Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Die-offs - Trees and Ocean Zones Fading Fast

Global warming byproducts become links in a causal chain that can only make things worse. Here are two that probably won't find their way to much public attention, but are nevertheless of huge importance to all of us.

Bark beetles are rapidly working their northward to the great forests of the northwest U.S. and western Canada. One estimate is that 80% of the marketable lodgepole pine in British Columbia could be killed off in 10 years. And in the U.S. pine bark beetles are infesting more than a million acres of forest in Idaho and Montana, while over 2.5 million acres are threatened in Washington state.

Warmer winters are blamed for the spread of the beetles, which have historically been killed off by the hard freezes. The impact of continued dying off will land on the environment as a whole and on the industries that rely directly and indirectly on these sources of timber.

And while we're in the American Northwest, we can look offshore from Oregon and find the return (for its sixth successive year) of a "death zone" where low oxygen levels are inhibiting sea life. Unlike the dead zone on the Gulf of Mexico, which is blamed on fertilizer runoff deposited by the Mississippi and other rivers, the Pacific dead zone is caused by new wind patterns that are identified as a result of global warming. The winds churn the ocean, bringing up so much plankton from the deeps that their death and decomposition take up most of the oxygen supply in the area.

The impact here is on our supply of food fish, but it's a climate-related effect that could be seen in other global regions as well.

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