Starving Plant Life

rockstrees

In my last post, Boogie-man Gas, I talked about CO2 and the controversies surrounding this trace gas.  I also pointed out to evidence that CO2 has been a beneficial gas, and not the pollutant that most people think it is.

Still, with headlines such as these (Scientists call for action to tackle CO2 levels,[1] and New Milestone for CO2 Levels: Mauna Loa Observatory Records 400 PPM [2]), it makes me wonder if the scientific process has somehow broken down when one group of scientists state unequivocally that CO2 will cause a runaway greenhouse effect, killing all living things with excessive heat, while another group states, also just as vehemently, that a lack of CO2 will cause plants (and therefore, animals) to die, and usher in a new ice age which will freeze everything for hundreds of thousands of years.

Do these scientists even bother to read each others’ hypotheses and studies, or do they all just argue for the sake of argument’s sake?  Is CO2 really bad for us, or is it crucial for our existence?

As a Taoist, I have a feeling it’s somewhere in between the two extremes, but although I may stake my claim as a Taoist, I certainly cannot stake my claim as a scientist because I have not yet earned my lab coat.  So I did the next best thing.  I donned on my Questioning Hat and transformed myself into my alter-ego, the mystical, all-knowing, Blonde Tao Witch.

witchhat

I do this, not because I am strange (OK, I am a little strange, but not as strange as you think), but because I have found out something important about my mental processes.  By temporarily donning on this hat, I suspend my normal daily rational thinking brain for awhile as I explore other ideas and options without the urge to shoot them down and stomp them into the ground for daring to challenge what I hold as the shining truth.

So then, to my alter-ego, I posed the following two questions having to do with CO2’s properties:

  • What is the controversy surrounding the heat absorbency property of CO2?  Why is it not tracking properly with temperature changes of Earth?
  • What is the controversy behind CO2’s role in photosynthesis?  Is there too much CO2 in there air, or is there a lack of CO2 in the air?

I’m going to tackle the heat absorbency property of CO2 first, as that is basic high school chemistry and fairly straightforward to describe.  Most of the energy from the sun is emitted in wavelengths shorter than 4,000 nanometers (.000004 meters).  Earth absorbs some of the heat from the Sun and then reflects some of it back as light and the rest as heat.

Even though CO2 doesn’t absorb heat energy from the sun because solar wavelengths are too short for it to absorb, it does absorb some of the heat energy released from Earth.  It can do so because once Earth has absorbed the Sun’s energy, in the process of internalizing the energy, she changes its wavelength.  The heat energy released from the earth is discharged in wavelengths longer than 4,000 nanometers, which allows CO2 to absorb energy that falls within that mid-infrared range of 10,600 nanometers.

When a molecule of carbon dioxide absorbs Earth heat energy, it goes into an excited unstable state and can only become stable again by releasing its absorbed energy.  Some of this released energy returns to Earth and some is expelled out into space.  Unfortunately, carbon dioxide allows the entire range of Solar wavelengths into Earth’s atmosphere, but only allows the range of Earth wavelengths that it can absorb (10,600 nm), back out again.  This causes a build-up of the infrared wavelengths that are less than 10,600 nm, thereby causing the Earth to retain more and more of the sun’s warmth.  At some point, this warmth is expected to exceed that temperature which is able to support life.

I’m going to pause at this point and continue onward with photosynthesis.

photosynthesis

The process of photosynthesis is fairly straight forward.  Plants get their food from sunlight by chemically altering carbon dioxide and water to convert that sunlight to storable chemical energies.  They give off oxygen as a waste product, and with good reason—oxygen is a highly toxic mutagenic gas that causes oxidation of various metals.  Interestingly enough, animals have evolved to utilize this waste product, and even to require it to maintain the combustion engine that make up all animal life, both above and below the water.  (As an aside, even as I ponder over this simple chemical loop, I can’t help but notice that we use this flammable gas to burn away our brief existence, cell by cell, until we can no longer keep up the pace of cell-burn versus cell-production.  Once we can no longer keep apace with the burn-rate, we simply die).

In essence, animals (including humans) complete the loop of life, taking in the poisonous oxygen, converting it, and then releasing the life-giving carbon dioxide so that plants can live.  Plants need us to live just as much as we need them to breathe.  Without carbon dioxide, plants cannot continue their process of photosynthesis.

Why then, is there so much discrepancy and divergency of opinion in something as basic as the effects of CO2 on the Earth and its denizens?  Isn’t there solid evidence that green plants need CO2 for the processing of photosynthesis?  Shouldn’t we at least try to figure out how much CO2 plants really need before we try to remove what we think are unnecessary and excessive amounts of CO2 from the air?  That just seems to me to be prudent, but who am I to suggest something this obvious?

Lucky for me, I don’t have to figure this part out.  There are already studies that have been done by several groups of researchers, and they found that there are three most likely causes of plant death:  insect-infestations and disease, lack of water, and carbon-dioxide starvation. [3]

This is my opinion on these three causes of plant death.

Insect attacks and disease are natural occurrences that have been going on for as long as there has been life on Earth.  It is part of the cycle of life and cannot, therefore, be considered a tragic occurrence in any way shape or form.  It is one of the ways that evolution is able to work its magic, picking and choosing the life forms that can best adapt to its ever-changing environment.

The lack of water occurs in cyclical fashion throughout Earth’s billions of years of existence due to the cyclical nature of ice ages.  Simply put—when it is cold, all the water is locked up in the polar caps and the glaciers, causing a lack of water everywhere else.  During these dry cold spells, there is more land which is exposed to dry air because there is less water to cover it.

When the relatively short interglacials come around again, everything warms back up and the ice melts, releasing its cache of water and causing low-lying areas that had previously been above water to become submerged.  It also allows for arid, dessert areas to become green and wet and fertile (ergo parts of north east Africa and Mesopotamia).  This is also a normal Earth cycle and not some horrible tragedy that is about to befall humanity.  Over and over again, Earth’s message has always been clear.  Don’t live on sand bars and don’t live near coastlines as those are the areas in flux each time she goes through her cycles.

Last on that list is carbon-dioxide starvation.

Say what?

saywhat?

Did I read that right?  Are our trees starving for CO2?   If the amount of CO2 that we humans have been recklessly spewing into the air all these decades is not enough for trees to grow, what then is enough?

Interestingly enough, botanists already have the answer to this question.

co2

Below 200 PPM, plants do not have enough CO2 to carry on the photosynthesis process and essentially stop growing. Because 300 PPM is the atmospheric CO content, this amount is chosen as the 100% growth point. You can see from the chart that increased CO can double or more the growth rate on most normal plants. Above 2,000 PPM, CO2 starts to become toxic to plants and above 4,000 PPM it becomes toxic to people. [4]

At this point, we don’t really have to worry about reaching that toxic 2,000 ppm.  As of May 2013, CO2 levels almost reached the 400 ppm (parts per million) mark [2].  That’s higher than it has been in a very long time, but from the plant’s perspective, it’s nothing to write home about.  In fact, according to H. Leighton Steward, plant life on Earth is actually close to starving.

At Current CO2 Concentrations, Plants are Close to Starving.  Acting in concert, the several phenomena described in the preceding subsections, as well as other phenomena possibly yet unknown, typically allow the growth-enhancing effects of atmospheric CO2 enrichment to be expressed in the face of severe resource deficiencies.  But what happens in the case of “carbon starvation,” when the air is deficient in CO2?

Because CO2 is the basic “food” of essentially all plants, the more of it there is in the air, the bigger and better they grow; and as the air’s CO2 content declines, so too do plant growth rates decline.  And when a critically-low CO2 concentration is ultimately reached, starving plants lacking sufficient CO2 – like starving people lacking sufficient food – actually die, as indicated in the figure below, where plant death occurs when dry weight production falls to zero. [5]

I wasn’t sure I read him correctly because I have been told all my life that CO2 was TOO ABUNDANT in the atmosphere.  And yet, here is this scientist saying that the plants growing on Earth are dying because they are starving for CO2.  Indeed, it is also the reason why people add extra CO2 into commercial greenhouses—because they know that plants need more CO2 for maximum production.  There is even a term for it.  It’s called CO2 fertilization. [6]

rice

Picture on the right: Empirical Data. Growth of 21-day-old rice and S. viridis seedlings at different ambient CO2 concentrations ranging from 30 to 800 parts per million. NOTE: The very last set of pots on the extreme right is out of sequence. They are for 390 ppm, while the next to last pots are for 800 ppm.

Graph on the left:  Modeled Data:  Modeled changes in CO2 assimilation rate in response to changes in leaf intercellular CO2partial pressure for C3 and C4 photosynthesis and for a hypothetical C4 rice. Curves 1, 2, and 4 have Rubisco levels typically found in a C4 leaf (10 μmol m−2 catalytic Rubisco sites). Curve 3 shows a typical response for C3 leaves with three times the Rubisco level of C4 leaves. Curve 1 shows the response of a C4 leaf with C4 Rubisco kinetic properties. Curve 2 models how a C4 leaf with C3 Rubisco kinetic properties would respond (a hypothetical C4 rice with C3 Rubisco kinetics). The comparison of these two curves shows the increase in CO2 assimilation rate achieved with C4 compared with C3 Rubisco kinetic properties within a functional C4 mechanism. Arrows to curves 1 and 3 show intercellular CO2 partial pressures typical at current ambient CO2 partial pressures for C4 and C3photosynthesis. To generate the curves, model equations were taken from (11) and comparative Rubisco kinetic constants from (12). (B) [Reference numbers per source.]

Source: Susanne von Caemmerer, W. Paul Quick, and Robert T. Furbank (2012). The Development of C4 Rice: Current Progress and Future Challenges. Science 336 (6089): 1671-1672.

While I do appreciate the serious efforts of all scientists to find ways of maintaining the Earth in liveable conditions for its seven-plus billion denizens, I am not convinced that CO2 is the driving factor behind global climate change because, unfortunately for us, historical data regarding global temperatures that scientists were able to extract from tree rings and ice cores doesn’t match up with computer model predictions.  I say ‘unfortunate’ because if it was as simple as removing CO2, we would be able to figure out how to fix the situation sooner rather than later.  Sadly, from everything that I have read, including all the data points that I have been able to gather from scientists of all fields, I am starting to believe that global climate change it is NOT something that is fixable by human intervention and it is NOT tied to the rise and fall of CO2 at all.

Global climate change, from what I am able to gather, is directly affected by several great heavenly cycles of the solar system.  Some of these cycles are Earth-related and others are Solar cycles which impact Earth due to her dependence on the Sun for radiant energy.  When these cycles overlap, we get major global climate change.  I wrote about one of those cycles in a previous post, Winter In July.  That post talked about Earth’s precession, and although it is an important cycle, it is not the only one that Earth has.  There are other cycles, and they all impact global climate and temperature in varying degrees.  I will go into the other Earth cycles in my next few postings, and then I will get into the Solar cycles and how that affects us.

1.  Scientists call for action to tackle CO2 levels

2.  New Milestone for CO2 Levels: Mauna Loa Observatory Records 400 PPM

3.  New Studies Point to ‘Carbon Starvation’ as a Cause for Tree Mortality

4.  Carbon Dioxide Enrichment Methods

5.  Plantsneedco2.org

6.  Growing Greener Tomatoes:  First US Greenhouse with Onsite CO2 Fertilization

Winter in July

beachgirl

These are the very last days of July, 2013.  If we don’t stop and capture the sunshine and the gentle trade winds, the scented leaves and the birdsong, it will be over in a matter of hours and we will be neck-deep in the warm beach sands of August.  But that is true only until it is no longer true.  In fact, the clock is ticking towards that day when the warmth of July will be a thing of the past.

In fact, if we fast forward 11,000 years, it will be winter in July.  And it won’t happen because of anything anyone has ever done or will ever do.  It will happen because of something called General Precession.

windowgirl3

Ah, the sound of sleigh bells jingling in the bright cold air of a summer that has come once again to the denizens of a beautiful Earth, celebrating yet another summer vacation indoors while the snow plows work mercilessly, clearing away the streets so that folks can go out and visit with friends while enjoying their favorite things, such as crisp apple strudels and warm woolen mittens.

So what is this general precession thing that causes winter to occur in July?  Well, it’s not really a thing but rather, more like an action.  Wikipedia describes it as the change in the orientation of the rotational axis of a rotational body (the Earth) in which the second Euloer angle is constant. ~ Wikipedia [1]

Now, I don’t know about you, but that’s just nonsensical blathering to me.  However, since it is rather important to me to understand why my favorite time of the year is going to eventually become cold and unappealing, I am going to try to figure this out using my less-than-stellar Taobabe brains.  So let’s break it down into its components.

This is the WHAT and the HOW:

Gyroscope_precession

So what the heck is a Euloer angle?  How do you even pronounce that?  Is it someone who delivers eulogies?

No?

I didn’t think it was that simple—but in this case, it really is simple.  Notice that this spinning top has one point (at the bottom) that does not move.  It’s dead stuck in one spot.  This is the Euloer angle, and it is constant because it never moves.

Now, take a look at its opposite end (at the top).  That one is moving all over the place.  The movement is so wide that it causes a serious wobble to the sphere.  That is what is meant by a change in the orientation of the rotational axis.

Now let’s get into the WHY:

If it was just the Earth, spinning by its lonesome, with only its gravitational weight to make it bulge here and there (see my previous post Lumpy Bumpy Humpty Dumpty), the effect of its planetary precession would be so small, we would barely notice it.  In truth, the Earth is part of a whole system of other bodies, weighing in and contributing to that gravitational pull, and this pull is ridiculously strong.

Consider that our very own Moon (aka Luna), is just about one of the biggest moons to be found in our solar system, and then consider that Earth is a rather small potato when compared to all the other giants orbiting the Sun, and we have a strange anomalous relationship between a rather small planet and a rather large satellite.

That lunar pull is so strong that it actually causes Earth to bulge out around its midsection.  Add the gravitational pull of the mighty Sun to this equation and the Earth’s equatorial region is completely squashed out of shape.

With both the Moon’s and the Sun’s combined gravities exerting their influence on the Earth, they collectively yank her chains, so to speak, and Earth’s spin becomes noticeably wobbled and teetered.

The action of Sun and Moon on poor Earth is what is known as the lunisolar precession and it is about 500 times greater than planetary precession alone.  And before you even have to ask, yes all the other planets exert their pull as well, but their influence is slight compared to the lunisolar precession’s pull so I have decided to leave them out of the mathematical equation.

Mathematical equation?  Did I just say that dreaded ‘M’ word?

Why, yes—yes I did, but only because I don’t have to do the hard work of calculating this horrid thing out to its bitter end.  I am simply going to let smarter people do the math and then point to it and say, “See?  That’s how it works.”

precessionequation

Gm = standard gravitational parameter of the perturbing body
r = geocentric distance to the perturbing body
C = moment of inertia around Earth’s axis of rotation
A = moment of inertia around any equatorial diameter of Earth
C − A = moment of inertia of Earth’s equatorial bulge (C > A)
δ = declination of the perturbing body (north or south of equator)
α = right ascension of the perturbing body (east from vernal equinox).

No need to look at the equation closely.  I swear, the numbers work out correctly. [1]  (I stole it from Wikipedia so it must be correct.  N’est ce pas?).  Anyhoo, onto bigger and better things.

This is the WHEN:

The Earth’s precession is very, very, slow.  How slow?  From start to finish, it is a 26,000 year cycle.  We have already passed the half-way point of this latest precession cycle, which happened two-thousand years ago (give or take a few years).  In other words, right around the time Jesus was born, we hit mid-cycle.

We are now moving into the second phase of the cycle, which means our summers will eventually get colder and colder until it becomes winter in July, 11,000 years from now.

Yes, this will happen.

No, this has nothing to do with CO2 or human-created global warming.  It does not matter what we do or don’t do, and it doesn’t matter if we’re even around to watch it happen.  It will simply happen when the time comes for it to happen because it is a natural and rhythmic cycle which exists outside of and beyond our sphere of influence.  It has been in existence since the world began and it will not end until Earth is subsumed by the Sun (or is otherwise destroyed due to some cataclysmic event beyond our imagination).

Of course, we’ll all be safely dead by then, so this won’t really have much of an impact on us—-except for a couple of OTHER things about Earth’s movement, which I am a bit more concerned with.  You see, general precession is just one of three Earth cycles that a gentleman by the name of Milutin Milankovitch has so very kindly mapped out for us back in 1920. [2]  Even though we won’t be around to witness the next precessional winter in July, the other two cycles will be interesting to live through, as they are coming ’round the bend in short order.

(…to be continued)

1.  General Precession

2.  Milankovitch cycles

Ocean Heat—Hot Surfer Dudes vs. Scientists

surfers

(Continued from The Heat is On—Barely)

The Oceans are supposed to be getting hotter, says climate scientists.

Last I checked, however, the hottest things in (and on) the oceans are the surfer dudes with their tanned bodies and their muscular physiques.  This is the reason why my home is within driving proximity to Santa Cruz, home to some of the most amazing species of hot surfing dudes to have ever graced the planet Earth.  Perhaps some of those surfer dudes are scientists.  One never knows what level of intelligence lurks beneath a handsome physique.

Ahem.  To get back on topic—according to scientists, the ocean has more than just surfer dudes to use as a heating implement.  (Well—ok…they didn’t say anything about the surfer dudes, but they did say that it is warming.)  Let’s try this again.

According to a recent study in Geophysical Research Letters, the ocean captures heat and traps it under oceanic levels below 700 meters. [1]  Kevin Trenberth with the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research stated that:  “Increasingly in the past decade, more of that heat has been dumped at levels below 700 meters, where most previous analyses stop. About 30 percent has gone below 700 meters in depth.  This is fairly new, it is not there throughout the record.” [2]

Since I am not a scientist, I am naturally full of questions about this sort of thing.  For instance, how did the deep waters get warm but the surface water stayed cool?  What is the mechanism that allows for the heat to sink downwards past 700 meters?  So let’s say the heat found a way to go down into the deep end of the pool, why wouldn’t it just simply bubble back up?  After all, heat’s natural propensity is to find a way to rise, even if it has to erupt through some weak spot which could theoretically come from the expansion and contraction of water itself.  If warm water expands and cold water contracts, wouldn’t the body of cooler water above contract to the point where it exposes holes where the warm water could bubble back up?  This brings me to another question.

Kevin Trenberth says “This is fairly new, it is not there throughout the record.”  I am seriously curious as to why it has never occurred before now.  Why is it a ‘fairly new’ thing?  Hasn’t the sun always been shining and providing warmth?  Hasn’t the ocean always been rolling onto the golden shores?  Why would the oceans suddenly start absorbing the heat, while at the same time, something is acting to prevent the release of said heat trapped below 2000 meters (hidden beyond our sensors), all within the last couple of decades or so?

Why did I say (hidden beyond our sensors)?  According to the article [2] “Trenberth, along with Magdalena Balmaseda and Erland Källén with the European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasts, discovered the missing heat with the help of the Argo observation program. Argo is a global array of thousands of floating devices that measure temperatures across the oceans.”

So—how does one go about measuring something below 700 meters with floating devices?  Wouldn’t floating devices measure surface temperatures?  Wouldn’t they have to deploy submersibles to measure temperatures below 700 meters?  Our best submarines can go down to that level, and have surely been doing so for awhile now, so any data as to actual temperature fluctuations at or below that depth has to have already been collected for at least as long as we’ve had submarines.  Why are we now just finding out about the heat collected below that depth?   What am I missing here?

Eh.  What do I know?  I’m just a blonde Taobabe.

anime girl 202

(…to be continued)

1.  Detection of an Observed 135 year Ocean Temperature Change from Limited Data

2.  Scientists Find the Missing Heat of Global Warming 700 Meters Below the Sea. 

Because of the Rain

raingirl

When I was a child of five, my favorite time of the year was the rainy season.  Since I was born in the tropics, we only had two seasons, rainy and dry.  That didn’t mean that during the dry season there was no rain.  It just meant that it didn’t rain every single day for weeks.  Living in between the mountains and the coast of the Pacific Ocean meant that rain was the one consistent thing we could count on any old day of the year.

Because of the rain, we got fresh drinking water.  I remember the huge covered rain barrel my grandfather kept in a corner of the kitchen near the back door.  Any time there was a deluge (almost every afternoon during the rainy season), he would take out a bamboo construction that he had made and, through an ingenious use of the hollow bamboo pipes leading to the barrel, he would catch the rain coming down.  That barrel was always full of water and that was what we drank out of because my grandfather didn’t trust the water coming out of the pipes.

Because of the rain, I remember the partially-covered patio off the kitchen backyard.  Its roof was covered with some type of green fiberglass corrugated material which made a cool rat-a-tat-tat sound when the rain came beating down on it.  I also remember the scent of the wet splayed leaves on the banana trees which made up the one open wall of the patio and the dark earth where they rooted themselves into.   I remember the bright pinks and reds of the crushed fuchsias and bougainvilleas which blew into the open patio doorway and dropped onto the grey tiled floor.

rain

Because of the rain, the sun would be nowhere in sight, and even though it might be early afternoon, the sky would be slate grey.  On the side table next to the hardwood divan, my grandfather would leave a small lit oil lamp.  Its tiny flame would cast a warm aurora in a comforting sphere all around me.  The oil lamp was important because I did not like the encroaching darkness.  When there is no light at all, I can only shut my eyes and dream of sun-drenched playgrounds.  However, in that half-twilight grey of no sun and no darkness, all things take on strange grotesque forms which cause my bumps to goose and my geese to bump.

Yes, even as a child, I had quite the imagination, and this imagination never left me.  All through my formative years, it helped me through many sticky situations when imagination was the only thing that differentiated between the wide range of possible right and wrong answers, for without imagining the end results, there was no way for me to sense what the best solution would be.  It stayed with me and grew up with me and clung onto me like an old worn cape which kept me warm and allowed my associative mind to connect it to all the images, scents, and sounds which collectively made up the person that I am today.  Without that associative old imagination cloak, I would be an amnesiac, unable to remember my experiences via all those trigger points, and unable to embellish upon it, my essence of the truth.

And all because of the rain…

The Voice of Mother Earth


At the quantum level, we are all nothing but photons of light. Everything is nothing but photons of light. This includes not just humans, but animals, plants, bacteria, virii. It also includes minerals, metals, water, and the air swirling into and around that body of minerals, metals, and water. What makes the human grouping of photons more special than that of a bird or a reptile, or even that of the soil under their feet? Who are we to emphatically state that we are more alive than the animals and plants that live with us on Earth? Indeed, who are we to say that Earth herself, is not a living sentient being?

I can hear her joyous singing to the rest of the universe.  Click on Voice of Mother Earth to hear her communicating to us.