” Increasing evidence suggests the Ozone and Heat Index affect each other synergistically. This is Key. In other words, the presence of increased ground level Ozone increases the absolute number or the Heat Index and the presence of high Heat Index increases the absolute number of ground level Ozone. Therefore the Heat index on the 20th was higher than 94 and the AQI was higher than 106. There appears to be a linear relationship between the AQI and the Heat Index.

It appears the Football Athlete’s final clinical cause of death was Ozone Intoxication in addition to Exertional Heat Stroke. Dehydration was not proven as a cause of death. Complete autopsy was not concluded with an internal body post mortem examination.
Personally I think it's important that influential scientists such as yourself ensure that people understand the direct impact pollution has on their health because frankly, it appears too easy for them to ignore potential heat effects in the future from elevated CO2 when they make decisions regarding conservation and climate change policy.  I really hope you will evaluate your opinion that ozone comprises only a "very minor" contribution to acute and immediate health when asthma is now at it's highest rate ever and the death rate for children has increased by nearly 80% since 1980.

Thank you for your attention,


Never mind, after all that apocalyptic prognostication, the next enchanting video of a National Park will be comforting (there are ten more here), as will a quote from the comments at Tracie Cone's personal blog where she describes, with aching raw verisimilitude, her determination to survive cancer -

" is not measured by the number of breaths we take but by the moments that take our breath away..."

and this poem:

Sensuous during life
do not deny me in death!

Wash me with scent of apple blossom.
Anoint me with essence of lilac.
Fill my veins with honeysuckle nectar.
Sprinkle me with perfume of purple violets.
Envelop me in shroud saturated with fragrance of freshly
mown meadow hay.
Rest me in moss velvet earth.
Cover me with soil exuding flavor of maple and oak leaves.
Command a white birch to stand guard!

~Lois Wickenhauser


  1. Actual CO2 measurements.

  2. Gail, you go to the trouble of presenting an erudite and reasoned blog and the only commenter is from PLovering, a contrail believing Lyndon la Rouche cult following idiot.
    It must drive you to distraction big time, that your observations are not only not regarded enthusiastically by the scientific community, but flakes like PLovering feel free to take pot shots at the information you gather with their own specious bullshitty opinions.
    May I restore the balance by offering my thanks for the work you do to inform.

    kind regards


  3. Thank you, Gordon, I do appreciate it. Don't feel too sorry for me though. I actually DO get lots of comments, often in Russian, with links to sources for Viagra and top-quality Louis Vuitton knockoff luggage...I just don't publish them.

  4. Gail, thanks for another brilliant and terrifying report.


  5. It seems like everything is gray,
    And there's no color to behold.

    That's the atmosphere now. It's not going to be Fine Again for a long, long time.

    Try to stay sober,
    Feels like I'm dying here.


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