Lungs Of The Earth, The Amazon Calls Our Attention Again

Illustration by Max Guther

The Amazon is one of those big topics that we come back to again and again for a reason.  We all depend on these lungs of the earth, so it would be strange to not be obsessed with the subject:

Some Brazilian scientists fear that the Amazon may become a grassy savanna — with profound effects on the climate worldwide.

Illustration by Max Guther

One of the first times Luciana Vanni Gatti tried to collect Amazonian air she got so woozy that she couldn’t even operate the controls. An atmospheric chemist, she wanted to measure the concentration of carbon high above the rainforest. To obtain her samples she had to train bush pilots at obscure air-taxi businesses. The discomfort began as she waited on the tarmac, holding one door open against the wind to keep the tiny cockpit from turning into an oven in the equatorial sun. When at last they took off, they rose precipitously, and every time they plunged into a cloud, the plane seemed to be, in Gatti’s words, sambando — dancing the samba. Then the air temperature dipped below freezing, and her sweat turned cold. Continue reading

What To Do With A Tenner

‘In the woods, there will be much more fungi and even more colour: scarlet elf cup (above), orange witches’ butter, yellow stagshorn, green elf cup, blue roundheads.’ Photograph: fotoco-istock/Getty Images/iStockphoto

This recommendation from Lucy Jones is as good as any we might otherwise recommend:

‘Wet weather makes for particularly juicy moss.’ Water droplets on moss on a wall. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA

The winter world may seem gloomy – but look closely, and you’ll see nature casting a spell

For less than a tenner, do as I do: buy a hand lens, head outside and discover fungi and moulds lighting up the darkness

‘You won’t believe how exquisite slime moulds are.’ Photograph: Alastair Hotchkiss/Woodland Trust/PA

The profound therapeutic benefits of connecting with nature and spending time outside are well known. But in winter? When it’s cold, gloomy and everything looks dead? In fact, especially in the winter, when we are susceptible to fatigue, illness and seasonal low mood. And actually there is plenty of life, beauty and wonder right outside our doors, if we look closely.

Come and take a short walk with me in my nearest wild patch – an urban cemetery, a common environment across the British Isles. Continue reading

The Bronx & Greener Pastures

Van Cortlandt Lake, one of the many places popular with birds — and those who watch them.

Early in our life together, in the early/mid-1980s, Amie and I lived in two of the five boroughs that make up New York City. We never lived in the one that today, we learn, has had the most nature all along (we thank David Gonzalez for both the photographs and text of this article).

While we are not giving up the greener pastures we chose decades ago to be our home base, we are happy to know that The Bronx is so green, and can even picture making a special trip to visit this often unheralded part of New York City:

The lagoon at Pelham Bay Park.

Soundview Park

If you said Brooklyn, Manhattan, Staten Island or Queens, guess again.

From hidden coves tucked along the Orchard Beach marshes to wide promenades covered by regal arches of trees in Soundview, there is a lot more green to the Bronx than the zoo or the infield at Yankee Stadium. The pastoral vibe might make you think you’re upstate, but as they said in the classic ’80s hip-hop movie “Beat Street,” this is the Bronx. Continue reading

Forest Health & The Ecosystem Services Provided By Mice

Dawn rises over a forest outside Orono, Me. Researchers want to understand what leads mice, voles and other small animals to bury seeds that become forests.

There really are coincidences that have nothing to do with the overreach of internet companies who see what you are reading in one place and put something in front of you instantly, and for a long time following, based on that first subject. In this case, I was reading about the endless quest for a better mousetrap, and then came upon this fascinating article about the ecosystem services that mice convey. This was as smile-inducing a juxtaposition as my reading has provided me lately. I hope I am correct that this pure chance and not some creepy algorithm, which would wilt my grin:

A deer mouse, temporarily captured for a behavioral test before being rereleased to the grounds of a study site at the University of Maine in late October.

Scientists are unearthing a quiet truth about the woods: Where trees grow, or don’t, depends in part on the quirky decisions of small mammals.

It’s easy to look at a forest and think it’s inevitable: that the trees came into being through a stately procession of seasons and seeds and soil, and will replenish themselves so long as environmental conditions allow.

Hidden from sight are the creatures whose labor makes the forest possible — the multitudes of microorganisms and invertebrates involved in maintaining that soil, and the animals responsible for delivering seeds too heavy to be wind-borne to the places where they will sprout. Continue reading

Startling Capacities Of Regional Forests

Harvard Forest (pictured) was included in a study that looks at how New England forests can be better utilized in the fight against climate change.
Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer

We had no clue how much forest area that region has, nor how much capacity to absorb carbon that would translate to:

New England forests, new strategies can offset most regional emissions over 30 years, report says

Study, led by Harvard ecologist, lays out five policies to boost levels of absorption as six states lower emissions

A major new report suggests that with a handful of strategies New England’s 32 million acres of forests, which cover about three-quarters of the region, could eventually come close to absorbing 100 percent of all the carbon produced by the six states. Continue reading

Nepal’s Community Forests

Note: Green areas show land that is mostly covered by trees, based on an analysis of satellite imagery. Source: Jefferson Fox, Jamon Van Den Hoek, Kaspar Hurni, Alexander Smith and Sumeet Saksena.By Pablo Robles

We have shared plenty of stories about Nepal, but until now no story about Nepal involving trees or forests. We welcome this one:

The community forests in Khairahani, Nepal, stretching over several tree-capped hills in March. Karan Deep Singh/The New York Times

An effort decades in the making is showing results in Nepal, a rare success story in a world of cascading climate disasters and despair

KANKALI COMMUNITY FOREST, Nepal — The old man moved gingerly, hill after hill, cutting dry shrubs until he was surrounded by trees that had grown from seedlings he had planted two decades ago. He pointed to a row of low peaks above the Kathmandu valley that were covered with dense foliage. Continue reading

Tree Core Samples & Age Estimations

Tree cores Harvard Forest

Core samples may hold clues to a forest’s response to climate change. Photos by Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer

Juan Siliezar, staff writer for the Harvard Gazette asks and answers a question that we never tire of:

Want to know how cold it was in 1490? Ask a tree

Harvard Forest Senior Ecologist Neil Pederso

“We use tree cores to extract what I’ve been leaning toward calling the memory of the tree,” said Neil Pederson in the lab alongside core samples.

Sometimes getting to where you want to go is a matter of finding the right guide.

Four teams of researchers, led by Harvard Forest ecologists, searched for a patch of ancient trees deep in the woods of western Pennsylvania this summer as part of a project to study how climate changes affected trees over the centuries. One of the scientists had come across them 40 years earlier, but they appeared to have vanished. Just as the group was about to give up and move on they came across someone who gave them a valuable clue. Continue reading

Will More Forests Cool The Planet Fast Enough?

Thanks to Fred Pearce, who we normally link to at Yale e360, for The Forest Forecast, an article in the current issue of Science magazine:

Climate change could lead to a net expansion of global forests. But will a more forested world actually be cooler?

These are strange times for the Indigenous Nenets reindeer herders of northern Siberia. In their lands on the shores of the Arctic Ocean, bare tundra is thawing, bushes are sprouting, and willows that a generation ago struggled to reach knee height now grow 3 meters tall, hiding the reindeer. Surveys show the Nenets autonomous district, an area the size of Florida, now has four times as many trees as official inventories recorded in the 1980s. Continue reading

The World’s Largest Living Thing

The world’s largest living thing is a stealthy parasite that lives mostly underground and beneath the bark of infected trees in a pale, stringy fungal network. COURTESY MIKE MCWILLIAMS

Thanks to Milo‘s interest in fungi, which we found infectious, we learned years ago what the world’s largest living thing is. We used to feature more stories from Atlas Obscura, but this is the first in a few years:

What the World’s Largest Organism Reveals About Fires and Forest Health

The Humongous Fungus is most visible when it produces the edible and tasty honey mushroom, but the season is brief and doesn’t happen every year. PETER PEARSALL, USFWS/PUBLIC DOMAIN

In Oregon, the Humongous Fungus plays a complex role in an ecosystem reshaped by humans.

UNDER THE BLUE MOUNTAINS OF Oregon lurks something massive and prehistoric. Yet the largest recorded organism on Earth, weighing more than 200 blue whales and dwarfing even Pando, Utah’s famous grove of quaking aspens, is nearly invisible to the untrained eye. It’s a single, genetically identifiable specimen of honey mushroom, or Armillaria ostoyae, that has been growing for thousands of years. Continue reading

Technology Put To Good Use

A Wounaan forest technician inspects an illegal clearcut in Indigenous territory. CULLEN HEATER

Jim O’Donnell and Cullen Heater tell an essentially hopeful story from our neighbor to the south:

Panama’s Indigenous Groups Wage High-Tech Fight for Their Lands

With help from U.S. organizations, Panama’s Indigenous people are using satellite images and other technologies to identify illegal logging and incursions by ranchers on their territory. But spotting the violations is the easy part — getting the government to act is far harder.

On a blazing February morning, the Indigenous Wounaan territorial monitoring coordinator, two forest technicians, and a local farmer climbed into the mountains outside the fishing and farming community of Majé, near Panama’s Pacific coast. Continue reading

Questions About Forests As Carbon Sinks

PEXELS

We have featured articles about forests so many times for multiple reasons. Even when we hint that we do so just out of pure love, it is almost always about the value of forests to our future on the planet. As always, when a Yale e360 article can help illuminate further on a topic, here goes:

This map shows the height of forests worldwide. Taller forests typically store more carbon. NASA

Climate Change Will Limit How Much Carbon Forests Take Up, New Research Shows

Governments are increasingly looking to forests to draw down carbon pollution, but worsening droughts threaten to stunt tree growth, while larger wildfires and insect infestations risk decimating woodlands, two new studies show. Continue reading

Guided Forest-Bathing In The Loire Valley

The tree houses at Loire Valley Lodges are spread out throughout the forest and each is decorated by a different artist. Joann Pai for The New York Times

After several days of heavier fare, today’s recommended reading leans to the escapist:

Beyond the Châteaux: New Escapes in France’s Loire Valley

Rethinking what the region’s travel should be has meant expanding the focus from fairy tale castle crawls to experiences anchored more firmly in nature, food and the arts.

The Loire Valley is a UNESCO Heritage-protected region, and drew in 9 million yearly visitors to its cultural sites before the pandemic. Joann Pai for The New York Times

On my last prepandemic trip to the Loire Valley, in 2018, I found myself in a familiar place.

Ten years after my first road trip on the region’s castle route, I was back at the 500-year-old Château de Chambord, joining a small group of European and American tourists on a guided tour. Within seconds of convening in the inner courtyard, we were craning our necks to marvel at the structure’s ornamental bell towers as our guide rattled off facts and dates about King Francis I and his former hunting lodge. When she ushered us up to the towers, chiding us for not listening, a feeling of deja-vu washed over me. Continue reading

Old Growth Forest Protection Schemes

Caryssa Rouser, a propagation specialist with Archangel Ancient Tree Archive, plants a sequoia tree in October, 2021, in Sequoia Crest, California. Noah Berger/AP

Old growth forests matter for so many reasons. Not least, biophilic reasons. But at this moment, we rightly pay more attention to their value with regard to urgent climate issues. Maddie Oatman makes a good case in this Mother Jones essay:

Why Old-Growth Forests Matter So Much in the Fight Against Climate Change

Biden’s executive order to preserve ancient trees is a big deal—but it could have gone further.

Few experiences have rendered me as awestruck as the winter morning I spent wandering through a grove of ancient sequoias, their sienna bark glowing against the snowy ground. Continue reading

How Do We Love Thee, Forests, Let Us Count The Ways

Forests, such as this one in Indonesia, do lmore than just store carbon. Photograph: Xinhua/Rex/Shutterstock

It may sound obvious, but until now it was not quantified: The world’s forests do more than just store carbon, new research finds

New data suggests forests help keep the Earth at least half of a degree cooler, protecting us from the effects of climate crisis

The world’s forests play a far greater and more complex role in tackling climate crisis than previously thought, due to their physical effects on global and local temperatures, according to new research. Continue reading

Trees’ Wondrous Capabilities

Diana Beresford-Kroeger at her home in Ontario. “If you build back the forests, you oxygenate the atmosphere more, and it buys us time,” she said. Nasuna Stuart-Ulin for The New York Times

Another round of thanks to Cara Buckley for a vividly written snapshot. Using Science and Celtic Wisdom to Save Trees (and Souls) is about one person’s multi-talented capacity to inspire us in new ways related to trees, and the patience it has required:

Diana Beresford-Kroeger, a botanist and author, has created a forest with tree species handpicked for their ability to withstand a warming planet.

MERRICKVILLE, Ontario — There aren’t many scientists raised in the ways of druids by Celtic medicine women, but there is at least one. She lives in the woods of Canada, in a forest she helped grow. From there, wielding just a pencil, she has been working to save some of the oldest life-forms on Earth by bewitching its humans. Continue reading

Cairngorms Connect & Scotland’s Rewilding

Jeremy Roberts examines the root plate of a felled Scots pine. Photograph: Mark Hamblin/The Guardian

Rewilding looks different in earlier posts about Scotland’s pioneering projects. But here is an additional piece of the puzzle worth understanding:

Chopping, twisting, felling: the unruly way to rewild Scotland’s forests

Orderly pine plantations in the Cairngorms are being messed up as part of a plan to let nature thrive

Cairngorms Connect is the UK’s largest land restoration project

The Scots pine plantations in Abernethy forest are the crème de la crème in forestry terms: tall, straight and dense. These plantations were created in the 1930s, and the wood had a variety of uses, from ships’ masts to trench timbers. Now, this woodland is being retrofitted for wildlife as part of the UK’s largest land restoration project because, although it is striking to wander in such a regimented landscape, nature prefers things to be less orderly. Continue reading

The New Forestry In Germany

KOENIGSHAIN, GERMANY – MAY 19: Aerial photograph of dead conifers in a mixed forest on May 19, 2020 in Koenigshain, Germany. Because of the last years of drought needleleaf forests are infested by bark beetles. Many trees are felled to stop spreading these beetles. (Photo by Florian Gaertner/Photothek via Getty Images)

Gabriel Popkin offers this overview of the history of, and the new German approach to forest management in his article titled FOREST FIGHT, in Science:

Forest researchers Pierre Ibisch (left) and Jeanette Blumröder check a data logger in a pine forest that burned in 2018 and is now being allowed to naturally regenerate. LENA MUCHA

Germany invented “scientific” forestry. But a huge dieback triggered by climate change has ignited a fierce debate over how the nation should manage its trees

SCHWENDA, GERMANY—Last summer, Friederike and Jörg von Beyme stood on a bramble-covered, Sun-blasted slope outside this small town in eastern Germany. Just 4 years ago, the hillside, part of a nearly 500-hectare forest the couple bought in 2002, was green and shady, covered in tall, neatly arranged Norway spruce trees the couple planned to cut and sell. Continue reading

Juliet Eilperin’s Sprawling, Soaring Sitka Story

The trunk of the Sitka spruce marked to be cut down.

The soaring, centuries-old Sitka spruce with its blue spray-paint blaze is spared, for now.

A story about a tree, its history intertwined with five centuries of human history, this article earns your time. And it earns respect for the Washington Post, which assigned a star reporter to oversee its climate change coverage.

Juliet Eilperin features this tree’s significance from multiple angles, and accompanied by the stunning photography and video of Salwan Georges, her words are leveraged artfully with images and dramatic arc into a question you want the answer to: This tree has stood here for 500 years. Will it be sold for $17,500? Definitely worth reading on a large monitor rather than a phone screen. It may get you thinking about graduate school:

The Tongass National Forest in Alaska.

TONGASS NATIONAL FOREST, Alaska — The Sitka spruce soaring more than 180 feet skyward has stood on this spot on Prince of Wales Island for centuries. While fierce winds have contorted the towering trunks of its neighbors, the spruce’s trunk is ramrod straight. Standing apart from the rest of the canopy, it ascends to the height of a 17-story building.

This tree’s erect bearing — a 1917 publication called the Sitka species “the autocrat of timbers” — is what helps give it such extraordinary commercial value. Musical instrument makers covet its fine grain, as do builders whose clients want old-growth wood that’s increasingly scarce. In a world whose ancient forests have largely disappeared, this grove holds a sliver of what remains. Continue reading

Beware of LEAF’s Possible Exclusions

Thanks to Fred Pearce, as always:

A Big New Forest Initiative Sparks Concerns of a ‘Carbon Heist’

Major funding to finance forest conservation projects is set to be announced at the UN climate summit next week. But some environmentalists contend the LEAF program could exclude the Indigenous people who have long protected the forests that the initiative aims to save.

Indigenous lands on the western end Brazilian Amazon have seen far less deforestation than surrounding areas. WORLD RESOURCES INSTITUTE

After a decade of disappointing failures, UN-backed schemes to fight climate change by capturing carbon in the world’s forests are set for a comeback. Big new funding will be announced at next week’s climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland that would deliver billions of dollars in private finance for conservation projects in tropical forests, with governments and companies being able to use the carbon offsets from those projects to achieve their net-zero emissions pledges.

But concerns are growing that these new mega-offset projects will happen at the expense of forest communities. Continue reading

Smog, Ozone & Biodiversity

The view from Beetle Rock in Sequoia National Park, California. Smog, containing high levels of ozone, blows in from the San Joaquin Valley. TRACIE CONE / AP PHOTO

Thanks to Jim Robbins for updating our understanding of ozone’s ongoing threat (we had thought it was lessening):

Ozone Pollution: An Insidious and Growing Threat to Biodiversity

Ground-level ozone has long been known to pose a threat to human health. Now, scientists are increasingly understanding how this pollutant damages plants and trees, setting off a cascade of impacts that harms everything from soil microbes, to insects, to wildlife.

Giant sequoias in Sequoia National Park, California. MARJI LANG/LIGHTROCKET VIA GETTY IMAGES

Sequoia National Park’s famous groves of stout, 300-foot-tall trees sit high on the western side of the Sierra Nevada, above California’s San Joaquin Valley. They are threatened as never before: Wildfires have burned much of the forest, and now, for the first time, insects are killing sequoias. Continue reading