Friday, September 14, 2012

Drawn to the Flame

Doc came home...finally.  A short trip to the doctor's office for a diagnostic test, expected to reveal nothing serious, turned into a three-week hospital saga.  I literally felt the blood drain from my face down to my neck when the surgeon said, "...his heart is 99% blocked and it's a miracle he's not dead".  I thought that was a turn of phrase, not a physical phenomena!

Now it's time for him to take it easy and recuperate.  I had no inkling of how overwhelming "elder care" can be, to say nothing of the distinctly unwelcome emotional roller coaster that ensues from proximity to a life-threatening health crisis...and the aftermath.  It seems I accomplish nothing and yet I have hardly any time to spare.  I'm not even going to even try to write anything coherent...but I've been collecting pictures from Cape Cod, and a quick trip to Martha's Vineyard, where there is an astonishing amount of dead vegetation on the interesting information that pertains to the original purpose for writing this blog, Wit's End - which is of course trees dying from ozone, and assorted tangential issues related to Ecopocalypse.  So here it all is, a gigantic mish-mash.  Don't complain!
One afternoon I snuck in a hike at Nickerson State Park, which has since been closed - yikes! - because of ticks and their nasty tendency to transmit illness.  It was full of scenes of dying trees - lots of oak and pine but other species too - and chlorotic leaves.
I came across an article that absurdly predicts an especially colorful autumn season in New England.  Last year the fall spectacle was just dreadful, as I documented on video during a hot air balloon ride, with leaves turning brown and falling to the ground far in advance of any color change.  This year is even worse.  It's an ongoing trend - a quick comparison between 2011 and 2010 can be found here, a study of Central Park here, and, comparisons back to 2009 here.
Already leaves started dropping in August like it's November, even though the article says that peak color in Syracuse, New York should be mid-October.
A ghost forest of bare pines
Here is the text of the story:

Northeastern trees may put on a better fall foliage show than usual this year.  That's because lower than average levels of rain in New York and in some areas of the Northeast may lead to an earlier retreat of chlorophyll, the green pigment that allows plants to harness the sun's energy, said Donald Leopold, a tree researcher at the State University of New York in Syracuse.

With chlorophyll gone, other pigments in leaves become visible. These include carotenes and xanthophyll pigments, which appear yellow to orange and are present during the growing season but are masked by the green.

Reddish leaf colors stem from anthocyanins, which are only produced in the fall and are a reaction to stressful conditions. They act like sunscreen for the leaf, blocking out harmful radiation and shading it from excess light. They also help protect the plants' cells from freezing as temperatures drop.
In Syracuse and elsewhere, temperatures have begun to dip into the mid-50s (in degrees Fahrenheit) some nights, a sign of cooler temperatures ahead, Leopold told OurAmazingPlanet.  Colder temperatures and shortening days serve as signals to plants to begin reducing the amount of chlorophyll produced and to start preparations for winter, which involves moving sugar and nutrients from leaves to roots.

Sufficiently cool temperatures can also directly reduce the amount of chlorophyll produced. Without being continuously renewed, chlorophyll breaks down and eventually leaves will fade from green to yellow or red.  Ideal conditions for development of fall colors include sunny, warm days and cool nights.

Also potentially affecting the fall colors is the little rainfall that has occurred in the area this year, Leopold said.

Some trees are already showing color due to stress, Leopold said.

When a tree doesn't get enough water or is otherwise harassed, it may quit producing chlorophyll earlier, allowing colors to show. This strategy allows it to prevent itself from losing water and to wait out the winter.

Fall colors are best when there is a moderate drought, but not so much of a drought that leaves wilt and curl up or fall off, he said.

It's too early to tell for sure whether it will be an unusually colorful year, though, since colors don't peak until October and conditions in the interim will affect the outcome.
Cape Cod has 365 freshwater ponds called "kettles ponds", that were formed by glacial retreat 18,000 years ago.  You can read about these important, unique habitats here.  They're no longer quite as pristine as described in that guide, however.
Zooming in across the water, it becomes apparent that a large proportion of trees in the forest are standing dead.
The ponds are filled by rain and ground water, not streams or rivers.
These three shots are close-ups of that scene.
From a distance it's possible to assume nothing is amiss, but not if you look a little more carefully.
Another similar story about fall foliage appeared, this time claiming Maine will experience a terrific viewing season.  The article featured a photo of a maple leaf, with a classic symptom of exposure to ozone - stippling from damaged stomates.
Maine forestry officials say the hot, dry summer may well deliver a bonus: an excellent leaf-peeping season.  Maine’s foliage spokeswoman, Gale Ross, said that even before the season started she fielded numerous inquiries from potential visitors, including one from China. The visitors might be delighted.

‘‘We’ve had nice dry, hot summer,’’ Ross said. ‘‘We’re setting ourselves up for an ideal foliage season.’’

Ross said that some stressed trees have already begun to turn, as have some swamp maples in northern Maine. The bulk of Maine’s trees will turn full color within the next few weeks.
Bill Ostrofsky, a forest pathologist at the Maine Forest Service, said hardwood foliage ‘‘appears to be in better-than-average condition, overall. There have been no occurrences of serious or widespread ­insect defoliation, so to date the Maine forest has the potential to have a great season this year.’’

The season’s first online fall foliage report, which appeared Wednesday, showed leaves still green in the lower two-thirds of Maine.
But in the far northern and northwestern parts of the state, 10 to 30 percent of the leaves had changed, marking the start of the season.

The Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry’s reports, which break the state into seven zones, will continue until the entire state has reached past-peak conditions, Ross said.

Maine’s fall foliage website,, offers easy access on mobile devices, as well as on computers. Leaf peepers can take photos with their phones and instantly submit them to the site, Ross said. The site also incorporates a link to Facebook, which allows leaf peepers to instantly access foliage updates, she said.

Ha, here's their map.  I'm going to keep checking to see how quickly it goes from green almost directly to "past peak"!
The following still shots are from a video on the Maine Foliage facebook page linked to in the article, titled "Mainers get ready for leaf peeping season".
Interestingly, that title is followed in the url with the words "landing business" which is probably why everyone in the video is lying about the condition of the leaves.
One woman who owns an inn claims the leaves are "crisp and bright".
She is followed by a representative from the Maine Forest Service who, while standing in front of a drastically amputated pruned tree trunk, says this season will be a "good show" because "the weather seems to have been pretty stable, there hasn't been any real extended drought or extended periods of rain, so you want that kind of middle of the road..."
Although this is presented as a news story it is really propaganda/advertising for tourism dollars, trying to present the trees in their best light...and they STILL can't help but show thin crowns and bare branches.  If you bother to watch it, it's almost comical how the camera briefly reveals this tawdry sumac on the sea shore and then cuts away almost frantically, as though the editor suddenly realized it is practically dead:
Just in case there is anybody who doesn't see anything extremely alarming odd in the above images of contemporary leaves, pictures from the past of what a red maple leaf SHOULD look like turn up in google image search.  This one posted to flickr was taken October 12, 2006...why am I not surprised?

As soon as I became aware that trees are dying (2008), even before I learned that ozone is causing it, I predicted certain unpleasant consequences would inevitably result.  When I came across the Landslide Blog, I found corroboration for one of them (two major others being an increase in wildfires, and starving wild animals) in a startling graph of deaths by landslides which excludes those triggered by seismic activity.  Following is the comment I sent to Dr. Petley, the scientist who is compiling the data.

Dear Dr. Petley,

I look forward to reading your paper.  Of course there must be many reasons the number of fatalities from landslides is increasing so dramatically - more people chief among them, also melting ice, and heavier precipitation from our destabilized climate.

However I am particularly interested in your graph because I have been expecting just such a trend based on my observations and readings that indicate a widespread trend for vegetation to be dying off.  It would seem inevitable that slopes will become more likely to give way when roots no longer hold the soil and absorb precipitation.

Although it is well-documented that plants that absorb tropospheric ozone are damaged, and that the persistent background level of air pollution is inexorably rising, even in remote locations, few people have followed these facts to their obvious conclusion.  Actually there is a huge amount of resistance to it, I've found.
Trees as well as other plants, including agricultural crops, lose root structure even before injury from air pollution (stippling, loss of chlorophyll, and shriveling) is visible on leaves and needles, as they must devote more energy to repair of foliage.  This causes them to be more vulnerable to drought and wind.  Eventually, they lose immunity to insects, disease and fungus, so these subsequent biotic attacks are generally blamed for the demise of forests.

The consequences of this rapidly accelerating trend are myriad and profound (which is no doubt why very few people will acknowledge the obvious).  Wildfires are more frequent and larger, and as I expected, I now see that landslides are causing more severe impacts.  Ultimately, on top of the loss to agricultural quality and yield, we will lose the most important carbon sink next to phytoplankton, which will vastly intensify global warming.

I put together a book with links to research about ozone which is available for a free download here, if you are interested:

Thanks for your ongoing study of landslides.

I mentioned to Dr. Petley that most often, people attribute tree death to insects, disease, fungus and drought.  There is a long list of other culprits I've come across, some of which are quite amusing because they are so illogical and easily refuted - cell phone tower radiation, road salt, natural gas pipe leaks, the Gulf Oil Spill, Fukushima, the End Times, visits from the Madonna, and of course the all-time favorite, chemtrails...but even with all that, it seems there are always new ones to discover.  We can now add that trees fall - FROM THEIR OWN WEIGHT.  Click here for that video, and check out the dead trees in this one:

Believe it or not the same excuse is featured in this story of the chestnuts dying in Europe, where it says:

Sometimes they crash across boulevards and smash cars, unable to bear the weight of their own foliage. At other times, city officials move in and cut them down before they collapse.
In high summer, their leaves can become so rusty it feels like October. As autumn approaches, many stand naked while other trees still wear their crowns of green.

But then, with tortured logic, ALL the of the other primary culprits are tossed in for good measure:

The culprits: a moth that produces leaf-eating larvae and a bacterium that makes trunks bleed and die.

"In a sense it is almost like a lethal cocktail," said Dr. Darren Evans of the University of Hull. "If it is under attack by moths, it is probably going to be more susceptible to this bleeding canker - which will kill it."

A cure? Not immediately in sight.
"It is spread throughout most of northern Europe," Evans said of the leaf miner moth in a telephone interview.  "We still don't really know whether there is any effective way of controlling it." The same goes for the bacteria.

Without any clear reason, the moth became rampant and spread through much of Europe about a decade ago. In Britain, it first surfaced in Wimbledon in 2002 and soon spread across England and Wales. It has flourished across the continent. The moth lays eggs in leaves and the larvae start devouring them, causing foliage to turn color as soon as July.

The rusting robs the tree of vital sunlight for key months and, weakened, some fall prey to other diseases such as fungi.

The moth was soon joined by a bacterium that came from the Himalayas and causes chestnut bark to bleed an oozing sticky liquid, sapping the tree and in many cases causing death.

"The worst case scenario is that we lose most of our horse chestnut trees to this bleeding canker," Evans said.

In Britain, which has up to 2 million chestnut trees, a 2007 survey showed that up to half could be infected with the disease. In countries like Belgium, France and the Netherlands, the alarm has also been raised.
Some people okay, Nana, will say that trees "just don't get that big on the Cape" even though there *are* enough large examples to disprove natural reasons for their scarcity.
There is historical precedent for the fears: At the turn of the 20th century a fungus caused a mass extinction of the American chestnut tree in the eastern United States.

Europe's chestnuts came first from the Balkans and were introduced in western Europe about 500 years ago. It is a hallmark of cities rather than forests and, especially during the Victorian era, became a favorite for stately lanes, parks and squares.

In Ghent, Belgium, last month, a huge chestnut suddenly collapsed along the upper Scheldt river, smashing a car along a road usually busy with cycling students. As in many places, city councils have been increasingly checking the health of chestnuts and, if there's any doubt, cut them down as a safety precaution.

The chestnuts are all gone this summer from the city's Groentenmarkt medieval center, depriving weary tourists of reprieve from the sun.
The chestnuts, or marroniers, in Paris are also part of the attraction at Pere Lachaise. But last year, visitors could walk ankle deep through rusty leaves in the middle of July.

"It's a problem all over Paris," said cemetery conservator Martine Lecuyer, although she said heavy rainfall made this year a little better.

In Amsterdam, officials are scrambling to try to save chestnuts within the famed canal belt. For Anne Frank's tree, help came too late. The 150-year-old tree, affected by the moth and fungi, weakened progressively and crashed to the ground two years ago. [see Wit's End post 4/2010]

If the darkest predictions prove true, many Britons will mourn chestnut trees as the passing of part of their youth: The game of "conkers," in which children take turns trying to smash chestnuts, was once a popular pastime on playgrounds across the country.

Just as bad for chestnuts is the way people deal with the problem: On Ghent's Groentenmarkt, the new trees are now linden, and the example is followed in many parts of Europe.

"Many local authorities are then no longer planting horse chestnut trees because they fear - what is the point in planting something that is going to be susceptible to attack," Evans said.
"Essentially, we could lose an entire new generation of horse chestnut trees."
From California, following are screenshots and some of the text from a sad video about a tree deemed to be a threat.  What is pathetic is that now, ALL trees are safety threats.

The days are numbered for an almost 100-year-old eucalyptus tree. The city of Santa Monica, Calif., has threatened to fine the owners of the 125-foot-tall tree anywhere from $5,000 to $25,000 a day if the tree isn't cut down by September 15.
 The owners of this largest eucalyptus deanei in the country, Faith and Harry Rumack, told CBS Local that they've lived with the tree for 25 years, and they think of it as part of the family.
Faith Rumack said, "It feels like one of our children. I know it sounds weird, but it's very sentimental to us." The couple noted that their kids played under it when they were growing up, and they have parked their cars under its branches for years.
But the giving tree may be giving out. The decision was made when tree expert Walt Warriner noticed that three limbs came down in a three-week period. At 2,000 pounds, one of the branches crushed a car. Officials want this landmark of the community to come down before anyone gets hurt.

Naturally some scientists have noticed that tree death is a widespread problem but as usual they persist in attributing the trend to climate change.  Here is a review of a recent study written by Michael Lemonick of Climate Central:

Forests cover some 30 percent of Earth’s surface, and it’s hard to overestimate how crucial they are to the functioning of the planet. Forests provide shelter for uncountable numbers of species, hold soil in place that would otherwise wash away, pull excess carbon out of the atmosphere, absorb and re-emit water at such a rate that they literally control the weather, and serve as an economically vital natural resource.

All of those functions have long been endangered by human activities such as excessive logging and clear-cutting to open new agricultural land. But another factor, increasingly, is the stress of climate change — in particular, the higher temperatures and more frequent and intense droughts that human-generated greenhouse gases have begun to trigger. Now a new paper, released Sunday in Nature Climate Change, has attempted to lay out just how climate stress affects forests, and how serious the consequences of could be.
“This is the first snapshot of how these things fit together,” said lead author William Anderegg, “So we don’t have a lot of final answers yet.”

What they do know is that tree deaths go up during periods of excessive heat and drought. Some of the biggest of these die-offs have happened in the western U.S. in recent years, among pinon pines forests in the Southwest, for example, and trembling aspens in both the U.S. and Canada, and lodgepole pines and spruces in the Northwest — but they’ve also been documented on every continent except Antarctica.

“It’s a very important type of forest mortality,” Anderegg said, “And we expect it to become more common.”

Until recently, however, ecologists hadn’t really focused on drought-induced die-offs as a discrete category of forest trauma. That began to change, Anderegg said, after a meeting in Austin, Texas, last year. “Several of us decided to sit down, put our heads together and begin to look at the possible effects.”

They looked at dozens of individual studies, and found plenty. The loss of a forest’s dominant tree species has a ripple effect on all the other species that live there, by changing the amount of sunlight that reaches the forest floor; changing the mix of nutrients that enter the soil as leaves or needles decompose; allowing soil to wash away, especially on steep slopes, and — in some cases, at least — encouraging more fires.
Forest die-offs also impose an economic hit on loggers and those who depend on income from hikers, campers and others who use forests for recreation.

“One of the most interesting studies we looked at,” Anderegg said, “looked at the negative effect on real estate values in areas with forest loss.”

Forests are not only affected by climate; they also affect it. A living tree absorbs carbon from the air; kill the tree, and the carbon stays in circulation to trap heat. Not only that, as the tree decays, the carbon locked inside is gradually released back into the atmosphere. “It’s a double whammy,” Anderegg said.

On the flip side, leaves and needles are relatively dark, so they absorb solar energy. When a tree dies, they fall, exposing the ground below — and if that ground is light in color, more energy gets reflected. In a case like this, tree death can actually work to counteract global warming. “In a northerly forest where there’s snow on the ground,” said Anderegg, “this can be a big deal. In temperate forests, it’s not so much.”
The loss of trees also changes the amount of moisture in the air, which could potentially affect rainfall, although Anderegg and his co-authors write, "so far no studies have examined this.”
That’s not entirely true: a study just published in Nature argues that projected loss of tropical forests by 2050 could reduce rainfall in the Amazon basin by up to 21 percent — but Anderegg and his co-authors couldn’t have known this was coming. Broadly speaking, there are huge gaps in what scientists know. “This whole area has been fairly under-studied until now,” Anderegg said. “We need more research with a really wide net.”

To try and coordinate it, he and several colleagues have created a collaborative website to share knowledge about drought and tree mortality. The urgency of such research is only underscored by the 2012 drought, the worst to hit the U.S. in more than 50 years.

“The droughts of the early 2000’s caught us by surprise,” Anderegg said. “This one is our chance to pay attention as it unfolds.”

These maps are taken from the authors' website.  Do they bother to explain, or even ask the question, why trees are dying in areas that have normal soil moisture levels and are not in drought?  Of course not!

Following is an excerpt with an illustration from the study  "Consequences of widespread tree mortality triggered by drought and temperature stress":

Extensive tree mortality (‘forest die-off ’) triggered by dry and hot climatic conditions has been documented on every vegetated continent and in most bioregions over the past two decades (Fig. 1) 4–6. Although forest die-off has concerned ecologists since before the 1990s, at present no data set exists to assess the area and severity of widespread forest die-off globally over time.
Images of climate-induced forest die-off from around the world. Clockwise from top left: Spain, Colorado, New Mexico and Argentina. 
Changes in temperature, precipitation, insect and pathogen (termed collectively here as infestation) dynamics and more extreme climate events such as drought are expected to lead to increased instances of widespread forest die-off in the future. Several dynamic global vegetation models have simulated the widespread die-off of some forest biomes by the mid- or late-twenty-first century, leading to a weakening of the terrestrial carbon sink or a positive feedback to climate warming, though recent simulations do not suggest such a severe die-off,

I think if they redo those simulations and include the inexorably rising level of background ozone, they might get a severe die-off after all.  I WISH somebody would get funding to study what is happening to trees from air pollution, but given that this one received grant money from the DOE, perhaps that explains the bias towards CO2 emissions as the source for forest decline.

Below is another graph, with the caption, "Global distribution of studies documenting climate-induced widespread forest die-off events  and consequences, from the English language scientific literature. Studies documenting climate-induced widespread forest die-off events are represented by red circles, taken from ref. 4. Studies documenting the consequences are shown by different fill colours, explained in the legend."

This paper draws on previous research as can be seen from the notes in the paper, studies that have been linked to several times at Wit's End (primarily by Allen, and van Mantgem).  In addition to the consequences to climate, it's pretty clear from the following that the main worries are about the loss of "ecosystem services" i.e., stuff people want from trees, particularly lumber:

Ecosystem services, or the goods and services provided by ecosystems to society, have been broadly divided into four categories: provisioning (for example, food, timber); regulating (for example, climate control, water quality); supporting (for example, soil formation, nutrient cycling); and cultural services (for example, recreation, aesthetic benefits).

The effects of forest die-off on many ecosystem services, such as pest or air quality control, have been little studied and in many cases (particularly for services derived from forest animals rather than directly from plants) have few reasonable analogues from which to extrapolate. Other services such as water purification and property value are just beginning to be investigated and may be more comparable to other disturbances such as logging and wind throw. However, because forest mortality is typically widespread but not necessarily uniform, analogues should be employed with caution.

Owing to its economic importance to the United States and Canada, timber production has been the best-studied provisioning service altered by forest die-off. Large reductions in both short- 
and mid-term timber stocks have resulted from the regional scale of recent die-offs. For example, more than 630 million m3 of merchantable lodgepole pine were killed in British Columbia alone in a recent outbreak of mountain pine beetle. Initially, short-term production losses for some economically valuable timber species can be offset by salvage logging after a mortality event, although salvage operations often reach only a fraction of the affected forest and can be ecologically detrimental.

As many mortality events preferentially affect mature trees and leave living saplings and seedlings, mid-term (~20–50  years) timber losses may be somewhat offset by rapid stand regeneration, although overall losses still are likely to be substantial. The long-term potential of 
wood production is often uncertain because it is largely dependent on the regrowing species composition and the impacts of future climate on growth of the post-mortality forest regeneration. 
There has been little research, however, on the consequences of extensive tree mortality in areas where resource extraction other than timber may be economically important. Theoretically, other 
provisioning services, such as fruit or nut collection, may become patchier in availability, reducing the sustainability of production for local harvesters.  [maybe reduce food for wildlife too, ya think?]

"As many mortality events preferentially affect mature trees and leave living saplings and seedlings...".  Why is that??  If it's drought, then wouldn't older trees with deeper roots and greater stored reserves of energy be MORE, not LESS resilient?  Oh, unless pollution is the problem and older trees have accumulated more damage, from exposure season after season.
Drought obviously can't explain why these lily leaves are chlorotic since they are in water all the time...nor can it explain the many trees that are completely dead and so began their decline at least several years ago.
An example of useless, no doubt extremely expensive research reported on NPR, is titled "Torture Lab Kills Trees to Learn How to Save Them," even though the research is doing nothing of the sort.  It's not going to save them, at all.  But apparently, the megafires are focussing the minds.  Here's a link to their interactive fire forecast map, where you can detect your very own local risk from low to extreme (triangles are active large fires).  Following is the transcript.

The droughts that have parched big regions of the country are killing forests.

In the arid Southwest, the body count is especially high. Besides trying to keep wildfires from burning up these desiccated forests, there's not much anyone can do. In fact, scientists are only now figuring out how drought affects trees.

Park Williams studies trees at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, but not the way most scientists do. "We're interested in trees that die," he says — spefiically, death by heat and drought.

Sure, lack of water kills trees, but which ones die first, how long does it take, how long can they go without water? "That's a part we don't understand very well as ecologists," says Craig Allen, an ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. "We don't know what it takes to kill trees."

Allen and Williams have tracked droughts through the centuries. They know there've been bigger droughts than the one we're in now, but not many.

And Williams says this one is different. "In past droughts, temperatures always rebounded and precipitation rebounded and went to a wet time," he explains. "What we have now is a gradual trend toward warmer temperatures."

Climate change is making the region ever hotter. And when you have consistently hotter weather, the atmosphere gets thirsty — it sucks water out of the ground and out of plants. You get more droughts, and deeper droughts. There's less water for everything.

Computer models of climate change predict that this region will warm by several degrees before the century is out, and Allen says the "new normal" will look like the worst of the past. "So it suggests basically that the main tree populations on our mountains will die," Allen says. "They will not be able to survive there. It doesn't mean there won't be any trees anywhere on these landscapes, but it means the current dominant trees will die."
'We Don't Really Understand It'
Which ones survive, and how many, is the subject of research at the Los Alamos lab.
Nate McDowell runs what you might call a "tree torture" lab. It's actually outside in the desert, near the national lab. He's growing a group of pinon and juniper trees, about 15 feet high. Plastic gutters keep rain away from the tree roots, to simulate drought. The trees themselves are growing inside clear plastic chambers — tubes with no tops. Silvery hoses carry heated air into the chambers.

We climb in through a hole in the chamber where you can immediately feel the heat. It's about 7 degrees hotter than the outside, roughly the increase predicted by computer models of climate change over the next 80 years or so.

McDowell is simulating drought and a warmer climate. He measures how the trees respond — there are instruments stuck into and all over the trees. Even wrapped around the stem.

"Every few minutes they measure the diameter of that tree," he explains. The trees look like patients in intensive care — wired up with tubes coming out of the stems. All to see what it takes to kill it. "Everyone knows it gets hot and dry; you know, beetles show up, the trees are dead," McDowell says, "but we don't really understand it."
One thing he's watching are the tiny holes in the trees' needles, called stomata. The trees absorb carbon dioxide through them, to make food. In drought, though, the stomata close up to conserve moisture. That means they can't make food. "Now that's no problem if it's just for a day or week," McDowell points out, "but you know the question is how long can they tolerate that before they run out of their stores? It's like if we didn't eat."

We'd start burning up our own stores of fat, and that's what drought-stressed trees appear to do — they start consuming themselves, though it's not fat but carbon.

And when trees die, whatever carbon they've got left goes into the atmosphere. Carbon is the very thing that's already warming the planet. "If there's more surface area of the Earth dying, more forests are dying, there could be more carbon coming out into the atmosphere," McDowell predicts. "It accelerates the warming of the Earth."

When the climate warms, trees in dry places like this may not survive. But the world's climate scientists have yet to include predictions of how vegetation is likely to respond. That's what the work here is aimed at — to help predict where the losses will be, and where there might be refuges, so we'll know more about what climate change will bring.

See, it actually matters that ozone is killing the trees, not climate change, because NOTHING is going to survive if we keep emitting precursors, which travel to even the most remote places.  There won't be any "refuges".
Remember the story about "Invasive Fungi Wreak Havoc on Species Worldwide" and the research that trees are emitting methane because they are rotting from Archaea?  Well, now we have March of the Dead Zones!  Unfortunately, the obligatory optimism at the end of the article is not supported by historical precedent, and thus I expect we will continue to farm industrially, poisoning with excessive nutrients not just the water as described - but the air as well.

Out of sight, and largely out of mind, something deeply disturbing is taking place in the world’s oceans and estuaries: hundreds of dead zones, areas devoid of oxygen and the sea life it supports, are forming.

In recent decades the number of these aquatic black spots has risen steadily. At the latest count there were 479 such sites, distributed along the most populous coastlines of Europe, Asia, the Americas and even Australia. Together they cover an area somewhat larger than Victoria.
Dead Zones are not a new phenomenon. The first one was spotted in the 1850s when industrialisation killed the Mersey River in the UK. But since then they have metastasized, steadily and remorselessly invading all the oceans and seas most affected by human activity on land. Like the ominous blotches on a cancer patient’s x-ray, you can see their spread on the world map at:

The cause of Dead Zones is well understood: they are driven by the avalanche of nutrients which humanity dumps in the oceans – from agriculture, sewage, leaky landfills, urban stormwater, soil erosion, industrial and vehicle emissions. This rich nutrient soup provides the food source for vast blooms of algae – and as these die off they sink to the sea floor and decompose causing blooms of bacteria which strip the essential oxygen from the water column, often resulting in fish kills – their most visible impact.
A hole in the canopy.
They are also hastened by global warming, which stratifies the water, trapping the stagnant water and preventing it from mixing with the oxygen-rich surface layer.

What many people do not realise is that some of the worst extinctions in the history of life on Earth occurred because of a process very similar to this. In the biggest of the lot, the Great Death of the Permian around 252m years ago, an estimated 95 per cent of marine species were wiped out – rugose corals, nautiloids, armoured fish, trilobites – never  to be seen again.
Cankers are caused by fungus, and are eventually lethal.  They are now ubiquitous.
What triggered it is still a scientific mystery – an outbreak of volcanism, striking asteroids, a giant solar storm, colossal seabed methane eruptions: who knows? – but the geological evidence points to a massive global spike in CO2 levels, accompanied by rapid planetary warming, huge outbreaks of anoxia (loss of oxygen from seawater) and the destruction of marine habitats. One thing is fairly clear – by the end of it all fungi and moulds were rulers of the Earth, feasting on the dead.

The multiplying Dead Zones in the world’s oceans today not only resemble the Permian event on a local scale in terms of what drove them – but have two additional drivers: overfishing and pollution from the 83,000 chemicals which humans manufacture on the land and then carelessly liberate into the global environment.

The biggest contributors of all are the 110 million tonnes of nitrogen, 9 million tonnes of phosphorus and other nutrients which we unleash into the planetary ecosystem every year as we try to feed ourselves. That is off-the-scale compared with what the pre-human Earth circulated naturally.
The really unsettling fact is that, if we continue to depend upon agriculture for our food supply, then humanity’s dependence on artificial fertilisers is likely to double by the 2060s – and so will our indiscriminate release of nutrients into the world’s rivers, lakes and oceans. That release, in turn, will spawn more and larger Dead Zones – like that affecting 22,000 square kilometres of sea at the mouth of America’s Mississippi river. In Australia we are not short of warnings, in the form of the Gippsland lakes, WA’s Peel-Harvey inlet, the Hawkesbury and Richmond rivers in NSW, Queensland’s Moreton Bay and a dozen more.

The solution to this unsettling problem is quite simple and even technically feasible: it is to recycle our nutrients. It is to prohibit the discharge of any form of nutrient-enriched waste by any individual, company, government or agency. And it is to mandate the return of all such wastes into the food and fibre producing industries or other productive uses, like carbon plantations or algae farms for food and fuel production.

At present neither Australia, nor indeed most other countries in the world, has a plan to recycle nutrients. Without such a plan, despite the assertions of politicians and their public servants, nations will remain food insecure, exposed to scarcities and price shocks of oil and fertilisers.
Most societies increasingly recycle their glass, their aluminium, their steel, their building materials, their paper, even their water – so why the blind spot with nutrients? It is almost as if we do not understand what keeps us alive, what causes our living planet to function (or dysfunction).We have to be smarter than that.

The recycling of nutrients can not only avert the death of large areas of ocean and freshwater – potentially it can green our cities, feed us and our animals and power all our vehicles, ships and aircraft renewably. It will generate a host of sustainable new industries, interesting high-tech jobs, both urban and rural, and valuable knowledge exports. It will ensure we never need entrust our nation’s future to unreliable foreign imports of oil, fertiliser or food.

By heeding the warning signal provided by the Dead Zones, we can generate great national advantage, self-sufficiency and resilience, show international leadership – and thus help to avoid overstressing the Earth systems on which we all depend. We have a choice: we can either bequeath the planet to our great grandchildren – or to the fungi. Which would you prefer?

"The biggest contributors of all are the 110 million tonnes of nitrogen" - and that contributes to ozone, too.
Even the authors of this study from the Royal Society - "Highly contrasting effects of different climate forcing agents on terrestrial ecosystem services" - do not appreciate the dire portents of their analysis (they have various hopes too!)

They start off well:  "... increases in near-surface ozone (O3) are very detrimental to plant productivity."

But then they neglect to inform their readers of just how that constitutes a dire and existential threat.  Although I have to agree with this:  "This study highlights the need to develop more informative metrics of the impact of changing atmospheric constituents that go beyond simple radiative forcing." which is another way of saying, CO2 and warming aren't the only thing happening as a result of human activity, and we jolly well had better take a look at what, exactly, the other greenhouse gases are doing besides "simple radiative forcing", and they include ocean acidification, making specific reference to the inability of geoengineering schemes to improve it.  They also incorporate the masking effect of aerosols.  Perhaps this is as close as scientists get to real ecology.
They run models to predict what the impact of rising levels of Co2 and other greenhouse gases will have on NPP - Net Primary Productivity, and R - Runoff.  Following is what their model shows for increases in ozone:

From figure 1a, such Odamage would give a significantly lower global NPP, although raised R because the less productive vegetation uses much less water for transpiration. Indeed, we simulate a 13.2 per cent reduction in leaf stomatal conductance for woody vegetation between the elevated O3 and present-day control simulation, which is broadly consistent with observed reductions from manipulation experiments [8]. When combined with the associated climate change (blue cross in figure 1b), there is a further reduction in NPP, and slightly smaller increase in runoff. O3 physiological damage in this simulation corresponds to a 15.4 per cent reduction in terrestrial carbon (table 1). Where O3 concentrations increase there is almost always a reduction in NPP (figure 2c) and an increase in R (figure 3c).

Below is Figure 2, showing the impact of increased ozone on Net Primary Productivity in the lower left map.  Looks kinda scary, doesn't it?

Here are the model simulations for Runoff in Figure 3 - again, the impact of ozone is on the lower left.  Looks kinda wet, doesn't it?

"An increase in Runoff" from less transpiration.  Wasn't I just saying something about landslides?  Hmm, let's compare the increased runoff map above, with the incidents of non-seismic landslide fatalities from the landslide blog, which "...indicates where the global hot spots lie":

warning -snark ahead


Of course, being scientists, they ultimately offer their version of the mantra *more research is necessary* - which in this instance translates as "Further studies are required"...even though none, really, are.

We already know that we are destroying the very ecosystems on earth that sustain human life.  What we need to figure out - and won't - is how to live very differently in order to survive.  We don't need to study how we are destroying the air, water, and soil - that is all quite obvious.

Meanwhile another result of dying plants will be the death of all the creatures that depend on them for food and habitat.  Where are the moths?  Does anybody remember seeing them, piled up in the bottoms of glass lanterns, their soft pale dusty bodies as light as air?  It is said, inaccurately, that they are drawn to the flame, which is better as a metaphor for humanity's mindless urge towards searing self-destruction.
Ozone may even kill animals directly - it certainly kills humans!  From one of any number of reports:

Most Americans understand the damage that polluted air can cause to the lungs and respiratory system. They are less knowledgeable about the similarly high risk to the heart and cardiovascular system.

The World Health Organization estimates that two million people die each year because of heart problems made worse by high levels of ozone.

Older persons with established health problems are at greatest danger, of course, but young, fit athletes are not exempt and, in some ways, may be even more vulnerable. During vigorous exercise, we breathe in 10 to 20 times more air than when we’re sedentary. We breathe more deeply and mostly through the mouth–bypassing the protective filters of the nose.

According to a 2004 Australian review of pollution studies, even low concentrations of pollutants caused health damage to persons during exercise similar to those caused by higher concentrations in sedentary persons.
report, "Facing Disaster, the little things that rule the world", that echoes an earlier post at Wit's End, The Zoological Society of London...

"suggests that about 20 per cent of the world's insects, spiders, worms, crustaceans, molluscs and other animals without backbones are endangered, for reasons ranging from pollution and over-harvesting to the effect of invasive species.

The report, entitled "Spineless", and produced in conjunction with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which compiles the Red List of threatened species, is the first attempt at estimating the global conservation status of invertebrates.

Invertebrates constitute almost 80 per cent of the world's 1.9 million known species and display staggering diversity, ranging from microscopic zooplankton to giant squid which can reach 18 metres in length.

But much less attention is paid to them than to vertebrate animals, which include mammals, birds, fish and reptiles, and are far fewer in number (totalling about 60,000 species).

And this is the case even though invertebrates are crucial in maintaining ecosystems – without insects, for example, we would lose much of the pollination services upon which agriculture depends, and without earthworms, the processes that spread organic matter through soil would be disrupted."
First we heard the caribou are dying in Canada for no apparent reason, and now we learn that that moose are dying too.  The title of the article is "Iconic Moose Hit by Mysterious Virus in Sweden" although it's clear from the text that there is no evidence of any virus, and the main description we get of these animals is that they are emaciated.  Last I heard, that's a major symptom of malnutrition, but I guess since hardly anyone outside the USDA (and they're not talking) understands that both the quantity and quality of agricultural crops are diminished by ozone, and so by extension must be food for wild animals, the scientists are vainly searching for a disease, or worms, or something, anything, to explain starving wildlife, especially in places where they can't attribute it to drought.

The Swedish province of Blekinge has been the site of a curious and unexplained disease that has killed multiple moose over the past months.  The mysterious disease has left the iconic large mammals emaciated, apathetic, and paralyzed. One stricken moose was found blind and another suffered from severe hair loss.

The moose that were found in Blekinge in southern Sweden were between 2 and 7 years old—an age at which they normally should have been in top shape. The total number of moose found so far is 15, but it’s unclear how many more might be dead in the wild.

...A severe worm infestation itself could cause emaciation and death, but it could also be a symptom of another condition such as an impaired immune system.

The institute is planning further analysis and will also launch a field investigation, as emaciation is very rare for adult moose in summer months.
On Oland, Sweden’s second largest island, the mortality of moose calves has also been abnormally high this year, with the cause of death also a mystery.

Moose suffering from unexplained illnesses also turned up at the end of last year in the southern county of Kronoberg. The animals suffered hair loss and some lost their horns. It is still unknown whether there is a connection between the sick moose in Kronoberg and those in Oland and Blekinge.
A mushroom!
I have said before that if you plunk me down oh, anywhere, I can show you that trees are dying.  Only the rare person recognizes the decline, even though it is quite plain to see - it is as though most everyone else has on the green glasses that were worn in the Emerald City.
But some of us were at the end of the line when they were passing out green-tinted spectacles and so we didn't get our ration - despite ourselves, we see the true colors and know that trees aren't green anymore.

“But isn’t everything here green?” asked Dorothy.

“No more than in any other city,” replied Oz; “but when you wear green spectacles, why of course everything you see looks green to you. The Emerald City was built a great many years ago, for I was a young man when the balloon brought me here, and I am a very old man now. But my people have worn green glasses on their eyes so long that most of them think it really is an Emerald City, and it certainly is a beautiful place, abounding in jewels and precious metals, and every good thing that is needed to make one happy. I have been good to the people, and they like me; but ever since this Palace was built, I have shut myself up and would not see any of them.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum
In the same way, most people blithely ignore the disaster in the Arctic.  A comment at Greenman's story about it is what first led me to the Landslide Blog.  Following is part of his post about the melting and the implications landslides:

This is the graph that some are terming the “Death Spiral”, although I think that such superlatives can be a little unhelpful.  It is not hard to see the way in which the loss of ice volume has accelerated in recent years, or just how little there is left at the end of the summer melt season this year. A summer with an ice-free Arctic Ocean is quite within the bounds of possibility within a decade.
You may well be wondering what this has to do with landslides.  Of course in the high latitudes, and at high elevations, there is a direct effect as melting permfrost is increasing the likelihood of landslides and rockfalls.  However, there may well be a more subtle but significant effect.  In a paper published this year, Francis and Vavrus (2012) suggested that there are some interesting effects of the changing temperature balance between the high latitudes and the mid latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere.
Essentially this is the effect known as arctic amplification (AA), in which the high latitudes are warming more rapidly than areas further to the south.  This in turn is changing the characteristics of the jet stream, which is a key factor in determining the weather conditions in the mid-latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere.  The analysis suggested that as a result of AA, the jet stream is developing a structure that is more wavy, and this in turn is causing weather systems in the mid-latitudes to change more slowly.  Thus, droughts, extreme rainfall events and even cold weather spells are likely to become more frequent and longer lasting.
Fried Ferns
This summer has of course seen a dramatic illustration of this, with extreme drought conditions across a large swathe of North America.  In the UK we had a prolonged spell of wet weather in the first half of the summer – it ended just in time for the Olympics – which has meant that 2012 is the wettest summer in a century.  The upshot has been landslides affecting the rail network, coastal cliffs and inland areas.  Three people were killed by these landslides. It seems likely that such events will become more common across the mid-latitudes, interspersed with at least some rather intense cold weather spells and summer droughts.
Which of course brings us back to the Arctic sea ice.  This exceptional melt season will further enhance AA, and there is a strong feedback mechanism operating in this area.  Unfortunately, the loss of the ice causes a reduction in albedo (reflectivity), meaning that more heat is trapped in the ocean.  The net effect is an acceleration of the warming trend in the high latitudes.

So, unfortunately, the loss of Arctic Sea Ice is likely to have an impact on landslides in the mid-latitudes.  Just how intense this effect will be is unclear.  We still have a great deal to learn about the ways that the different components of the climate system interact.
I won't quote from this essay from a member of the Arctic Methane Emergency Group, who I doubt would think "death spiral" too much of a superlative, but I highly recommend it, if only for the satisfaction I found when I learned that I am not the only person who has been denigrated by the Lord High Pooh-bah and the Noble PishTush at RealClimate (and I'll throw Tamino in there, because why not?)!
Somebody at Greenman's blog thanked me for posting that link in comments - here is our exchange (for posterity):
witsendnj Says:


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from the Arctic Methane Emergency Group:
Having been personally similarly dismissed by Real Climate (for suggesting that climate models are not adequately incorporating the loss of a major CO2 sink because of forests dying off from ozone pollution) I have a lot of sympathy for the AMEG.
  • rayduray Says:


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    Thanks for the HuffPo discussion of Real Climate’s sometimes odd biases. I’ve been wondering about that site. I read their dismissiveness of the methane issue above the Arctic Circle and wondered if they were perhaps being too cavalier about the risks.
    It’s good to see my suspicions corroborated by others.
    • witsendnj Says:


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      And thank YOU for the landslide blog! Maybe there are so many more deaths from landslides (amazing graph there) because of wild weather and melting ice, but to an Ozonista like me, it’s welcome evidence that I expected to find, that vegetation is in decline as are roots that hold soil and absorb precipitation.
      RealClimate (some not all contributors) are, like most scientists, still stuck in the old paradigm of reticence, caution, professional discretion, and remaining above the policy fray. They are trained to be that way. And they don’t like being asked, “What part of existential threat don’t you understand?”
      The days when science can be aloof are over, but most of them haven’t figured it out yet, or, they just don’t want to risk their reputation/career by inviting the dreaded epithet “alarmist”.
      Or as somebody once said, no one ever got denied tenure or funding for saying “more research is needed.”
Here and there some few people are brave and even risk their life to protect the biosphere, like the reporter who was found axed to death in his car.

A journalist who exposed illegal logging and corruption has been found axed to death in the boot of his car in Cambodia.  Police found Hang Serei Oudom's blood-covered body in his Toyota Camry saloon, abandoned in a cashew nut plantation in Ratanakiri province, in the northeast of the country.

...Colleagues had been worried about his safety after he wrote a series of articles about timber smuggling and corruption in Ratanakiri.  His latest story accused the son of a military police commander of smuggling logs in military-plated vehicles and extorting money from people legally transporting wood.

Pen Bonnar, from rights group The Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association, said: "Before he was murdered, other journalists had warned him not to write critically about forest crimes."  He said illegal logging in Ratanakiri was linked to powerful individuals in Cambodia and was "a dangerous area" for reporters and activists to work in.

Cambodia has lost 16% of its forests in the past two decades because of illegal logging, according to the UN.
But mostly, the evidence mounts that humans are a pestilential vermin on the planet, condemned by our own genetic makeup to ecocide.  Of course, there are those especially evil folks, I don't mean to let them off the hook.  But I think no matter who is the worst and most deliberate exploiter...even if the Koch Brothers were never's only been a matter of time since agriculture began, or perhaps since Prometheus gave us fire, until we fashioned our own demise.  So just for today, at least, we will have a special category for that sort of story and call them WCEO, in honor of the famous chat Henri, who famously learned We Cannot Escape Ourselves.  On his facebook page the magnificent, mournful feline posted this quote from Emerson:
“Traveling is a fool's paradise. Our first journeys discover to us the indifference of places. At home I dream that at Naples, at Rome, I can be intoxicated with beauty, and lose my sadness. I pack my trunk, embrace my friends, embark on the sea, and at last wake up in Naples, and there beside me is the stern fact, the sad self, unrelenting, identical, that I fled from. I seek the Vatican, and the palaces. I affect to be intoxicated with sights and suggestions, but I am not intoxicated. My giant goes with me wherever I go.”
So here are some brief portions of stories that fit into the WCEO category:

How the American University Was Killed, in Five Easy Steps - well worth reading all of it:

Within one generation, in five easy steps, not only have the scholars and intellectuals of the country been silenced and nearly wiped out, but the entire institution has been hijacked, and recreated as a machine through which future generations will ALL be impoverished, indebted and silenced. Now, low wage migrant professors teach repetitive courses they did not design to students who travel through on a kind of conveyor belt, only to be spit out, indebted and desperate into a jobless economy.
The only people immediately benefitting inside this system are the administrative class – whores to the corporatized colonizers, earning money in this system in order to oversee this travesty. But the most important thing to keep in mind is this: The real winners, the only people truly benefitting from the big-picture meltdown of the American university are those people who, in the 1960s, saw those vibrant college campuses as a threat to their established power. They are the same people now working feverishly to dismantle other social structures, everything from Medicare and Social Security to the Post Office.

Looking at this wreckage of American academia, we have to acknowledge:  They have won.

From the New York Times:  "As Coolant is Fazed Out, Smugglers Reap Large Profits" - oh, and respectable American businesses buy it!  That's right, just about the only supposed "success story" of international cooperation often cited as a model for a potential climate change agreement by the Big Green hopium addicts, The Montreal Protocol to reduce stratospheric ozone depleting chemicals, is a sham.
It's official - "US Declares Northeast Fishery a Disaster in the Northeast"

The Commerce Department on Thursday issued a formal disaster declaration for the Northeastern commercial groundfish fishery, paving the way for financial relief for the battered industry and the communities that depend on it…

“This year has been the worst I’ve ever seen it,” said John Our, who has caught only 500 of the 180,000 pounds of cod he was allotted this year and has shifted his focus to dogfish instead. “It is a disaster, I’ll give them that. I just don’t see any fish being landed.”
The numbers indicate a sudden, stunning decline in recent years, about which scientists have not settled on an explanation. On the Yukon, for example, 1,488 pounds of salmon were harvested in 2011, down from more than 859,000 pounds in 2006, a state study found.

"...scientists have not settled on an explanation."  Collapse anyone?
Chris Hedges interviews Richard Heinberg for his article, "Growth is the Problem" in which the following is highlighted in the sidebar:

The steady depletion of natural resources, especially fossil fuels, along with the accelerated pace of climate change, will combine with crippling levels of personal and national debt to thrust us into a global depression that will dwarf any in the history of capitalism. And very few of us are prepared.

But my favorite part is this quote: deterioration accelerates there will be a greater resolve on the part of the power elite to “cannibalize the resources of society in order to prop up megabanks and military establishments.”

Although both Hedges and Heinberg reliably ignore the collapse of the ecosystem, which is why Hedges is able to end with this delusional sentiment from Heinberg, one he presumably endorses:

Localism will soon be our fate. It will also be our strategy for survival. Learning practical skills, becoming more self-sufficient, forming bonds of trust with our neighbors will determine the quality of our lives and the lives of our children.
Something to look forward to, on October 12:

About 400 trees will be removed to get the retired space vehicle from Los Angeles International Airport to it's final home at the California Science Center, where it will be on display...
Trees that interfere with the shuttle will have to be removed, and some residents are upset.
"They are cutting down these really big, majestic trees," Lark Galloway-Gilliam, a longtime resident and neighborhood council director told the L.A. Times. "It will be beyond my lifetime before they will be tall like this again."
Monarch migration expected to be disappointing in Kansas:

“The population is probably only 50 percent of the long-term average,” Taylor said. “There’s no question the monarch population is going down. It’s the same old story we hear over and over — loss of habitat.”
Taylor said research shows monarchs have lost around 160 million acres of habitat since the mid-1990s.
“They’re losing about 2.2 million acres of habitat a year just to development,” he said. “That’s about 6,000 acres per day.”
And much of what was once their most fertile breeding grounds are no longer accommodating to monarchs because of changes in agriculture.
“Research showed that agricultural provided some of our most productive monarch habitat. Fields of soybeans and corn were important sources of milkweeds for monarchs,” said Taylor, who said milkweeds are about the only plant on which monarchs will lay eggs.
Even the flower looks brown - taken in the dunes at Martha's Vineyard.
“It was ideal habitat because we had maybe 20 to 30 nice milkweed plants per acre in all those fields,” Taylor said.
That changed, though, with the advent of special herbicide-resistant soybean and corn plants that allowed farmers to spray fields and kill all vegetation except the crops.
Taylor said loss of milkweed plants in such fields has cost monarch butterflies about 100 million acres of productive habitat since about 2000.
Also, more and more prairies and pastures are being plowed and planted to corn each year because of high demand for highly profitable ethanol.
August 21 in yet another example of the total corruption that pervades all branches of government:

A U.S. appeals court on Tuesday overturned a key Obama administration rule to reduce harmful emissions from coal-burning power plants, sparking a rally in coal company shares and relief among utility firms.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit said in a 2-1 decision that the Environmental Protection Agency had exceeded its mandate with the rule, which was to limit sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions from power plants in 28 mostly Eastern states and Texas.

In the latest setback for the EPA, the court sent the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule back for revision, telling the agency to administer its existing Clean Air Interstate Rule - the Bush-era regulation that it was updating - in the interim. The EPA said it was reviewing the ruling.

A sad farmer tries to save his oak:

For the first time in his lifetime, John Sam Williamson hauled water into the Missouri River bottoms this week for the champion bur oak that adorns his 1,000-acre farm.

The 850 gallons deposited yesterday — the second load of that size in as many days — soaked quickly into the ground as Williamson sought to relieve the stress of the worst drought he has ever experienced.

"The drought of '80 was different," he said. "That was hotter, but this one is longer."
Williamson's family has been farming in the bottoms near McBaine for six generations. The bur oak, estimated to be 350 years old, is listed as the largest of its kind anywhere.

The tree was starting to show signs of distress, Williamson said. "The leaves are beginning to curl up a little bit, and they have turned kind of brown. I think it has aborted a lot of the acorns. And the leaves turn upside down to keep from losing moisture."

I came across an online version of a book by Jacob Joshua Levison, Studies of Trees, published way back in 1914.  Following are some of the pictures from the book.  It is striking how full and dense the crowns are, and how even and unblemished the texture of the bark.
Norway Maples lining a street

A Shagbark Hickory
Red Oak Bark
Tulip Poplar towering over a snow-covered gazebo, with strong intact branches all the way up the trunk. 
A Linden Tree with tiny figures below
Bark of the Beech
Here is a lovely old copper beech outside Cape Cod Hospital.
Another view - I got very fond of it.  It certainly predates the current medical complex, which must have been built up around it.
Consider the trunk and compare it to the old one from the 1914 book..
Beech trees have always reminded me of the solid, leathery legs of elephants, a smooth grey with some wrinkles.
They never used to be pockmarked and corroded, and now have become encrusted with lichen.
The leaves have burnt edges.
The conifers opposite the parking lot are loosing needles and turning brown.
A commemorative plaque under this tree says it was planted in 1982.
It obviously thrived...for a while.  Now it has a transparent crown.
And as usual the bark is falling off, smeared with lichen.
Even young newly planted trees in the parking lot are thin, and have trunks that are besieged with lichen.
Here's the entrance to the hospital.
The hydrangeas are important, because they show exactly what ozone studies describe - the older foliage is discolored because it can't photosynthesize, while the newer leaves, higher up on the stems, are in better condition.
After the hospital, Doc spent a week at physical rehab.  That building too had hydrangeas with fresh green growth above the older, withered leaves.
This demonstrates that the leaves are NOT turning color because autumn is coming.
The exact same situation is going on with trees - August is too early for them to turn fall color.
Very strange to see more albino leaves, which I found in West Virginia.
More are to be found on this Japanese Maple.
 Very bizarre - talk about a lack of chlorophyll!
Insanely, azalea is blooming.  Perhaps it's because the seasons are out of whack, or because plants, sensing the end is nigh, are desperately trying to reproduce.
Here's a glaring example of a thinning crown, adjacent to the copper beech.
Dead leaves collect on the pavement.
This is where I liked to go pick up dinner and sit for a while on the deck overlooking the Hyannis harbor.  Trees that once shaded the picnic table are now stumps on either side.
Almost every afternoon for about an hour while Doc was napping I took in this incredibly blue view, day after beautiful day.
I was lucky to get a break when my sister came to the Cape for two nights over Labor Day weekend, so I hopped on the ferry and went to visit my friend Adrianne on Martha's Vineyard, who was kind enough to take me in.
Everywhere on the island are Labrador Retrievers, Golden and Brown.  This particularly naughty one wouldn't come in from the water.
This well-groomed pair sat politely under their umbrellas.
One was particularly adept at navigating the steep stairs in the barn where I slept, a charming, rustic unwinterized abode known as a "camp".
Here's the entrance to the kitchen.

a hydrangea round the back with one periwinkle flowerhead...

and the side door, open to the breezes, the closest thing to sleeping outdoors.  I loved it!

We went to East Tisbury for lunch.
Nobody else in the parking lot seemed to notice that the leaves weren't green, and there were many branches bare.
They probably think that orange is colorful, when it is actually rust.
Here is the wall of old brass doors, unchanged for many years.
The flowering vines in the pots have a story to tell.
The leaves of scarlet runner beans are speckled.
The lower parts of the vines have lost their leaves altogether, and the flowers are stunted.
The planters are similarly blighted.  Is this because of drought?  Don't they get watered?  
Next we went to the beach, where there was an array of stone and driftwood sculptures, some small, others more epic.
I decided to roam over the dunes.
Far off was a large tent, set up for a wedding.
A windmill dwarfed the setting, where flags fluttered from the peaks of the tents.
It was very strange to wander through untouched dunes and hear a string quartet.  So, I'll leave off writing captions for a couple of minutes, because if all goes well, you can click on it listen as you scroll through the scenes of dying shrubs, just like I did.

Originally written for the court of Louis XV, King of France is Jean-Joseph Mouret's (1682-1738) "Rondeau" from his Symphonies and Fanfares for the King's Supper. 

Various - Mouret / Rondeau From First Symphonicsuite

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The cliffs are spectacularly eroded.
Sea Level Rise from global warming?
More violent storms from climate change?
Oh well, at least it's fun for the children...for now.
These views are of the public side.
It's Martha's Vineyard after all, so this is probably the 1%.  It's not packed, like the Jersey shore (shudder) beaches, and it's also very white.

In the opposite direction can be glimpsed the private side, reserved for the .01%.  I'm heartbroken to be missing the one-year anniversary of Occupy Wall Street!  I will be glued to Timcast on Ustream on Monday.
We went to a take-out restaurant on the wharf.
Sitting outside, we worked through a small mountain of steamers.
It was perfect weather the entire time.
I was surprised to see such run-down shacks considering the value of real estate.
There is a very active fishing community here.
I wonder if the fishermen let their buildings deteriorate our of sheer defiance to the well-heeled summer residents.
The paint is peeling, broken windows go unmended, and weeds encroach inside sheds.
But, lures hang in neat rows.
The second day we started with brunch at a sidewalk café.
Colors of leaves are changing early, aka premature senescence.
The tourists strolling down the streets didn't seem to notice anything amiss.  I suppose it's easy enough to overlook how thin that tree on the right is...but what about those in the background?
Or this one, with the bare branches sticking painfully above the rest?
We stopped at a little mall on the way to the Chappaquiddick ferry.
The locust leaves are turning yellow far too early, and the bark is cracking.
This Japanese Maple looks jaundiced.
It's leaves are badly burnt.
And what can be said about this pathetic specimen?
There is a cluster of buildings around the ferry dock.
As usual, no one seems to think it's out of the ordinary for trees to look this appalling.
I guess this is what will pass for that wonderful fall color that has been predicted.
I know that "lichen doesn't harm the tree" but it's a pretty good indicator that the tree is in distress.
When it is covering the branches and trunks to this extent, you can be sure to find shriveled leaves as well.
But we will just sail on by!
There is a large nature preserve on Chappaquiddick, free and open to all.
Here are the real tree killers, lined up.
There's just far too much of this, in too many places, for too long a time.
After walking up and down the beach, we came back to the ferry to return.
The next day, I returned to the mainland, and that was the end of my marvelous mini-vacation.
Even the grasses look like it's late fall instead of late summer.
The trees across the marsh are turning brown.
Below is a picture of a hillside above a beach on St. John, the Virgin Islands.  This is the island paradise where my parents spend their winters; but not this year, or maybe ever again.  Do you see how the trees there are turning brown there too? 
Special thanks go to the producers of this film, who granted me permission to embed it here at Wit's End.  It has to be one of the most brilliantly simplified expositions on our intractable predicament - the overwhelming urge to survive above all else...I guess it's Darwinian, or something.  No need to stress about it.

Hermit Crab Migration from Steve Simonsen on Vimeo.


  1. Last weekend I was talking with a Masters degreed professional educator about the ozone and how harmful it is to....

    "Lightning makes ozone, you must be wrong about that!"

    American denial of the consequences of their lifestyle is so strong and vociferous! I may as well have proposed eating babies or something.

  2. It was suggested to me that all those trees dead on the beach are from wind. How did they get that big to begin with, if it's wind?

  3. hi Gail,
    in your post the woman wanting to save her tree said: «The couple noted that their kids played under it when they were growing up, and they have parked their cars under its branches for years.»
    well, their cars did it, or was it their kids who will want cars too? or already have cars?
    just watched this short video:

  4. Should Maine have an ozone problem?

  5. Plovering, HOW can you have been reading Wit's End and NOT KNOW that the background level of ozone is rising EVERYWHERE?? How can you have missed the satellite images, the AQ reports? How can you not understand that ozone precursors can travel from China to California, from Ohio to Maine, over oceans and continents? Why do you bother reading? That is so basic.

    I just did a google search for Maine ozone and one of the first stories is a news video warning people not to exercise because of an ozone alert, but their are innumerable others, just look!

  6. See Plovering, this is why I like you. You are so provocative. Check out this map from the EPA which is constantly updated for air quality in Maine.

    The green dots are for levels from zero to 50 ppb. That is designated GOOD. It goes up to 301+ which is considered hazardous, passing through moderate (51-100), unhealthy for sensitive groups (101-150), very unhealthy (201-300).

    Given that we know that the threshhold above which plants are damaged is FORTY ppb, that "good" designation is utterly useless.

  7. It's the wind! HA!

    Reminds me of Haitian hillside farmers claiming rocks were poking up into their soil, making their planting difficult.

    Actually, I've heard farmers here in America say the same thing, that rocks are poking up in the fields.

    Nobody ever admits harming their environment, because then they'd have to change their ways.

  8. Your remark about the moths got me to check the light by the front door. Emptying that was once a weekly chore. Had not been done for over a year. There were possibly a couple days worth (by former standards) of small moths in the bottom. So moths at 1% of what they once were. Or less.

    We leave doors and windows wide open in the evening now, when lights are on in the house. Nothing flies in.

  9. Following your instructions per msg. 9/17/12, I find ozone ppb dropping all over New England -- for the last ten years.

  10. Plovering, you are more than welcome to read my blog, and to make comments. But if you are going to make comments, at least actually read it.

    The BACKGROUND level of ozone is rising. The peak exceedances are not the issue. It's the persistent ozone that is always there, on top of which the peaks are calculated. The plants never get a chance to recover when they are exposed to constant background levels 40 ppb and above.

    Go back over this post and pay particular attention to Dr. Brain's question about ambient levels - the elephant in the room okay?

  11. Plovering, you are more than welcome to read my blog, and to make comments. But if you are going to make comments, at least actually read it.

    The BACKGROUND level of ozone is rising. The peak exceedances are not the issue. It's the persistent ozone that is always there, on top of which the peaks are calculated. The plants never get a chance to recover when they are exposed to constant background levels 40 ppb and above.

    Go back over this post and pay particular attention to Dr. Brain's question about ambient levels - the elephant in the room okay?

  12. A quick hello & question, since you are talking about ozone/air quality. Where can I find good information about air quality on a day to day basis? My 4 year old son has severe allergies/asthma, and I have asthma, as well. We very often have days where you can see/smell smoke from wildfires out west (We live in Rapid City, SD) but I can rarely find information on air quality due to fires. Smoke is very dangerous for asthmatics, especially children. They have put out advisories when there is actual ash and particulate matter falling from the sky, and we get wind advisories/air quality alerts at least weekly, it seems. We are in extreme drought, it was 75 degrees in January, our yard turned to dust, and the trees look as bad as those in these photos, if not worse. Oh, and none of our tomatoes produced any fruit. Last summer, we couldn't keep up with them. Also last spring/summer, our whole state was in constant flood conditions and they released the dams on the Missouri River. I've never spent an entire summer indoors, but with three small children, the heat/drought/wind/dust was unsafe. I swear the air conditioner ran for two straight months, and we are just now able to get it below 75 degrees indoors with the arrival of cooler weather. No rain anywhere in sight, though. Just a little background on where I'm at. Very scary times. Any info on useful air quality sites would be greatly appreciated. Thank you for all the work you do here, Gail.


  13. Hi Badlands,

    Sorry to hear about your troubles. Here are some links. The EPA does keep track, they just set the acceptable limits to suit industry not health.

  14. Hi Badlands,

    Sorry to hear about your troubles. Here are some links. The EPA does keep track, they just set the acceptable limits to suit industry not health.

  15. Thanks Gail!
    The Smog Blog looks pretty useful. I have found nearly useless. I have pretty much been in the habit of guessing air quality by how it looks/smells when I open the door in the morning. I'm from Alaska and about 10 years ago 6 million acres burned, so I'm familiar with that orange/pink hue that the air takes on with smoke. Thank you again. Also, none of the lilacs bloomed this year, is that normal?

  16. Hard to say about your lilacs...maybe it got warm early, and then there was a freeze that killed the buds? In general, things do not seem to be blooming as profusely as they used to, to me.

  17. Keep going, Gail. Great effort.

    Thanks for all you are doing,

    Steve Salmony

  18. I have been watching my well-to-do North Shore neighbors replace their fallen trees. These are people who automatically buy trees that are already 15 or 20 foot tall. The nurseries are selling them dead trees. The landscape crew plants the dead trees. In the circumstance I can't say I blame the nurseries. If customers are so blind they do not know life from death by all means take the money. The money is still useful in the short term.

  19. I have been watching my well-to-do North Shore neighbors replace their fallen trees. These are people who automatically buy trees that are already 15 or 20 foot tall. The nurseries are selling them dead trees. The landscape crew plants the dead trees. In the circumstance I can't say I blame the nurseries. If customers are so blind they do not know life from death by all means take the money. The money is still useful in the short term.

  20. I often think it will be the nurseries that break this open, because they often guarantee to replace trees that die within a year. They must already be losing money, and it's going to get worse.


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