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another abandoned Christmas Tree

The fate of Christmas trees

by Angus ~ 3 January, 2020 ~ comments welcome

There is considerable debate as to the virtues or otherwise of buying a real Christmas tree over an artificial one.  This comes into focus somewhat more sharply in the post-Christmas period.  

A  6 to 7 foot high natural tree (bought with no roots) would be between ten to fifteen years old and it has a fairly low carbon footprint.   As it has been growing, it has been absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and locking it away in the form of cellulose and lignin, whilst releasing oxygen.  However, this footprint changes dramatically if its fate is to be consigned to land fill.   As it decomposes, it will produce methane, a potent greenhouse gas and the carbon footprint of the tree will increase quite dramatically.   If, however, the tree is carefully composted, then its environmental impact can remain relatively low (visit the Carbon Trust for detail).  

The cultivation and growth of natural Christmas trees provides a wildlife habitat, and the trees help stabilise and protect soil.  But in some parts of the world, notably Canada and the USA, the growth and supply of Christmas trees has been affected by heatwaves (as in Oregon in 2017 / 2018 - which killed many very young trees), insect damage and wildfires. The effects of climate change are particularly marked in Canada.  It may be that climate change will intensify the effect of these factors, and that Christmas tree ‘farms’ may need to move to higher elevations - where it is cooler and insect pests (e.g. balsam twig aphid) are less of a problem.  Read more...

Climate change changes phenologies.

Climate change changes phenologies.

by Chris ~ 26 December, 2019 ~ comments welcome

Phenology is about observing natural events and recording when things happen.   For example, when ash or horse chestnut trees come into leaf, when the first swifts are sighted or bumblebees emerge from their nests. These timings vary from year to year. By recording such events over many years, it is possible to look for trends and see if they are associated with changes in the weather or other phenomena.

Climate change has resulted in significant changes in summer and winter temperatures, and rainfall patterns.    For example,  April, May and June of 2018 were all very warm, each being at least 1.9°C above average [that is the 30 year average for 1961–90]; June was the third warmest June for the UK since 1910. Read more...

coniferous forest

German forest dieback : waldsterben 2

by Lewis ~ 6 December, 2019 ~ comments welcome

In recent times, new or different threats have emerged to upset the balance of woodland and forest ecosystems.   In the 1960’s and early 70’s concern focussed on the effects of air pollution, particularly the effects of acid rain.  This type of pollution was characterised by the deposition / assimilation of sulphur dioxide and its derivatives (sulphuric & sulphurous acid), plus various nitrogen oxides.  This air pollution was largely due to industry and traffic.

Some of the most striking effects of ‘acid rain’ pollution were seen in the coniferous forests of Germany - where it was termed : Waldsterben [Wald=forest plus sterben=to die].  Read more...

Fires, Seeds and Serotiny

Fires, Seeds and Serotiny

by Chris ~ 29 November, 2019 ~ comments welcome

Seeds are dispersed from a parent plant by a variety of means.  Some plants use wind dispersal (sycamore, dandelion), some use animals (burdock, herb bennet), some even use water (willow, silver birch, coconut and the famous coco de mer).  But in some parts of the world, such as South Africa and Australia, fire is a feature of certain ecosystems and the fire and/or smoke can be the stimulus for seed dispersal and germination.   Read more...

Peat - drying out ?

Peat – drying out ?

by Lewis ~ 25 October, 2019 ~ comments welcome

The blog has reported on moorland fires and the importance of peat-based ecosystems on a number of occasions.  However, a new report has raised serious concerns about the state of peatlands, not just in the U.K but across Europe and Scandinavia.   Many ‘peatlands are in a dry and fragile state’, so that rather than acting as natural carbon sinks, they start to release carbon.   Peatlands actually store about five times more carbon than forests (across Europe). Read more...

a problem with methane

a problem with methane

by Chris ~ 11 October, 2019 ~ comments welcome

Radiant energy from the sun falls on the Earth; some of this energy is absorbed by the planet and its atmosphere.  Some of the energy is radiated back into space.  The balance between the absorbed and radiated energy determines global temperature.  This balance is changed by a number of factors - the intensity of the solar energy, cloud reflectivity, the absorption of energy by various gases or surfaces.

The reflectivity of the Earth’s surface  (the albedo) influences the amount of light energy that is reflected back into space. Snow has a high albedo, that is, it reflects much of the light back out into space.  Dark objects (like conifer plantations) reflect less light / radiation and absorb more thereby trapping heat that would otherwise be reflected back into space. The amount of energy that is ‘retained’ is also influenced by the presence of particular gases in the atmosphere - the so-called 'greenhouse gases', notably carbon dioxide and methane.  The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased dramatically from 280 ppm during the 10,000 years up to the mid-18th century to 415 ppm (as of 2019).  This increase has certainly contributed to the changes in climate that we have witnessed in recent years - extreme weather events such as heat waves and flooding.   Read more...

Annual rings, dendrochronology and climate change.

Annual rings, dendrochronology and climate change.

by Chris ~ 24 September, 2019 ~ comments welcome

Dendrochronology seeks to gather information from the annual rings of trees, dated to their year of formation.   As trees age, they form new distinctive rings, outward from the centre, and each year a circle of new, dead wood is formed (by the cambium) around the trunk of most trees. The annual rings form because the water conducting xylem vessels or early wood formed in late spring and early summer (when growth is rapid) are wider and lighter than those formed in late summer and early autumn, which are narrower and darker (sometimes called the late wood).  A light and dark ring together constitute one year’s growth.   In winter, there is no growth.

Trees and their annual rings are essentially long term recording devices that ‘house’ information about climatic variations, past climates and ecosystems; they can even offer insights into historical events. From an annual ring, it is possible to extract information about precipitation, temperature and other climate data about that year. Read more...

Tree planting - is it always a good thing?

Tree planting – is it always a good thing?

by Lewis ~ 19 September, 2019 ~ comments welcome

A number of initiatives both national and inter-national have focused on the possibility of large scale tree planting as a means of reducing the effects of climate change and keeping global warming below the critical 2oC threshold.  Indeed, some researchers have estimated that restoring and creating forests could reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide levels by 25%, ‘sucking out’ some (extra) 200 gigatonnes of CO2 and locking it away in wood.  

However, there are problems with this approach.

    • Some estimates suggest that human activities have added a massive 600 gigatonnes of CO2 to the atmosphere over the millennia
    • Restoring or establishing forests is not a ‘simple matter’ of planting some trees (albeit millions of them); there are technical and financial challenges (see * below, for exmple).

Read more...

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