Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Whispers from the Ghosting Trees

Greg Laden generously offered me the opportunity to guest post on his blog (I know, shocking right!  A real scientist!!).  Here's the beginning of it, which was published today.  You can click here to read the whole thing (and stick up for me in comments!).  Thanks, Greg!!

Whispers from the Ghosting Trees

While we hustle busily through the necessities of our lives, wrapped up in our daily preoccupations - our obligations to our families, our jobs, and our dreams - at the same time all around the world, trees are silently expiring.  For those who take the time to look, we can see that the forests are being transformed before our helpless and incredulous gaze into spectral mausoleums, as even the most ancient living wood is consumed by a raging tsunami of pathogens unprecedented in scale and virulence.  What has instigated this global explosion of lethal insects, disease and fungus, which is decimating swathes of trees across ravines and mountains, invading city streets and wilderness, rampaging through parks and suburban backyards?   What would we hear the trees saying if we understood the language of their injured foliage, if we could discern the message in their tortured splintered branches?

Only the latest in a long tradition of foresters, scientists, and ecologists, I am merely an amateur and a gardener doing what I can to warn society that there is a longstanding trend under way that is ominously accelerating.  Until very recently impaired tree health was generally regarded as a regional, episodic problem mostly attributable to acid rain from sulfur dioxide.  Now, new satellite technology has revealed that precursors of ozone - reactive nitrogen and methane pollution - travel across continents and oceans, and the toxic reach extends into the most remote and rural places.  What was once slow and localized and species-specific has become terrifyingly fast, ubiquitous and indiscriminate.

Is it merely a colossal coincidence that all over the world, within the past few decades and at a hugely accelerating rate, trees are dying?  If it’s not a coincidence, what is the underlying factor?  Fair warning – this post will be a long explanation as to how there is an underlying factor , and why it is pollution.  One of the strongest and most persuasive evidence for me has been the visible damage to foliage and needles that became virtually universal several years ago.  Serious, terminal damage can occur in roots before any of the classic symptoms appear on leaves…so the fact that by the end of the summer growing season, it is just about impossible to find a single leaf on a tree, bush, garden produce or ornamental flowering plant that ISN’T visibly injured indicates the extent to which the problem has intensified.  Just about any link to my blog will include photos of typical leaf damage.


  1. Congratulations, Gail! A great article and the comments are very positive. Wow, those trees!



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