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Glomalin and Conservation in Humboldt County The 1996 discovery of the soil glue glomalin is changing our understanding of the impact of elevated carbon dioxide, while giving important clues to forest health, watersheds, revegetation, wildfire and carbon sequestration. Here I share what I have found so others may read and draw their own conclusions, and relate it to my own experience, Humboldt County issues and stories from the news.
Thursday, September 30, 2004
Some residents are well into the brush removal and examples of park like settings are around. Owners who hoped to provide wild life habitat are finding the term synonymous with fuel loading. There are posters that say “Brush: Clear It Or Fear It”. Spokeswoman Nancy Weber director of the Nevada Irrigation District complained it was “a strategy for deforestation”, more about that below. Clearly development is interfering with natural processes and in the end the altered landscape will become suburban.
This practice will deplete the water storage ability and cause even more problems. The need to catch rainfall with vegetation and glomalin is at the heart of the issue. Management for glomalin by growing big trees that pay annually for carbon sequestration shifts the monetary supply to polluters seeking carbon credits. Long-term storage is the goal so it becomes important to disturb the soil as little as possible. Protection of the revenue-producing asset moves timber stand improvement into a more important activity of water and habitat development. It seems as though living in the wild lands is causing the wild lands to disappear. Clearly more information is needed. Removal of the brush will cause even further drying of the landscape, most notably by extending dangerously dry times. Nowhere is rapid recovery of large trees mentioned as a goal to reduce fire danger, although park-like settings mentioned imply that.
Along post by the BC Tap Water Alliance in Waterforum today concerned logging in publicly held community forests in BC. Many of these watersheds were set aside as single purpose watersheds for drinking water. As here, newer regulations demand multipurpose land use, so that recreation and industry must be accommodated. The forest industry claims logging provides better water and more of it, but many studies show undisturbed forest provides the highest quality drinking water. Post logging waters need filtration and other costly processes all but wiping out the publics economic gain. Link to article: http://us.f511.mail.yahoo.com/ym/ShowLetter?MsgId=4965_3783278_14537_1329_11410_0_21836_26004_3282720379&Idx=3&YY=66577&inc=25&order=down&sort=date&pos=0&view=&head=&box=Inbox. Link to Tap water Alliance: www.alternatives.com/bctwa .
Both of these issues deserves recognition of the subsoil processes that are being ignored and impaired. Both stories are full of people switching sides and industry supported suggestions for community improvement ultimately detrimental to natural systems. .The need to preserve and maintain forests for long term carbon sequestration and water production cannot be overstated. Once investments are made in the wild lands development is inevitable, and so risk reduction measures are taken that degrade natural systems. Industry in business to produce timber cannot be expected to support these ideas initially. Government lands with multiple use mandates likewise are not our best answer either.
Friday, September 24, 2004
Redwood Reader article 19 from May 28, 2004 clearly stated the danger from hurricanes to the people of the Dominican Republic as a result of government policies in defiance of nature. We warned deforestation was a vital concern and especially in conjunction with the fact that all the people live in the valleys, which would be the site of inevitable catastrophic flooding and landslide events.
Now the situation turns grimmer as the extent of the damage hinders relief and chaos is taking hold in relief distribution centers. Sewage, dead animals and blood contaminate the flood waters which reached seven feet in Golveides.
It is extremely frustrating to be able to predict a catastrophe based on sound knowledge and not have anyone notice. Clearly this is an example of the very chain of events outlined in Our Shrinking Watersheds, Redwood Reader No.3. The unprotected soil first lost its canopy and rain interception devices, no trees fed the fungi so the ground absorbed very little of the precipitation, the root and glomalin soil stabilization scheme had been obliterated and all regrowth was being removed as fast as it grew. As I wrote, in this condition the mountain is a time bomb.
To further complicate the matter, the people live along the rivers that flow at the base of the mountain. As is often the case, several elements combined to create this tragedy. First, heavy rain quickly out paced the grounds ability to absorb it. Loose soils on the mountain became liquefied and large amounts of sediment ran into the rivers, filling the pools and reducing the rivers carrying capacity. It is likely high seas from the hurricane would impede the rivers drainage, backing the rivers up, raising the level of bank scouring until the river channel is completely lost and the entire region flooded.
Whether or not glomalin might have saved the day, it is clear that understanding the nature of the vegetative climate interface must be taken into account. Examples abound of third world mudslide catastrophes due to excessive land use above heavily populated neighborhoods from Venezuela, the Philippines, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic earlier this year. We see the same thing without the population locally, although the flood of 1964 seems to have been on this scale of devastation. And whatever happens to rectify these situations, protected areas where glomalin is produced will be part of the solution. It is completely inevitable, unless we remove the environment by mining it, or paving it, because glomalin is part of the natural vegetative process. If we recognize this fact it becomes much clearer why and how to defend against major storms.
In this regard it is encouraging to see working ranches in Humboldt be protected against development in an agreement with the federal government. It is also good to see the county general plan emphasize infilling, almost as though they know they need a little more information regarding the impacts of rural development from land user to water to fire threat and habitat protection. Here we are able to see the direct impacts of development, logging and roads, without really having come up with satisfactory answers for these problems.
In general, lots of land use activities have been changed since 1964. Far fewer people live directly on the rivers. Prohibitive costs and regulation have made it difficult for many smaller timber owners to cut their trees down, giving parts of the forest time to recover. Some at risk land has been protected through purchase. The logging slowdown on National Forest lands also is a healing step. The flip side of this is obviously fuel loading in a vast landscape. Managing vegetation on that scale should provide full time work for lots of people, create habitat, retain water, improve forest stand conditions, sequester carbon and some new and old ideas.
It is time to step up our understanding of natural conditions. Vegetation is vital to our very existence in many ways, from oxygen to food. Lack of vegetation in a wet area is going to mean trouble no matter what. What happened in the Dominican Republic was predictable and ultimately preventable. We call on our leaders to get this understanding into the worlds bank of knowledge so steps can be taken to protect the people from these kinds of catastrophies.
Wednesday, September 15, 2004
From: Rich McGuiness [mailto:email@example.com]
>Sent: Wednesday, May 26, 2004 10:55 PM
>Subject: The Elk River Watershed Analysis
>Hello, Please send me an electronic copy of the Elk River Watershed
>Analysis. I saw this in the Times-Standard. Thank you.
We need to MAIL you the CD of the of the Elk River Watershed Analysis
>DRAFT report as it is too big to send via email. Please send me you
>mailing address and we will get it out to you immediately.
PALCO, I have read the ER/SC Watershed analysis and find it eerily similar to most other planning documents I have read. They all have one thing in common, a desire to reduce sediment as a result of land disturbance. I believe the mechanism has been found that accounts for sedimentation- the glycoprotein glomnalin, produced by mycorrhizal fungi from carbon based root exudates discovered by Sara Wright of USDA Sustainable Agriculture Systems Laboratories in Beltsville in 1996 while researching sustainable systems for field crops. Farmers are getting paid to sequester carbon AND grow crops using no-till methods, also increasing profits, reducing labor, fuel and machine time, and crops are inferior carbon storers compared to trees. This amazing molecule is responsible for aggregating soils and increasing soil moisture. It has amazing enemies-sunlight, ambient air and running water. This has been a bumper year for twenty and thirty year plans as well as ongoing planning for industrial land managers. I believe understanding glomalin can help us write better rules, for example, about buffer zones, construction site runoff, clearcuts, roadbuilding etc. It also unites all land managers and users, as roads are roads and soil storage of carbon is nearly universal except a few specialties like annual grasses, which reseed rather than condition the environment, and sugar beets, where exudation is blocked and the sugar accumulates. I have posted my thoughts as well as my source information on my blog www.redwoodreader.blogspot.com. I am currently rewriting writing for my website on this issue at www.redwoodreader.org. Both sites are unsupporteds and I will probably only run them several months. But many people are quantifying parts of this scenario such as the CO2 studies, and a few are right on top of glomalin based legislation. Positive feedback and criticism welcome. Hope this helps- I think it will be the new science that causes new (less) regulations and more profitable activities in the next century. See my Carbon Credits article for how carbon storage can help landowners to grow large trees and create habitat and water, taking pressure off intensive managers, who would opt out as not profitable enough, and acquisitions where we wind up with permanently protected lands instead of correctly managed lands. Besides the ability to increase soil water storage capacity, glomalin has been called "soil glue" and binds small water repellant particles into larger porous aggregates. The protein adds a coefficient of stregnth to soils and needs to be understood as part of what makes the land fail in a slide or debris flow and how topsoil turns back into uncohesive sediment when it lets go.
Thanks for sending the CD's. It let me see you need this info too. Please share with your science director as a scientist is only as good as his current knowledge base, which should be always growing. You know all the issues, here are some answers.
Many thanks for your response to the Elk River Watershed Analysis. Our science team will take a look at your feedback as we are always interested in ways to reduce sediment.
Many thanks. I hope you look at glomalin and soil moisture as well, because that is as large a problem in local watersheds as sedimentation. Please find a way to share what you find. THanks again.
Two good articles this week dealing with our premise that land in its natural state can reduce carbon dioxide as well as have ecosystem economic value. This is by far the most practical way to maximize restoration effectiveness, especially if the payoff actually pays off for the landowners. The links to the Gund Institute in the first article show some real good reading for those valuing ecosystems as sustainable economic systems. The second article shows forests as undervalued for carbon sequestration, even without glomalin. Note again the positive values for storing carbon without even allowing for glomalin storage in the soil, and that root growth was expanded, allowing more opportunity for colonization by glomalin-producing mycorhizzia, and thus more water holding aggregate soil. We hope glomalin studies in ancient forest are coming soon.
Date: Mon, 13 Sep 2004 11:29:53 -0400
From: "March, Richard"
Subject: RE: Digest Number 1010-economic value of water purification
services provided by forests
Daniel, A recent study by the Massachusetts Audubon Society found that:
"Permanent protection of undeveloped land makes economic, as well as
ecological sense. In collaboration with the Gund Institute of the
University of Vermont, the report finds that undeveloped land in
Massachusetts provides over $6 billion in nonmarket ecosystem services
annually, with 85 percent of this value provided by land left largely
its natural state. Conversely, the loss of forest and agricultural land
in the 1985 to 1999 period resulted in a $200 million annual loss in
A study by economists at Colorado State University estimated the
benefits of wilderness protection at $3 billion to $4 billion annually.
More important than the precise dollar values estimated are the
approaches used by economists to value forest ecological services.
Loomis and Richardson identify eight classes of benefits provided by
wilderness area. Ecological services, of which water quality benefits
are a subset, are estimated at $2 billion to $3.4 billion dollars per
See the link below to a list of active projects at the Gund Institute of
the University, many of which deals with forest (and other types of)
Bob Costanza, director of the Gund Institute, is one of the foremost
experts on ecosystem valuation. See Bob Costanza's resume and vita at
the link below.
Dick March, South Florida Water Management District
How Long Can Carbon Continue to Accumulate in the Soils of Boreal Forests? Reference
Berg, B. and Dise, N. 2004. Calculating the long-term stable nitrogen sink in northern European forests. Acta Oecologica 26: 15-21.
What was done
In a study of four Swedish forests where humus has been accumulating in the soil for up to 3000 years, the authors note that since nitrogen is nearly always the limiting nutrient for vegetation growth in these ecosystems, and if their rates of denitrification are low, as they typically are, "then very little nitrogen should be removed from these forests through leaching or runoff, and we should be able to 'find' in a careful inventory nearly all of the nitrogen that the forests had accumulated since the last major fire." Consequently, they describe how they "used measured and calculated litter fall data, calculated limit values for litter decomposition, and the nitrogen concentration at the limit value" to attempt such a feat, which attempt, if successful, would allow them to "say with some confidence that nitrogen accumulation drives carbon accumulation in these boreal forests, and that both N and C may be retained within the system over a long time period."
What was learned
Comparing the nitrogen accumulated in the forests at maturity to that calculated from a nitrogen budget based on estimated rates of nitrogen input, N2 fixation, denitrification and leaching to the mineral soil, Berg and Dise obtained "a good agreement of about 0.30-0.35 g N m-2 year-1 stored in humus and vegetation at forest maturity." Hence, they were able to conclude that these forests are indeed "highly efficient at accumulating and storing nitrogen for thousands of years," which finding likewise suggests they are equally highly efficient at accumulating and storing carbon for thousands of years.
What it means
The results of Berg and Dise's analysis strongly suggest that earth's boreal forests can continue to accumulate carbon in their soils for literally thousands of years, well beyond the anticipated end of what we could call the Age of Fossil Fuels. Furthermore, and in light of what we know about the ability of atmospheric CO2 enrichment to enhance the productivity of trees indefinitely (see our Editorials of 5 Mar 2003 and 9 Jun 2004), there is reason to believe that earth's boreal forests, as well as its other forests, will serve as enhanced carbon sinks well beyond the time at which we cease to emit the copious quantities of CO2 that we do currently and that we will continue to do for some time to come. Hence, we are fortunate to have a very tenacious natural partner (earth's forests, both new and old) with a long-term commitment to helping us maintain the air's CO2 content within bounds that are not injurious to life.
Page printed from: http://www.co2science.org/journal/v7/v7n37b1.htm
Copyright © 2004. Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change
Thursday, September 09, 2004
Two articles this week dealing with gravel in the Mad and Eel Rivers. River conditions are poor due to the flood of sediment in the last seventy years, and only some of the sediment is gravel. IN one impacted stretch of Middle Creek we surveyed for various parameters of stream conditions to get a data baseline before large-scale restoration was to occur as part of the Good Roads Clean Creeks program. We measured channel cross sections, thalwag profile, large woody debris, canopy coverage, pool size and sedimentation with V*STAR, embeddedness and pebble count. Pebble counts gave an indication of gravel size in the creek bed. Embeddedness indicated how well cemented in the gravel was by fines, or small sediment, preventing transport and not helpful to spawning fish. When you look Middle Creek up on Kris Mattole these statistics jump out at you. At the Mattole, right at the junction of the two, all the rocks are river rocks, many of which are rounded smoothe. It seems like a lot of the fines have been separated and carried away. The river bottom is not packed with fines nearly as badly as the creek yards away.
We have given a lot of attention to restoring area river conditions. We have learned sediment is transported throughout watersheds when biological systems are impacted, and are now learning the extent of that damage as glomalin brings the nature of soil stability into focus. Dredging has occasionally been mentioned as one way to reduce riverine impacts. Of course, best management practices for land disturbance must be updated to include the new knowledge, but newly created impacts will be greatly diminished and we can focus on improving conditions without going backwards. Meanwhile, gravel mining is a partial substitute for dredging and has potential to restore some of the problem areas.
Watershed damage often takes decades to develop after major events. Douglas fir stumps may last ten years before they rot out. The surrounding ground has been robbed of protection for the soil glue holding it together and a small amount of erosion will occur over time. At this point the fir and the redwood are responding similarly. The redwood adventitious cell send up new growth to maintain photosynthesis, and some small amount continues to feed the fungi, which adjusts to new conditions by using more neighboring plants as hosts. In a few years a crown of green protects the fungi with shade. In the case of the Douglas fir the fungi are robbed of nutrition and the environment become much more hazardous without the host tree. Glomalin starts to break down from sun and running water in a cascading effect. Without glomalin’s glue-like ability to form particles into water holding topsoil, and keep it on the hillside, the particles liquefy and are carried away by wind or water but eventually reach a river. If the surface is steep, it will slide. It is inevitable.
Gravel mining could be a big help for restorationists. It is to be hoped regulations can be made flexible enough to move sites to where they are needed or can do the most good, and that it is recognized as a boom due to legacy impacts on our watersheds that will eventually correct itself while diminishing the resource. We also need to deepen the channels and narrow the river bars in order to reestablish riparian vegetation which cools water with shade and provides food for fish while holding soil down. The vegetation has been scoured off the banks because the river channels filled in with sediment and the banks are over run in storms. Much flooding expected in Florida after hurricanes Charley and Francis was alleviated due to their well-maintained canal systems.
Clear cuts and skidding or dragging by yarder are terribly destructive to the forest system and need to be eliminated. There will always be harvestable wood products, many in remote steep areas. Better methods of harvest must be encouraged or their will be no gaining ground on the problem.
Beating back the flood of river gravel
By My Word by Denver Nelson
Wednesday, September 08, 2004 -
Thanks to the long-term work of many people and many organizations, water quantity and water quality is improving in our North Coast rivers, but our rivers are still not healthy. Years ago William Van Pelt, an old Yurok friend of mine, told me the Klamath River bed was 20 feet higher now than in his youth 90 years ago. Old-time fisherman and friend Art Dedini said the same about the Eel River bed. I doubted their "non-scientific" conclusions at the time, but I have now been on the rivers long enough to appreciate and agree with their observations. The rivers are filling up with gravel.
Both water and gravel are transported down rivers; water takes days and gravel takes years to go from source to ocean. If there is too much water for the river to transport, a flood results. The water flood may last several days. Gravel is likewise transported from its source to the ocean. If the gravel input exceeds the river's ability to transport it, the bed of the river will continue to rise (a gravel flood) just as my now-departed friends observed was occurring in the Eel and Klamath rivers. Our rivers are still experiencing a rising level of gravel flood.
We live in a geologically unstable area. Before any humans were here, gravel was being produced by natural soil erosion and was successfully transported down the rivers. When man arrived, he started disturbing the soil by building housing, trails and roads, logging, farming and ranching, resulting in much more gravel being produced and insufficient gravel transport down the rivers.
We all now realize that old land-use practices were wrong, and we are attempting to improve current practices and repair old problems. At a cost of billions of dollars these old errors are now being fixed by removing legacy roads, improving logging, farming, grazing and road building, etc. Only it isn't working. Gravel continues to build up in our rivers.
I believe current silviculture and logging practices are the source of continued excess gravel in our rivers. I also believe that we live in the best timber-producing environment on the entire planet. We should be able to grow and harvest trees forever without causing damage to the environment.
No one is doing anything illegal, but misguided efforts abound. The enviros claim to believe in sustainable forestry and healthy rivers, but have gotten bogged down trying to save "old growth" -- a silly waste of time. The majestic old growth has already been preserved in federal and state lands. Preserving "old growth" is like preserving your grandmother. You can preserve trees and people for a while, but eventually all living things die. We should be preserving timber-producing lands. Trees will always grow on good timber land.
Commercial timber companies, the California Department of Forestry and the Board of Forestry all preach the same song. Even-age tree growth and yarder clear cutting is the only economically and environmentally correct way to grow and harvest trees. Redwood trees are now cut at 40 to 50 years of age; just when they begin to produce significant growth and "old growth" characteristics. The redwood lumber for sale now is a much poorer quality than old growth, and will rot and break if used. The purchasing public is becoming aware of this poor quality and is substituting cedar, treated fir or plastic wood for redwood lumber.
Yarder logging as now practiced in our area is in reality tractor logging on very steep slopes. Logs are dragged up the hill to the yarder setting by a steel cable (high lead yarding). This produces surface erosion and produces more gravel than can be transported down stream by our rivers. The solution is yarding with a suspended cable and a motorized carriage (skyline yarding). The logs are picked up and flown out of the logging site without any soil disturbance. Uneven aged management harvesting older trees would yield a much better wood product and increased long-term profits. Timber stands could be selectively logged using permanent roads without the need for replanting, retiring and rebuilding roads and other costly environmental mitigations.
The enviros need to rethink their priorities and the commercial lumbermen need to rethink their economics. A change to skyline logging and selective forestry will make better lumber with improved profits and will allow our streams to transport the gravel flood to the ocean.
Denver Nelson is a neurosurgeon and river advocate who fishes on the Klamath River. He lives in Eureka.
Eel River gravel could get the go-ahead
By John Driscoll The Times-Standard
Thursday, September 02, 2004 -
The California Coastal Commission may clear the way for mining nearly 1 million cubic yards of gravel from the Eel River each year for the next five years.
The commission staff has recommended approving the permits of five gravel operators and Humboldt County with certain conditions, after years of handling mining on an annual basis.
Reflecting the changing nature of rivers, the commission staff would be able to review annual plans submitted by the operators to make sure they mesh with coastal law.
"The playing field is changing a little bit over time," said Bob Merrill, a planner with the coastal commission.
Channels move and vegetation grows in different areas, and the commission wants to make sure operators don't mine gravel from a wet river channel or damage streamside vegetation, Merrill said.
The hearing next Thursday at the Wharfinger Building in Eureka comes after the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in mid-August reversed an earlier decision that found the operations -- combined with mining on the Mad River -- would jeopardize protected salmon populations in the region.
A new opinion was issued after significant new information on both Eel River and Mad River gravel harvesting was reviewed, and after on-the-ground meetings were held with a number of gravel operators. Concerns about harming protected chinook salmon spawning beds were at the heart of the talks.
The volume of gravel removed from the Mad has been capped at a lower amount than was first proposed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and different techniques on how to shave gravel from the river were agreed to.
The commission does not have jurisdiction on Mad River harvesting; that's up to the Army Corps and NOAA.
Those applying for permits on the Eel are Mercer-Fraser, Eureka Ready Mix Concrete, Leland Rock and Dwelley, Mallard Pond, and Humboldt County.
On the Eel River, gravel extraction is happening largely away from chinook salmon spawning grounds, so the focus was different than on the Mad.
Chinook rear and migrate through areas where gravel mining occurs, said Irma Lagomarcino, a supervisor for NOAA Fisheries. She said there were also concerns about adult fish stranding in shallow areas. Constraints on harvesting in certain areas addressed that. Also, the amount of gravel expected to be extracted was deemed sustainable, she said.
NOAA will continue to be a part of the yearly review of mining on both rivers. Lagomarcino said she believes common ground was gained in a process that had previously been awkward trying to deal with all Humboldt County operations at once.
"We learned a lot and they did too about our perspective," Lagomarcino said.
Wednesday, September 01, 2004
In every discussion and field of research we find glomalin research has shown us an overlooked aspect of the studies being performed. How does one even get the discussion started, let alone get from fact to practice? Another article in the papers yesterday (September 9, 2004) ordered 15 federal agencies to let each other know what they knew, share information and in general use what they had learned for the general good. A retired general said vast amounts of information are crying to be put into practical use if only we are serious about connecting the dots. This is exactly where we stand with glomalin, a proven fact without public acceptance because it is still an unknown in forestry.
Date: Tue, 24 Aug 2004 15:26:24 -0500
From: "P. Neuman self only"
Subject: Scientists study trees to get to root of pollution debate
By John Myers
Duluth News Tribune
August 22, 2004
Scientists study trees to get to root of pollution debatehttp://www.duluthsuperior.com/mld/duluthsuperior/9463233.htm
RHINELANDER, Wis. - Inside what conspiracy buffs might guess is a communications center for UFOs, scientists instead are asking a very down to earth question. What are we doing to our trees?
About 60 researchers from seven countries are trying to find the answer In northern Wisconsin, studying the impacts that elevated carbon dioxide And ozone pollution have on aspen, birch and maple trees. Scientists are probing the soil for bugs and nutrients, electronically monitoring how individual leaves and tree trunks "breathe," checking how much water roots take up and conducting a dozen other major experiments. So many scientists come here that they must be careful not to bump into each other's work. It's called FACE -- Free Air Carbon Enrichment -- and the effort is revealing human impacts on forests never before documented.
In an abandoned farm field northwest of Rhinelander, researchers have Built 12 giant rings of PVC pipe around meticulously planted experimental forests. Each open-air ring, 100 feet in diameter with pipes 30 feet high, contains 650 aspen, maple and birch trees planted in 1997. For the past seven growing seasons, some of the trees have been getting a dose of carbon dioxide equivalent to the level all forests are expected to see later this century. Carbon dioxide, or CO2, is the primary pollution created when coal, oil and gas are burned.
Some of the trees also are getting a daily blast of ozone, another fossil fuel pollutant. Ozone, O3, is the kind of pollution once associated with big city smog. Now, it's spreading across the globe to inundate rural areas as well. It's the only large-scale experiment in the world measuring the effects Of carbon and ozone on trees. "We're trying to be a window into the future of what our forests will look like under the elevated carbon dioxide and ozone levels that we'll see a few years from now," said David Karnosky, director of the FACE project and a Michigan Technological University scientist.
MORE CARBON, MORE OZONE
That carbon levels are way up isn't in question. Background carbon dioxide levels in our air were stable at about 280 parts per million for 100,000 years, according to data published by NASA. But during the past 100 years,
that's increased to 360 parts per million and continues to rise at least 1.5 parts per million each year. Carbon levels are expected to hit 560 parts per million by the end of this century.
Ozone also is increasing rapidly, from about 10 parts per billion 100 years ago to more than 40 parts per billion today and higher than 80 parts per billion in urban areas during smoggy days. That's more than enough to cause
major damage to trees, the FACE experiment is showing.
What those levels of ozone and carbon dioxide, called greenhouse gases, might do to global climate in coming decades is the subject of heated debate. A majority of scientists say they probably will create a warmer world. But the researchers in Rhinelander don't have a dog in that fight.
"Our experiment has nothing to do with global warming. Whether or not global warming is happening, the amount of carbon and ozone is increasing. That's not in dispute," Karnosky said. "We want to know the impact on trees, not on the weather."
THE DANGER OF OZONE
The findings are drawing interest on many fronts. High doses of carbon dioxide make trees grow fast. That's exactly what most scientists thought would happen, since carbon dioxide is the most basic element trees need to survive. Trees inside of the carbon-only rings are noticeably thicker, leafier and much taller than those in nearby rings exposed only to natural air.
Ozone's impact is even more stark, but in the negative. Many trees near the ozone-spewing pipes already have died. Those farther inside the rings are stunted and prone to diseases.
Trees exposed to elevated levels of both carbon and ozone grow about normally. The combined effects of increased carbon and ozone appear to cancel each other out, although scientists aren't sure why. Broader, long-term impacts of the experiment still are developing along With the trees inside the rings.
"What does this mean on a landscape level, over a long period? The answers to the most intriguing questions are still out there a few years away," Karnosky said while examining an aspen branch inside one of the rings.
While carbon-enhanced trees are bigger and grow faster, for example, the entire ecosystem around them appears to be thrown off-kilter. The same thing is happening around trees that get both carbon and ozone.
"Ozone at relatively moderate levels, not even high levels, negates the productive effects of elevated CO2," said Kevin Percy, a scientist with the Canadian Forest Service participating in the FACE project. "We're talking
levels that we already see in southern Wisconsin right now, and levels that are expected to affect 50 percent of all forests globally in a few years." Mark Kubiske, a research plant physiologist for the U.S. Forest Service and a FACE researcher, said ozone pollution probably already has cut forest productivity in the Northland. One research paper estimates aspen productivity has been cut 30 percent.
"Ozone is the most severe pollutant we have in the Lakes states. We like to think of our air up here as clean. And it is, relatively," Kubiske said. "But, already, three or four days each month, we're seeing ozone plumes that
reach (the Northland) at levels enough to cause harm to plants and trees."
Scientists also are finding abnormalities in the soil when trees are exposed to higher ozone and carbon. Leaves die earlier each year, and root systems are smaller, probably making the trees more susceptible to drought
Inside the high carbon rings, forest tent caterpillars increase in Numbers during their outbreaks. Leaf rust and aphids increase along with carbon and ozone, and wood-boring insects do more damage. But each type of tree reacts a little differently. "There is a pretty big range of variation," Karnosky said, noting one variation of aspen is doing better under higher ozone levels, probably because its competition is dying off.
When carbon and ozone are increased, even forest composition -- the Types of trees that make up a forest -- may be changing. Birch trees tolerate more ozone than aspen. If birch come to dominate over aspen, as the experiment seems to indicate might happen, there could be major changes in the type of trees available for paper and board mills and for wildlife in our forests. Grouse, deer and moose thrive off young aspen, for example, but not as much off birch. "We could have a substantive change in forest dynamics in just a fewyears," Percy said. "Birch might be the winner in the northern forest of 2050."
The future of our forests is a critical issue for the Northland – for quality of life, the timber harvest industry and tourism. Dense forests define the Northland, provide habitat for its wildlife, filter water for streams and lakes, and provide a living for many residents. Any efforts to deal with carbon and ozone pollution worldwide, or a lack of effort, will affect trees here at home. A similar experiment in Illinoisis looking at the pollutants' impact on crops. "To the public in the Lake states, this is pretty important stuff," Kubiske said. The increasing levels of carbon dioxide and ozone pollution "have the potential to affect just about everyone's lives up here. You're talking about altering entire forest ecosystems and possibly agriculture systems. People should pay attention."
CARBON SINK CLOGGED?
It's not just local impacts of a changing forest, however, but what value our trees might have in helping to solve the global climate change problem. Scientists want to know how trees react to carbon and ozone to test a theory
that northern forests may act as a carbon "sink" that will help diminish the global carbon problem.
The increase in carbon, from burning fossil fuels that release carbon, is being blamed by many scientists for raising global temperatures enough to affect our climate. All that carbon dioxide is keeping heat in like a greenhouse, the theory goes. It's already credited with melting polar ice fields and glaciers, making plants bloom earlier each spring and lakes freeze later each fall.
The carbon sink theory is that trees will absorb much of the excess carbon now being spewed by power plants, cars and factories from Connecticut to Chile to China. In some countries, tree planting efforts already have
Begun to act as carbon "credits" so nations can meet global agreements to reduce carbon.
But the Rhinelander scientists are exposing a pesky fly in the carbon sink theory. When exposed to elevated levels of carbon and ozone in the atmosphere, trees are taking in and storing less carbon in their trunks and in the nearby soil. Some of the young trees may even be giving off more carbon than they absorb, contributing to the problem rather than helping it. Increased exposure to the pollutants is causing increased respiration of carbon.
"The potential of forests to have major impacts at reducing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere isn't what some
people predicted," Percy said. "When you add in ozone to the equation, in many trees, respiration of CO2 goes
The results could have a staggering impact on international carbon reduction efforts as political discussions continue on how to solve a growing global pollution problem. And if trees can't take more carbon in, experts
Trying to solve the carbon problem will have to look elsewhere -- probably at cutting carbon emissions instead.
"The results, hopefully, will speak for themselves," said Neil Nelson, U.S. Forest Service liaison to the FACE experiment. Kubiske agreed, noting he hopes policy-makers are listening. "There's a lot we still need to tease out as we go forward," he said. "But the preliminary results indicate that forests may not be as important for carbon storage as was hoped. That's going to get a lot of attention in the next few years all over the world."
Commentary: CO2 Science magazine reports and supports the FACE experiments. But no one is including carbon fixed in the soil by fungi as glomalin is not even mentioned in the article. The magazine notes glomalin but not its universal nature and impacts. From what they see they are right but the abundance and critical nature of glomalin means all forecasts are way off.
Here is CO2 Science Magazines article on ozone and CO2. It comes to entirely different conclusions.
Effects of Elevated O3 and CO2 on Yellow Poplar Seedlings Over Five Seasons
Rebbeck, J., Scherzer, A.J. and Loats, K.V. 2004. Foliar physiology of yellow-poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera L.) exposed to O3 and elevated CO2 over five seasons. Trees 18: 253-263.
The authors note that studies of the combined effects of elevated ozone (O3) and carbon dioxide (CO2) on long-lived woody plants have been conducted before, but that "few have reported results for more than two or three seasons," and that few such studies of trees have been done "during their development from seedlings to saplings or mature trees." Consequently, their five-year study - which does both of these things - is rather unique.
What was done
Rebbeck et al. grew yellow poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera L.) seedlings for five years within open-top chambers in a field plantation at the Northeastern Research Station's Forestry Sciences Laboratory at Delaware, Ohio, USA, exposing them continuously from mid-May through mid-October of each year to either (1) charcoal-filtered (CF) air to remove ambient O3, (2) ambient O3, (3) 1.5 times ambient O3, and (4) 1.5 times ambient O3 plus 350 ppm CO2 above ambient CO2, (target concentration of 700 ppm CO2), while they periodically measured a number of plant parameters and processes. Throughout the study, the trees were never fertilized, and they received no supplemental water beyond some given in the first season.
What was learned
Averaged over the study's five growing seasons, the midseason net photosynthetic rate of upper canopy foliage at saturating light intensities declined by 10% when the trees were grown in ambient O3-air and by 14% when they were grown in elevated O3-air, when compared to the trees that were grown in the charcoal-filtered air, while seasonal net photosynthesis of foliage grown in the combination of elevated O3 and elevated CO2 was 57-80% higher than it was in the trees exposed to elevated O3 alone. There was also no evidence of any photosynthetic down regulation in the trees exposed to the combination of elevated O3 and CO2, with some of the highest rates being observed during the final growing season.
What it means
In the words of the authors, "the results of this five-season field study suggest that elevated CO2 may ameliorate the negative effects of increased tropospheric O3 on yellow-poplar." Indeed, their results suggest that a nominally doubled atmospheric CO2 concentration more than compensates for the deleterious effects of a 50% increase in ambient O3 levels … and by several times over.
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