Monday, June 1, 2015

Scorched Earth

Salton Sea, California

All following images are from the book:  
Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot (OVER)
because climate is only one symptom of the Endocene
This week I had a discussion via email with Guy McPherson about tropospheric ozone, how it directly harms trees, and why that exacerbates climate change in a reinforcing loop.  After I provided him the substantiation he requested, this led to inclusion on his epic list of amplifying feedbacks.   The damage to forests from ozone is now listed as Number Four under the heading, Climate-Change Summary and Update, a link that is prominently posted at his website, Nature Bats Last.  This is quite an honor for Wit's End, so I am very grateful he took the time to consider the evidence.

Number Four on his list reads:

4. Ozone, a powerful greenhouse gas, also contributes to mortality of trees (Global Change Biology, November 2011). Tree mortality reduces uptake of atmospheric carbon dioxide and instead accelerates the contribution of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Forest dieback resulting from atmospheric ozone is the primary topic addressed by Gail Zawacki at Wit’s End.
I looked on this exchange as a great opportunity for me to boil down the hundreds of scientific papers and articles I have read to just a few of the most persuasive, and so I'm going to post them below.

Initially Guy had asked me if I could describe exactly how trees dying from ozone increases global warming; and how warming increases ozone.
I reponded as follows:

Ozone is a potent greenhouse gas in itself.
Ozone is causing massive forest dieback.
Trees are a primary mechanism of CO2 removal - their loss will increase the concentration in the       atmosphere, accelerating warming.
More warming leads to more ozone.
Methane is also an ozone precursor, particularly of the persistent background concentration that is so damaging to vegetation, and more warming leads to more methane release.
I added an excerpt from the abstract of a meta-analysis from 2007, which was cited by the EPA in their (failed) attempt to tighten ozone regulations in order to protect forests, and pointed out that like so much else in the realm of climate research, the effects predicted to happen by "2100" are actually already happening, much faster and are much worse than anyone officially anticipates. 

"Modern day concentrations of ground level ozone pollution are decreasing the growth of trees in the northern and temperate mid-latitudes, as shown in a paper publishing today in Global Change Biology. Tree growth, measured in biomass, is already 7% less than the late 1800s, and this is set to increase to a 17% reduction by the end of the century."

"The study is the first statistical summary of individual experimental measurements of how ozone will damage the productivity of trees, including data from 263 peer-reviewed scientific publications...But more importantly, it has the potential to leave more carbon dioxide, ranked as the first strongest greenhouse gas, in the atmosphere by decreasing carbon assimilation in trees...'"

'This research quantifies the mean response of trees to ozone pollution measured in terms of total tree biomass, and all component parts such as leaf, root and shoot, lost due to ozone pollution,' said Dr. Victoria Wittig, lead author of the study. 'Looking at how ozone pollution affects trees is important because of the indirect impact on carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere which will further enhance global warming, in addition to ozone's already potent direct impact.'"
Guy next asked for links to peer-reviewed journal publications, and the EPA findings, in support of my statements so I sent him the following, slightly edited list:

1.  Link to Wittig's paper quoted above.

Other peer reviewed journal articles:

2.  Global Change Biology:  "Tree mortality in the eastern and central United States: patterns and drivers"

From the abstract:  "We investigated 13 covariates in four categories: climate, air pollutants, topography, and stand characteristics. Overall, we found that tree mortality was most sensitive to stand characteristics and air pollutants."

3.  Science Direct:  "Tropospheric Ozone:  A continuing threat to global forests?  From the abstract:

"Ozone (O3) has a critical role in tropospheric chemistry. It absorbs radiation in the infrared and ultraviolet regions and is very reactive and biologically toxic at appropriate levels of exposure. At the earth's surface, O3 is subject to long-range transport and is the most pervasive air pollutant affecting the world's forests today. The existence of O3 has been known since 1840 and smog-induced foliar injury on plants was first identified in the 1950s. Levels were ∼10–15 ppb during the second half of the 1800s, compared with 30–40 ppb measured as the global background today. By 2100, fully 50% (17 million km2) of world forests are predicted to be exposed to O3 at concentrations >60 ppb. Ozone induces a variety of symptoms and pattern of injury that are dependant upon species, genotype, leaf position on the plant, leaf age, exposure dynamics, and meteorological factors or growth conditions. It is absolutely essential to have knowledge on species sensitivities, O3 profiles and toxicity concentrations for the species under investigation before diagnosis can be confirmed. Ozone is generally detrimental to tree growth and ecosystem productivity, often through induced changes in patterns of carbon allocation or pre-disposition to insects and disease."
4.  Excerpt from "Global Alert", a book by Dr. Jack Fishmann, student and then colleague of Paul Crutzen, and Susan Solomon (you can see his lecture Dec. 2013 "Are We Creating a Toxic Atmosphere?" at the Max Plank Institute here):

"The earth is an enclosed system, with a wonderful proclivity to cleanse itself, but it is being taxed to the limit by the sheer number of humans and their waste products in the form of gases and manufactured chemicals. This is not speculation; it is already happening. These are the signs: In the autumn of 1988 the NYTimes published a story about the Jamaican palm trees in the southeastern United States being decimated by a disease known as yellowleaf fungus. The species may disappear from America by the turn of the century. Although the cause of the disease is a known fungus, the underlying cause is the increased ozone levels in the air, which, by placing the trees under stress, pave the way for the attacking fungus…Forest in parts of Germany are suffering from “early autumn” syndrome: they lose their leaves by late August and early September. The cause? Increased ozone levels in the air…During the sumer of 1988 American farmers lost between $1 billion and $2 billion in crops. The drought was a factor, but a sizable fraction of the losses from lower crop yields can be attributed to increased ozone in the atmosphere."

p. 18  "Increased ozone levels are destroying our forests, diminishing our crops, and adding to the global warming trend."

Posted with more transcribed excerpts here.

5.  From published research by Andrew Bytnerowicz re: the San Bernardino Mountains
"In the 1970s, when the first reliable measurements of Ostarted, peak concentrations could reach 600 ppb (National Academy of Sciences, 1977), and national and state air pollution standards were exceeded during most of the photochemical smog season ( html/brochure/history/htm). During that time it was also determined that the mysterious ‘‘X’’ disease killing thousands of sensitive ponderosa (Pinus ponderosa) and Jeffrey (Pinus jeffreyi) pines in the SBM in the 1950s was caused by high Oconcentrations in combination with frequent drought stress and severe bark beetle attacks (Miller et al., 1963; Taylor, 1999).This was the first worldwide evidence of a large-scale decline of coniferous forests caused by ambient O3 (Mackenzie and El-Ashry, 1989)."
"In the early 2000s, a widespread dieback of trees in the SBM started to take place due to prolonged drought, over-stocking of forests caused by long-term fire suppression, air pollution, and bark beetle infestation that eventually resulted in a death of 4.6 million trees (Christensen et al., 2007). Such enormous amounts of dead biomass caused a very serious risk to the remaining forests and to the local population. The 2003 fires in the SBM (Keeley et al., 2004) showed that a very high probability of catastrophic fires exists in southern California mountainous forests." 
6.  Regarding EPA, research by the USFS indicates that human health standards ("primary") are not enough to protect vegetation, so that stricter, "secondary" regulations should be implemented.
"The EPA has concluded that the primary NAAQS based on an hourly average concentration and used to protect human health is inadequate to protect sensitive ecosystems, and has proposed a new secondary standard that is targeted to protect non-urban and non-crop natural vegetation and ecosystems. The EPA has specifically indicated that a strengthened primary standard for ozone will not adequately protect sensitive tree species in higher elevation Western ecosystems where little O3 data are available."

Directly from EPA Secondary Ozone NAAQS Evaluation:

"Exposure to ozone has been associated with a wide array of vegetation and ecosystem effects in the published literature (U.S. EPA, 2006). These effects include those that damage or impair the intended use of the plant or ecosystem. Such effects are considered adverse to the public welfare and can include reduced growth and/or biomass production in sensitive plant species, including forest trees, reduced crop yields, visible foliar injury, reduced plant vigor (e.g., increased susceptibility to harsh weather, disease, insect pest infestation, and competition), species composition shift, and changes in ecosystems and associated ecosystem services.

"Specifically, plants may become more sensitive to other air pollutants, or more susceptible to disease, pest infestation, harsh weather (e.g., drought, frost) and other environmental stresses, which can all produce a loss in plant vigor in ozone-sensitive species that over time may lead to premature plant death. Furthermore, there is evidence that ozone can interfere with the formation of mycorrhiza, essential symbiotic fungi associated with the roots of most terrestrial plants, by reducing the amount of carbon available for transfer from the host to the symbiont (U.S. EPA, 2006)."

"Ozone impacts at the community and ecosystem level vary widely depending upon numerous factors, including concentration and temporal variation of tropospheric ozone, species composition, soil properties and climatic factors (U.S. EPA, 2006). In most instances, responses to chronic or recurrent exposure in forested ecosystems are subtle and not observable for many years. These injuries can cause stand-level forest decline in sensitive ecosystems (U.S. EPA, 2006, McBride et al., 1985; Miller et al., 1982)."
EPA Welfare Risk and Exposure Assessment for Ozone Second External Review Draft Executive Summary:

RISK TO VEGETATION AND ECOSYSTEMS - In this welfare REA, we quantified the impact of O3 exposure on two categories of ecological effects: (1) relative biomass loss for trees and crops, and (2) visible foliar injury...cosystem services most directly affected by biomass loss include: (1) provision of food and fiber (provisioning), (2) carbon storage (regulating), (3) pollution removal (regulating), and (4) habitat provision for wildlife, particularly habitat for threatened or endangered wildlife 

note:  In this welfare REA, we do not quantify insect damage resulting from O3 exposure. In the next Section, Risk to Ecosystem Services, we briefly discuss the ecosystem services associated with insect damage on tree stands and timber production, including the overlap of areas with higher W126 concentrations and risk of bark beetle infestation. 

EPA:  Integrated Science Assessment of Ozone and Related Photochemical Oxidants (Final Report)

Chapter Nine refers to ozone's impact on ecosytems (as opposed to human health)
(citation to Wittig, the first excerpt I sent, is on p. 9-186)
As to how ozone killing trees is an amplifying feedback effect to climate:

1.  More trees means lower temperatures because when moisture evaporates from leaves it cools the air.  Loss of trees leads to higher temperatures.

"Air Pollution Removal and Temperature Reduction by Gainesville's Urban Forest" publication from the University of Florida:

2.  Higher temps also cause leaves to close stomata, meaning they take up significantly less pollution, leaving more in the air, creating more heat (and damage to people and plants):

"It's not just the heat, it's the ozone:  Hidden heat wave dangers exposed" - title of an article in ScienceDaily about a paper called:  "Scorched Earth: how will changes in the strength of the vegetation sink to ozone deposition affect human health and ecosystems?"

Vegetation plays a crucial role in reducing air pollution, but new research by the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) at the University of York shows that they may not protect us when we need it most: during extreme heat, when ozone formation from traffic fumes, industrial processes and other sources is at its worst.

The reason, explained lead author Dr Lisa Emberson, is that during heat waves -- when the ground is especially dry -- plants become stressed and shut their stomata (small pores on their leaves) to conserve water. This natural protective mechanism makes them more resilient to extreme heat and high ozone levels, but it also stops them from absorbing ozone and other pollutants.

"...we know that pollutants such as ozone and its precursors can carried around the globe," she says.

The research can also inform public-health responses, Dr Emberson says. For example, people may mistakenly believe that as long as they get out of the city, they are not at risk from poor air quality, so it is important to raise their awareness."

3.  Higher temperatures from climate change lead to even more ozone formation:

From the report by the Union of Concerned Scientists, titled "Rising Temperatures, Worsening Ozone Pollution"

"Given the strong dependence of ozone formation on temperature, a changing climate can make ozone pollution worse. As temperatures increase in a warmer world, days that are conducive to ozone formation are likely to be more frequent...

...What this means is that climate change is likely to complicate the challenge of reducing ozone pollution. Although emissions of ozone-forming pollutants are currently declining, temperature increases associated with climate change are likely to work against this trend. As a result, even to maintain today’s ozone levels may require a greater reduction in precursor emissions. Also, there could be a positive-feedback effect; because increasing temperatures would correspond to greater electricity demand for air conditioning during hot summer months, emissions of ozone-forming pollutants from fossil-fuel power plants would probably increase further."
I didn't add this one, but it's worth mentioning that scientists who have been studying the death of plant species for over a decade in China now believe that the nitrogen emissions in smog - the precursors to ozone - are threatening to "massacre" the world's forests.  An article about their study said the following:

Thick smog could kill off most southern China's natural forests within decades and threatens trees around the world unless nations take action, say scientists.
A 13-year study by Chinese scientists has revealed strong evidence to show the danger is being caused by nitrogen emissions in the atmosphere.
"It is a silent massacre," said Dr Lu Xiankai, associate researcher at Chinese Academy of Sciences' South China Botanical Garden in Guangzhou and a lead scientist of the project.
At one observation point in Dinghu Mountain, Zhaoqing , more than a dozen plant species growing below an old tree had died off until only one or two were left, and the tree could be next to go if the "nitrogen fallout" from smog continued, Lu said.
"Immediate measures must be taken to reduce air pollution, especially nitrogen emissions," Lu said.
"If the situation remains as it is, most forests in southern China will be destroyed within decades. But the impact is not limited in China. The problem will have a ripple effect around the world."
The study, published in this month's Environmental Science and Technologyjournal, run by the American Chemical Society, said the scientists took more than a decade to find solid evidence that smog is killing off trees.
Nitrogen is one of the most important causes for the formation of smog. Many human activities, such as industrial production and vehicle exhaust emissions, pump large quantities of nitrogen into the atmosphere.
Episode 10 of Extinction Radio with my weekly Dispatch from the Endocene is now available for listening!  Thanks to all the hardworking doomers who put the show together.


  1. Capitalism, unrestrained by the requirements of Planetary life support systems, is guaranteed mutually assured destruction. Socially enabled capitalism is clearly a failed paradigm. Help end tax funded pollution of the commons for starters.

  2. Gail, thanks for posting all this. It's very interesting. I'm glad you got to go over it with Guy.. it sounds like being a grad student and having to defend a thesis (I've never been a grad student, thank the FSM..). It's good he got you to defend the rigor of your investigations, and congrats for having gotten your observations into his list of feedbacks.

    I chanced a comment at Orlov's joint. He let the second half through, but deleted the half where I talked about seeing no bees or flies or spiders, and that my "doominess" came from personal observation. Oh, well. Frustrating, but it won't change anything.

    1. Lidia that is terrible that Dimitry deleted some of your comment considering there was nothing inflammatory about it, my respect for him just plummeted.

    2. Technically it was two comments. The first one he didn't post. I'm actually surprised anything got through, since he has censored me in the past, and I just gave up trying to comment. Just tried it for a lark.

    3. I too have been dismayed at the paucity of pollinators this spring. I used to see dozens of bumble bees on the dandelion flowers but not this year. For days our flowering crab apple tree, literally covered with blossoms, did not have a single pollinator. I did see a couple of bumble bees later in the cycle. At one time there were 220 separate species of bumble bees in Maine_ not any more. The university and state biologists are conducting a bumble bee roundup with citizen participation. I'm anxious to hear what they find and if they will corroborate my local observations.

    4. By the way, Kevo, the only reason I even brought it up is that Gail has also had a history of being censored there, so in my blathering I was talking to her, in a way, more than making a general announcement.

      JMG is also quite vicious in his moderating practices. Neither he nor Dmitry (this is my conjecture) is interested in giving space to anything that takes away from their main product, which is how to deal with civilizational (rather than ecological) collapse. Disagreement is just not allowed in their threads, and they are assiduous in painting NTHE as a "fringe" theory maintained by kooks with some sort of nihilistic agenda.

      They can run their blogs as they see fit, but the censorship bit does make them out to be rather bullying, in my opinion. And if you ever wander over to "The Decline of Empire", well there are very few comments for a reason! That guy gets apoplectic with rage. There are others we all know.. it gets tiresome to recount, and I am running out of places to comment. So, Gail... thanks for putting up with me, and the rest of us!

      @Anonymous, it's not just bees, but all the small sorts of hoverflies, wasps, ants, and other bitty insects just aren't around the flowers at all. There are fewer houseflies, spiders, clothes and pantry moths... and it is NOT because of my good housekeeping. Like Gail with the ozone and plants, I wonder whether anyone is taking note of this. I extrapolate this down to the soil beings.. what's happening to them even under good conditions (iow, adequate water, no spraying of toxic gick). I pulled last year's veggie stems out of my garden beds pretty much intact, and I just don't see my compost piles breaking down the way I imagine they should. I'm only 2 years in this house, so is it just my imagination, or...?

    5. Oh, hoping not to belaboring the issue.... here's the rest of what I had written at Club Orlov, more or less: that last year I had been to some presentations and workshops held by Dr. Elaine Ingham, a soil microbiologist. (She has been making the rounds of "permaculture" and "sustainable ag." conferences.) Dr. Ingham's radical claim is that all soils have the nutrients plants need to thrive (so mineral amendments are a waste), and that what soils are deficient in are the right sorts of microbes that will effectively feed the plants by breaking down soil components and engaging in exchanges of necessary elements for plant saccharides. Her approach is to use concentrations of good bacteria and fungi obtained from healthy compost and, in particular, compost teas—to restore soil ecosystems. When asked how to obtain a good variety of these organisms if your surroundings were deficient, she suggested finding some "healthy woodland" and taking a sample of that soil to inoculate your home compost. At a different point in the presentation, she was asked where one could find examples of "healthy woodland" in Europe, and she said that "there are none".

      And so I put this information together with the evidence of my own senses, not just of the lack of large insects, but the lack of odors. The forest doesn't *smell* like the forest to me. I went to Maine last month, and the seashore doesn't *smell* like the seashore... More things are going on that we'd like to admit.

  3. I agree with Richard best summary to date. Presenting to Guy really made you step up your game. Been meaning to post on your last post as well. Came across an interesting critique of Camus.

  4. Hey Gail (and readers/commenters)!

    Nice job on the research - i had always thought it was part of the feedbacks (buried in one or another already listed).

    There are so many vectors going against Earth's habitat for humanity (among the many other plant and animal species) that it's practically guaranteed that we won't be here much longer.
    i've posted that mankind won't make it through the 2020's and it looks more and more certain as time moves on. Food shortages have begun; disease, even NOVEL diseases, are ramping up; volcanos are awakening all over the planet; sea level rise is going to impact us all very soon; destructive storms are increasing in number and strength; drought and flooding events are becoming more prevalent; increasing HEAT is beginning to impact life populations (all species); methane and hydrogen sulfide is becoming a larger part of the atmosphere; aside from all these (and too many more to even list) NATURAL phenomena taking us in the "wrong" direction, there's also the human (stupidity) factor, at the root of the entire process - note to God (from Animal House): "Hey, ya fucked up! You trusted us!"

    As for Orlov, he's a lot like Dave Cohen who thinks he knows it all and pontificates from his blog (that i won't visit any longer, like Orlov's and Greer's) after he disparaged Guy's reputation and backed Archer's model-based comment about an abrupt methane release being unlikely, while COMPLETELY missing the point that it's spewing from MANY more locations than just the Arctic Sea. i could care less what (t)he(y) think about anything.

    Lidia - your assessments match mine (as they obviously would in the real world of experience). Thanks for putting it out there. i also appreciate your repartee and comments over on NBL.
    i visited ulvfugl's amazing blog recently and he too was noticing (and mourning) the loss of insects in his perfect location for their existence. Scary times - and getting worse.

    Thanks everyone for your comments and links and BIG UPS to GAIL! GREAT JOB!


  5. If you would, please tell us details of the pictures.

  6. i know you're all over this Gail: here's another article you can add to the archive

    Ocean cycling of nitrous oxide is more intense than thought, emissions are increasing [h/t CO Bob from Robert Scribbler's site comments]


    It turns out that a particular zone of the ocean—a boundary between oxygen-rich surface waters and oxygen-free, or "anoxic," deep waters—plays a key role in nitrogen cycling. This "suboxic" zone experiences an imbalance between bacterial processes that create N2O and those that break it down—and the excess of N2O created by this imbalance is given off to the atmosphere.

    Ocean nitrification begins with nitrogen entering the sea as runoff from agricultural fertilizers and other sources. Marine microbes take in nitrogen compounds, such as ammonia, and chemically modify them, releasing N2O as a byproduct. Other bacteria carry out denitrification, a process that breaks down nitrogen compounds through steps that ultimately lead to nitrogen gas—but which can also release some N2O.

    Most of the time, these processes balance out. "The denitrifying bacteria that produce N2O also consume it, and it was thought that these two processes are pretty tightly coupled," Babbin says. But that's not the case in the suboxic layer, resulting in leftover N2O that leaks away to the surface.


  7. Good job, Gail!

    But it's not just trees that will go as the desertification of Planet Earth continues.
    In my rural neighborhood, vines are disappearing as well as insects, rodents, and predators that feed on them. There seems to be a shortage of food for the insects, so the rodents have little to eat. The hawks and owls are having a hard time finding their daily meals as well.

    Not all deserts are hot and dry. Some are moist and cold like the deep ocean. A desert is where there is a shortage of life. Think of a tropical rain forest with its richly abundant biodiversity. Our future planet will be just the opposite.
    From today's local rag:
    (If some insects are endangered and protected, it would seem that more common insects are also in short supply, as commented above.)


  8. I've arrived at this position:

    Every aspect of the situation on this planet is far worse than we think it is.
    Every situation is getting worse faster than we expect.
    We are past the knee of most of these exponential curves.
    We will make no collective effort to turn these curves around, because of the way politics works on the human brain.
    We are out of time to do anything but nibble around the edges of local security.
    Local security is no longer even achievable in most places on Earth, certainly not for longer than a few years.

    I no longer need to find out anything more for myself.

    I see no point in waking people up to the imminence of the death of everything they love - there seems to be little kindness in that act, just a sort of malignant self-congratulatory schadenfreude. In any event, most personality types aren't even wired to be able to hear the message (see ). As a result I'm dropping out of the pundit's role to concentrate on immediate, personal needs. I've noticed a trend in this direction (JHG and the Orlovinator excluded) - people like George Mobus, David Korowcz, Nicole Foss and I seem to be dropping off into silence. There is nothing left to say.

    I've enjoyed following most of our interactions, Gail. Best of luck!

    1. I'm not sure who you have in mind who displays a "malignant self-congratulatory schadenfreude", although I do agree that there is no point in trying to wake people up. They are better off asleep, since there is nothing to be done, and it is almost impossible to force someone to see anyway. However, it seems to me that more and more people are waking up on their own, as events transpire, and is seems also that when they do, there is commonly a process of questioning and grieving. Often people wake up alone among their friends and family, and their revelations aren't received warmly. So, aside from the doom-sayer-lites who are profiting off of the promise of survivalism, I think staying engaged with the growing community is a compassionate thing to do. I know many, many people who have read your essays Paul, as you have honestly chronicled your struggles and insights being collapse aware, have benefited and been grateful for what you have written so far. Best of luck to you, too! We are all dodging bullets now.

  9. Drought, heat, and insects responsible for killing more than 12 million trees in California

    A combination of drought, heat and insects is responsible for the death of more than 12 million trees in California, according to a new study from UC Santa Barbara’s National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS). Members of the NCEAS working group studying environmental factors contributing to tree mortality expect this number to increase with climate change. [more]



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