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

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