Lebanon’s forests fires ‘product of climate change’

Devastating fires caused by climate change are threatening forests in Lebanon, in turn accelerating the pace of global warming, an environmental activist has warned.

“We are witnessing a rise in temperature which leads to the dryness of forest soil and pushes it towards desertification,” Sawsan Bou Fakhreddine, director-general of the Association for Forests, Development and Conservation (AFDC), a local NGO, told the UN’s IRIN news service.

She added that the country was witnessing forest fires earlier in the season than usual.

“We noticed that fires are starting in April, three months earlier than the usual season, which commences in June or July.

“With the ongoing increase in temperature, the land is losing much of its humidity and trees are becoming drier. This causes severe fires that are difficult to suppress.”

Ms Fakhreddine said, on average, about 1,500 hectares of woodland were affected by fires annually, yet more than 4,000 hectares of forests were ravaged in 2007 – the worst fires to hit Lebanon for decades.

“In one day we lost three times what we planted in 17 years,” she observed.

According to AFDC, forests covered 35 percent of Lebanon in 1965, but that figure had fallen to 13 percent in 2007.

Ms Fakhreddine warned: “If we witness fires like the ones that erupted last year, Lebanon will lose its forests completely in 15 to 20 years.”

Source: IRIN

Date: 25/09/2008

WWF drops opposition to REDD

Global conservation group WWF that it will now support a scheme to compensate tropical nations for reducing carbon dioxide emissions by reducing deforestation and forest degradation, Mongabay.com reports.

The group’s president told a gathering, which included Al Gore and Wangari Ma’athai, that WWF would not oppose efforts to include forests in international climate negotiations.

“The Amazon, if it were a country, would be in the top seven emitters of greenhouse gases in the world,” Carter Roberts said.

“Unless the world has policies that recognize that value of standing trees and forests, we will have failed.”

“WWF was pivotal in keeping forests out. We have changed our position,” he added.

The news was welcomed by groups pushing forest conservation as a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Tropical deforestation and degradation accounts for a fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions, more than the entire global transportation sector.

Some economists say that “avoided deforestation” represents one of the most-effective means for cutting emissions of heat-trapping gases, while many environmentalists see the concept as offering the best hope for saving endangered tropical forests.

WWF had opposed forest conservation in climate talks due to concerns over monitoring and implementation as well as a desire to focus on reducing industrial emissions.

Source: Mongabay.com
Date: 25/09/2008

Autumn watch on both sides of the Atlantic

Tree lovers on both sides of the Atlantic are able to make sure that they do not miss out on the colourful delights of autumn, thanks to the websites of the US Forest Service and the UK Forestry Commission.

The US Forest Service is offering people a free “hotline”,  which is an automated phone service that will inform callers about the colour of the leaves in the national forests.

Meanwhile in the UK, the Forestry Commission has set up a website that offers a colour-coded website of the commission’s plantations. The website shows what colour the leaves of the various woodlands have reached (ranging from “still green” to “turned golden”).

Although the UK experienced a much wetter than average August, an official for the Forestry Commission said that the woodlands were still “on course” for a colourful autumn.

Source: US Forest Service and UK Forestry Commission websites

Date: 24/09/2008

Why leaves fall from trees

Us researchers have published a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) in which they explain the sequence of events that cause plants to shed their leaves.

Writing in the UK’s Telegraph newspaper, science editor Roger Highfield explained that trees use an elaborate cellular mechanism to part company from their leaves, which act as “solar cells” in the summer but become superfluous in the darker winter months.

Reporting the researchers’ findings, he said that at the base of each leaf is a special layer called the abscission zone.

When the time comes in autumn to shed a leaf, cells in this layer begin to swell, slowing the transport of nutrients between the tree and leaf.

Once the abscission zone has been blocked, a tear line forms and moves downwards, until eventually the leaf is blown away or falls off. A protective layer seals the wound, preventing water evaporating and bugs getting in.

The discovery into how trees take on their winter aspect follows a study explaining the bright colours of autumn foliage.

Source: UK Telegraph newspaper

Date: 22/09/2008

Tree rings sound out future climate warning

UK researchers are using tree rings to unlock a 10,000-year record of climate change.

A climate scientist from the University of Exeter has used radiocarbon techniques to compile a year-by-year chronology of the Sun’s activity over the 10 millennia.

Professor Chris Turney said his research also revealed how the impact of past climate shifts affected humans, adding that these findings also acted as a warning for future generations.

Professor Turney presented his research at an international climate change conference, co-hosted by the University of Exeter and the UK’s Met Office.

The three-day gathering, called Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation: Dangerous Rates of Change, has brought together many of the world’s top climate scientists to discuss the future consequences of global warming.

Using 7,470 year-old Irish bog oaks, the University of Exeter professor worked with a team of scientists to measure changes in the radioactive version of carbon preserved in the tree rings.

He explained that the records from trees preserved in peat bogs offered a precise insight into how much sunlight the ancient woodland received each year.

“By matching the distinctive tree ring patterns, an absolute, year-by-year record of the number of trees growing on the bogs can be made,” Professor Turney said.

“Amazingly, this measure of tree population mirrors the climate cycles over the last 10,000 years.

“Basically, when the Atlantic waters get cooler, Ireland gets wetter. So when the North Atlantic sneezes, Ireland gets a cold.”

The study also involved mapping the records from bog trees against Ireland’s comprehensive archaeological records.

This revealed the dramatic impact of climate on past human populations, which were forced to radically change their lifestyles during times of climate change.

This included not only mass migration but also groups of people building defences to protect themselves through difficult times.

“This is a fantastic example of how we can get lessons from the past,” he concluded.

“Relatively small changes in climate seem to drive massive changes in people’s behaviour.

“When the chips are down, people become more defensive and look to protect what few resources they have.

“It’s not a very positive omen for the future.”

Source: University of Exeter press release

Date: 23/09/2008

Trees to power fire alert network

US researchers are investigating whether trees produce enough energy to power a network of fire detection sensors.

A team from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is looking to see if it is possible to harness the extremely small electrical current generated by trees could be used to recharge sensors’ batteries.

The researchers said that the US Forest Service currently predicted and tracked the path of fires by using a variety of resources.

One key tool used by the Forest Service was remote automated weather stations, but these were expensive and sparsely distributed.

Additional sensors could be installed to improve coverage, they added, but the batteries needed to be recharged or replaced manually.

The team hopes their design will be able to trickle charge the remote sensors’ off-the-shelf batteries, and provide enough electricity to power temperature and humidity sensors.

The scientists suggested that the system would be able to harness enough tree power to allow the sensors to transmit data four times a day, or immediately if there was a fire.

They explained that the signal would “hop” from one sensor to the next until the information reached an existing weather station, which would then beam the data via satellite to a forestry command centre in Idaho.

The electrical current is produced by an imbalance in pH between a tree and the surrounding soil.

The sensor network, which is being developed by Voltree Power, is set to be tested on a 10-acre (four-hectare) plot owned by the Forest Service in Spring 2009.

Source: MIT press release
Date: 22/09/2008

Stressed plants ‘produce aspirin’

Plants facing stressful conditions like drought produce their own aspirin-like chemical, US researchers studying a Californian walnut grove have found.

The chemicals are produced as a gas to boost the plant’s biochemical defences, the BBC News website reports scientists from the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado as saying.

They suggest that monitoring this could give farmers early warning of possible crop failures.

However, they also say the chemicals could affect pollution levels by combining with industrial gases.

Thomas Karl, who led the study, said the chemical triggers “the formation of proteins that boost their biochemical defences and reduce injury”.

“Our measurements show that significant amounts of the chemical can be detected in the atmosphere as plants respond to drought, unseasonable temperatures, or other stresses.”

Ability to communicate

Writing in the journal Biogeosciences, the researchers said they found the chemical accidentally when they were monitoring emissions of volatile organic compounds in a California walnut grove.

Mr Karl said the chemical – methyl salicylate – could act as a “warning signal” allowing farmers to take action against pests much sooner.

“The earlier you detect that something’s going on, the more you can benefit in terms of using fewer pesticides and managing crops better,” he said.

The researchers believe it may also help plants to signal danger to one another.

“These findings show tangible proof that plant-to-plant communication occurs on the ecosystem level,” says Alex Guenther, a co-author of the study.

“It appears that plants have the ability to communicate through the atmosphere.”

Source: BBC News website

Date: 19/09/2008

Drought threatens Jordan’s olive trees

Persistent drought in southern Jordan could lead to the decimation of thousands of olive trees in the city of Karak, 120km south of Amman, reports the UN’s IRIN news service.

“We witness in summer a dramatic increase in temperatures and in winter a lack of rain,” said Ahmed Koufahi, executive director of the Jordan Environment Society.

“Our problem will worsen in the future and drought could strike all around the kingdom,” Koufahi told IRIN.

Olive trees could end up dying in the town ahead of the coming winter season, said Abdullah Fadel, a farmer from Iraq town, 20km south of Karak.

“Last year we had little rain during winter. This resulted in a small output of olives compared with previous years, but now we fear that all trees will die because we have not been able to water them for a while now,” said Fadel.

Farmers said at least 30,000 olive trees were on the brink of dying after freshwater springs in the area dried up.

Many farmers resorted to purchasing water from tanks in the city, but the high cost prevented them from splashing out continuously.

“We are still far from the winter season. I don’t know what will happen until the first drop of rain comes, but it looks like all the trees in the town could die,” said Fadel.

At least 20 springs have provided the olive groves with water over the past decades, helping residents turn their town into a small green oasis.

But successive declines in levels of rain water have dried up almost 15 springs, said environmentalists.

Local residents use the springs for washing and cooking as the authorities often ration water to households in cities and towns across the kingdom because of chronic shortages.

In addition, the government has adopted a policy against digging underground water springs in an attempt to preserve water.

According to Aktham Mdanat, head of the Karak agriculture department, the drought is expected to lead to a 50% fall in this year’s olive harvest.

Residents of the town, which has a population of 7,000 people, have called for the construction of dams to help collect as much rainwater as possible during the winter season.

Jordan is one of the 10 most water-impoverished countries in the world.

The desert kingdom has no river capable of providing the country with enough water as the Jordan River has turned into a small stream after its tributaries were diverted by Israel for agricultural purposes, according to Salameh Hiari, a professor at the University of Jordan.

Jordan does not have natural lakes either. It’s population of 5.6m depends solely on rainfall for its water supply.

Source: IRIN News

Date: 17/09/2008

Mangrove felling threatens African fish trade

The harvesting of mangrove forests in West Africa for the smoked fish trade threatens to undermine the primary source of income for the very fishermen who supply fish to the market, reports Mongabay.com.

A study published in open-access journal Tropical Conservation Science conducted surveys in fishing camps and villages in south-west Cameroon.

The authors – Njisuh Zebedee Feka of Cameroon’s Regional Centre for Development and Conservation and Mario G. Manzano of the Tecnologico de Monterrey, Mexico – found a poor understanding among local people of the importance of mangroves in maintaining fisheries.

“Communities are typically unaware of their own long-term need to maintain mangroves,” the authors write.

“Eighty-five percent of the interviewees reported that in the outcome of mangrove disappearance they would resort to farming.

“This is an issue because their lands are currently marginal for agriculture and also demonstrates the acute lack of knowledge on the functions of mangrove forests to their well-being.

“This is contradictory, because about 30% of wood harvesters ascertained that mangrove forests were degraded and/or depleted and as a consequence they were losing out on income and had to travel further distances to harvest wood.”

The researchers estimate that 205 hectares of mangrove forests are cleared annually for fuel wood used to smoke fish between their five study sites.

Given that Cameroon has extensive mangrove forests and that fish smoking is a widespread practice, it would appear that wood-harvesting is a significant driver of mangrove degradation in the country.

As mangroves serve as an important breeding and spawning grounds for fish, ongoing degradation could have a detrimental impact on local livelihoods.

“The current uses of mangrove resources in the region indicate a clear conflict between fishing and forestry,” they write.

“The very mangroves trees that serve as breeding grounds for fisheries are contradictorily being sacrificed as fuel for fish smoking.”

To remedy the situation, Messers Feka and Manzano suggest a series of measures including improving policy to allow community management of resources, raising awareness of the importance of mangroves to fisheries, and developing sustainable use practices.

Source: Mongabay.com

Date: 15/09/2008

Spain to plant trees to combat desertification

The Spanish government has announced plans to plant 45 million trees, reports the Economic Times.

Quoting the Spanish news agency EFE, the Times says the planting will take place between 2009 and 2012.

It will be part of a 90m-euro (US $127m/£71m) programme to combat desertification and the impact of man-made climate change, EFE added.

Spanish Environment Minister Elena Espinosa said that the planned investment “gives an idea of the government’s commitment to the defence and encouragement of biodiversity”, and added that “new jobs will be created to carry out this task”.

She added that the project would generate employment opportunities for the equavilent of almost 3,000 full-time jobs.

The minister said that reforestation will protect endemic tree species and will be carried out over an total area of 61,300 hectares.

At the same time, planting trees will lead to the recovery and increase of biodiversity and of endemic ecosystems, the improvement and preservation of the landscape, and the consolidation of ecological corridors, Ms Espinosa outlined.

Source: Economic Times

Date: 15/09/2008

Researchers question role of REDD

In the latest issue of the BioScience journal, a letter by three US researchers raiseds questions about the effectiveness of the proposed Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD).

The global scheme, likely to feature heavily at the forthcoming UN climate summit in Poland, is based on the idea that rich industrialised nations pay nations with large areas of tropical forests not to fell the trees.

The payments offset lost income from the poorer nations’ timber sector, while the rich nations can offset the saved CO2 (from keeping the trees standing) against the emissions within their own borders.

However, two researchers – Charles Clement and Roland Clement – use their letter to voice their concerns about the viability of the scheme:

William Laurance (BioScience 58: 286-287, doi:10.1641/B580402) concluded that “REDD is becoming a reality, and might serve as a model of how environmental scientists can help affect international policy.” REDD (reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation) is another carbon trading scheme which seems to offer help in accomplishing this worthy goal.

Do we need another voluntary scheme to benefit the wealthy, while generating little for the people who live in tropical forests today and are under contract to cut trees for the already wealthy? Is this an appropriate action model deserving our support?

As Laurance prudently points out, implementing REDD will be fraught with uncertainties. The technical issues are solvable, but there are many hurdles. He asks whether it is appropriate to focus exclusively on carbon, as though forests have value only in terms of this element. He mentions biodiversity and the hyrological cycle as being important; both are essential, and both are threatened by deforestation and climate change.

REDD is reputedly designed to avoid the pitfalls of a project-by-project approach; it focuses at the national level. Yet there are no mechanisms to guarantee that carbon trading will also help the indigenous people and the traditional communities that live in, and depend on, the forest for their livelihood. In an increasingly urbanized world, these people are marginalized because they lack political clout. They depend on the goodwill of national politicians. Such support is highly volatile, especially in countries with high corruption indices.

Given these worries, a number of NGOs (nongovernmental organizations)-especially third world NGOs and indigenous peoples’ organizations present at the Bali meeting-questioned REDD’s adequacy and called for profound changes in both national and international policy. Their declaration on forests recommended that REDD be eliminated (FOEI 2008).

Instead of following another red herring that may simply divert our attention from controlling the most important factors, should not the world’s scientific community ask that the major polluting countries address the root causes of carbon emissions, deforestation, loss of biodiversity, and human inequities? The real problem is the growth-at-any-cost model of our political economy, and the neglect of human numbers.

Laurance ends by asking for sustainable resource-use policies. But there can be no sustainability until our numbers and our economic expectations are brought within the carrying capacity of the planet itself.

Source: BioScience journal

Date: September 2008

Borneo tribes under threat from logging lobby

Mongabay.com has featured a story that says the Malaysian government is attempting to quell indigenous opposition to logging in the rainforests of Borneo.

The report says that an environmental group has evidence that community leaders are being deposed and replacing them with timber company stakeholders.

The Bruno Manser Fund, a Swiss NGO that works on behalf of the forest people of Sarawak, Malaysia, says that the headmen of at least three Penan communities that have opposed logging have lost official recognition from Malaysian authorities over the past year.

A spokesman for the NGO added that the the government is working to install representatives who support logging.

“The non-recognition of the elected community headmen by the Sarawak State Government is a clear violation of the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” stated the Bruno Manser Fund in an emailed release.

“The Declaration, which has been adopted by Malaysia, upholds in its article 18 the right of indigenous communities ‘to participate in decision-making in matters which would affect their rights, through representatives chosen by themselves in accordance with their own procedures’.”

The Penan communities of Sarawak have waged a long battle against the logging of their ancestral homeland in the rainforests of Sarawak, on the island of Borneo.

The opposition reached a peak in the 1980s when the Penan blocked logging roads and sabotaged equipment.

The Malaysian government responded by closing down media access to the area and sending in armed forces to violently supress the unrest.

While the attacks on the Penan brought international attention to the rampant rate of logging in Borneo’s forests, little appears to have changed in the long-term.

Source: Mongabay.com

Date: 09/09/2008

UK’s famous maples ‘must adapt to climate change’

The collection of Japanese maples at the UK National Arboretum need to adapt in order to survive the impacts of future climate change, a researcher has told a conference examining the problem.

Speaking at PlantNetwork’s “Climate Change and Planting for the Future” gathering, Dr Richard Jinks of Forest Research outlined how the UK Forestry Commission was embarking on a full-scale plan to ensure that the world-famous collection of Japanese maples at Westonbirt, Gloucestershire, could thrive in the future.

A press release from the Forestry Commission explained that an evaluation of these and other trees in the collection would assess their drought tolerance and the best way of helping them adapt to change.

Measures are likely to include succession planting and good horticultural practices to enhance soil moisture levels in dry summers.

There are more than 300 types of maples (acers) in the National Japanese Acer Collection at the National Arboretum.

Each autumn they put on a blazing show of colour, admired by many thousands of visitors from all over the world.

Dr Jinks said many acers thrived on a constant supply of moisture, and the evaluation would highlight how the trees could be susceptible to extended periods of drought.

“These acers are not only stunning trees but also form an important national collection,” he told delegates.

“It is vital that we take stock now and monitor them closely, putting plans in place to safeguard their future.

“We need to propagate and plant new collections now, not only for 50 years time but for far into the future.”

The PlantNetwork conference attracted more than 100 delegates from botanic and historic gardens, government agencies and research institutes.

It was held at the Royal Agricultural College, Cirencester from 10-12 September.

Source: Forestry Commission press release

Date: 11/09/2008

Forests ‘forgotten’ in EU climate policy, MEPs warn

A Swedish MEP has said that the EU climate policy package’s failure to address the role of forests in curbing global warming was a “major mistake”, reports the EurActiv website.

Liberal MEP Lena Ek made her comments during a meeting of the European Parliament’s Industry Committee.

Her views were seconded by Irish Christian Democrat MEP Avril Doyle, responsible for shepherding a proposal to revise the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) through Parliament.

The Irish MEP said that Europe would have “no credibility” in international climate negotiations without some sort of forest-related policy framework.

Ms Doyle added that he wanted the issue “stitched through” both the EU ETS and a separate proposal on “effort sharing”, which spells out member states’ commitments to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in sectors not covered by the ETS.

Deforestation is widely considered to be a key driver of global warming since tropical and other forests absorb CO2, thus mitigating the effects of emissions on the climate. But EU policymakers are struggling to define rules to keep trees standing.

Mechanisms to prevent deforestation – by giving landowners EU ETS credits for leaving forests standing, for example – were not included in the Commission’s climate proposals, put forward on 23 January.

This was due to apparent difficulties related to measuring emissions from these sectors with accuracy.

But the issue was also not “on the radar screen” of officials working on the EU ETS proposal in the EU executive’s environment service (DG Environment).

A push to use biomass for biofuels in transport or in home heating means that forests, and the land on which they stand, have a higher and more immediate economic value if exploited for energy-related purposes than if left standing.

The Commission attempted to address the issue in its 2006 Forest Action Plan, but environmentalists, and industries that use forests for non-energy purposes, are increasingly worried that Europe’s energy thirst will put too much pressure on forests and that the non-binding action plan is too weak to prevent an overshoot.

Source: Euractiv website

Date: 11/09/2008

Old forests ‘continue to capture plenty of carbon’

Planting a new tree may be a less effective way to sequester carbon than saving an old tree from the axe, writes nature.com’s Emma Marris.

A study in the journal Nature shows that old forests continue to accumulate carbon at a much greater rate than researchers had previously thought, making them more important as carbon sinks that must be factored into global climate models.

Until recently, it was assumed that very old forests no longer absorbed carbon.

The only new growth occurred in the small spaces that opened up when large old trees died and decomposed, releasing their accumulated carbon. The forests at large were therefore considered to be carbon neutral, and accounted as such in climate models.

However, in the past decade or so, murmurs of disagreement with this idea have grown louder, and individual projects have found that even very old forests are capable of storing carbon thanks to tree growth, the addition of new trees and a decreased rate of respiration in old trees.

Since the mid 1990s, more sophisticated data collection projects have measured carbon fluxes in forests around the world. In particular, data has been shared between members of FLUXNET, a global network of observatory towers that measure the exchange of carbon dioxide, water vapour and energy between ecosystems and the atmosphere.

Now Sebastiaan Luyssaert of the University of Antwerp, Belgium, and his colleagues have taken advantage of all this new data to produce a meta-analysis of studies that monitored 519 plots of temperate and boreal forest between 15 and 800 years of age.

Their conclusion, published in Nature this week, is that old-growth forests are, in general, still absorbing carbon1. Primary boreal and temperate forests, which make up 15% of global forests, sequester about 1.3 gigatonnes of carbon a year, give or take half a gigatonne. That amounts to about 10% of the global net ecosystem productivity, which was previously accounted for elsewhere].
Dying dogma

The conclusion makes sense, according to Susan Ustin, a plant ecologist at the University of California, Davis. When determining the age of a tree, one counts its rings. Each of those rings represents the transformation of atmospheric carbon into the living tissue of the tree.

In any one year, the death and decomposition of roots or branches may outweigh the carbon sequestered in the trunk – but over time, any significant growth must involve net carbon uptake. “If they are carbon neutral at 400 years old, how are they going to make it to 1,000?” she asks.

“If it was really carbon neutral, the trees would die.”

Overturning the old idea that mature forests are carbon neutral may be the work of more than one paper, and this certainly isn’t the first to propose that they continue to absorb the greenhouse gas. But Luyssaert hopes this analysis will help tip the scales. “Just challenging the dogma isn’t new, but the data that has been used to challenge it was a lot more limited in the past,” he says.

The implications are many. Scientists who were assuming that old-growth was carbon neutral may have consequently been overestimating sequestration in other ecosystems.

Climate models may have to be re-examined. And policies that give credits to governments or companies for sequestering carbon may want to incorporate the protection of old-growth forests into their menu of options.

Indeed, the heartwarmingly green action of planting a tree may actually be second-best to keeping an old tree from the axe: “probably for a couple hundred years, until the young one got big enough to have the same amount of carbon as one of these old trees,” estimates Ustin.

Tim Griffis, a University of Minnesota researcher who mans one of FLUXNET’s observation towers, adds that the work “shows the power of the FLUXNET network”.

But that network is getting harder to operate, as it segues from being cutting-edge research into part of a longer-term dataset. “Many in the community are already finding it difficult to keep their sites funded,” says Griffis.

“I think there does need to be a serious conversation about how we are going to keep this record going.”

Source: Nature.com

Date: 10/09/2008

21-month tree protest ends at US university

A 21-month occupation of an oak grove at the University of California at Berkeley, US, has ended peacefully, but not without some dispute, as the remaining “tree-sitter” protesters descended from their perch, writes AP staff writer MIchelle Locke.

The protesters, who have attracted a considerable amount of media coverage in the US, came down from the trees’ canopies after their food and water supplies were cut off on Monday.

School officials said they were prepared to forcibly remove the activists, who had hoped to stop construction of a $125m (£72.5m) sports centre that threatened a stand of 42 trees on campus.

But as scaffolding took shape at the base of the redwood tree housing the remaining four, the protesters indicated they were willing to descend, said campus police Chief Victoria Harrison. They slowly climbed down early Tuesday afternoon to cheers from supporters below. No one was injured.

The tree-sitters said they agreed to come down on the condition that the University of California create a land use committee that would include input from students and residents into the school’s future land decisions.

But a UC spokesman said there was never such a deal made, and the university has no plans for the committee.

A crowd of several hundred turned out to watch the end of the protest, some drawn by curiosity, others to show support.

A group of street percussionists beat on plastic buckets and water bottles, providing a steady drum beat that competed with the occasional roar of chain saws.

The tree-sitters, none of whom were UC students, were arrested immediately by police and face charges including trespassing and violating a court order, authorities said. Five other demonstrators on the ground also were arrested and face charges including resisting police officers.

Among the bystanders was third-year forestry major Thea Chesney. She agreed with the tree-sitters’ cause, although she acknowledged that made her in the minority on campus.
“It makes me really sad,” she said of the felled trees. “It’s just absolutely tragic what’s happened.”

Source: ABC News website

Date: 10/09/2008

Ancient trees recorded in US mines

Spectacular fossil forests have been found in the coal mines of Illinois by a US-UK team of researchers, writes BBC News science reporter Jonathan Amos.

The group reported one discovery last year, but has since identified a further five examples.

The ancient vegetation – now turned to rock – is visible in the ceilings of mines covering thousands of hectares.

These were among the first forests to evolve on the planet, Dr Howard Falcon-Lang told the British Association Science Festival in Liverpool.

“These are the largest fossil forests found anywhere in the world at any point in geological time,” he told reporters.

“It is quite extraordinary to find a fossil landscape preserved over such a vast area; and we are talking about an area the size of (the British city of) Bristol.”

The forests grew just a few million years apart some 300 million years ago; and are now stacked one on top of another.

It appears the ancient land experienced repeated periods of subsidence and flooding which buried the forests in a vertical sequence.

They have since become visible because of the extensive mining operations in the border area between the states of Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky.

Once the coal seams have been removed (what were, essentially, the compacted soils of the forests), it is possible to go into the tunnels and look up at what would have been lying on the forest floors.

“It’s a really exciting experience to drive down into these mines; it’s pitch black,” the Bristol University research said.

“It’s kind of an odd view looking at a forest bottom-up. You can actually see upright tree stumps that are pointed vertically up above your head with the roots coming down; and adjacent to those tree stumps you see all the litter.

“We found 30m-long trunks that had fallen with their crowns perfectly preserved.”

The researchers believe their study of these ancient forests could give hints to how modern rainforests might react in a warmer world.

The six forests straddle a period in Earth history 306 million years ago that saw a rapid shift from an icehouse climate with big polar ice caps to a greenhouse climate in which the ice caps would have melted.

“The fascinating thing we’ve discovered is that the rainforests dramatically collapse approximately coincident with the greenhouse warming,” explained Dr Falcon-Lang.

“Long-lived forests dominated by giant club moss trees almost overnight (in a geological sense) are replaced by rather weedy fern vegetation.”

The next stage of the research is to try to refine the timings of events all those years ago, and work out the exact environmental conditions that existed. The thresholds that triggered the ancient collapse can then be compared with modern circumstances.

Source: BBC News website

Date: 08/09/2008


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