[permaculture] Pumped Up on Carbon Dioxide, Vines Strengthen Their Grip

Saor Stetler saor at ycbtal.net
Wed Jul 19 20:25:53 EDT 2006

Pumped Up on Carbon Dioxide, Vines Strengthen Their Grip

By Elizabeth Williamson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 15, 2006; A01

Vines -- poison ivy, Japanese honeysuckle, kudzu -- snake through the 
back yard, girdling trees and strangling shrubs, thriving, scientists 
say, on the same pollution they blame for global warming.

>From backyard gardens to the Amazon rain forest, vines are growing 
faster, stronger and, in the case of poison ivy, more poisonous on the 
heavy doses of carbon dioxide that come from burning such fossil fuels 
as gasoline and coal.

Complaints about vine infestation have increased tenfold in a decade, 
said Carole Bergmann, forest ecologist for the Maryland-National Capital 
Parks and Planning Commission, which serves Montgomery and Prince 
George's counties. Vines have choked gardens, ruined brickwork, 
disrupted bird habitat and clogged paths, ponds and air conditioning and 
electronic equipment.

"The woods they used to know have just changed character," Bergmann 
said. "They're covered with vines. The trees are being weakened and 
falling over -- or strangled."

That leaves scientists worried that the forest of the future could 
become a weedy tangle of hyper-vines choking off the trees, which absorb 
more carbon dioxide.

As vines become stronger, they also grow more various, a problem 
researchers say is at least partly attributable to climate change.

"Fifteen years ago, kudzu" -- known as the vine that ate the South -- 
"would not survive in the D.C. area," Bergmann said, because the climate 
was too cold. "Now it survives even up in New York."

For six years, Jacqueline Mohan has worked at Duke University to study 
elevated carbon dioxide levels' effect on woodland life.

Pumping carbon dioxide through pipes into a North Carolina pine forest, 
Mohan found that poison ivy grew at 2 1/2 times its normal rate, an 
increase five times the average gain for trees. The noxious vine grew 
thicker, used water more efficiently and became far more allergenic to 

"Poison ivy is fascinating, with its medical implications. But what's 
really important scientifically is these woody vines have been 
increasing in abundance all over the planet [and] inhibiting the growth 
and regeneration of the forest," said Mohan, who released her findings 
last month.

"This work suggests that atmospheric carbon dioxide is at least 
partially responsible."

But the vines also hint at a tantalizing solution to global warming: 
Perhaps scientists can engineer a plant that would absorb extraordinary 
amounts of carbon dioxide and clean the air without throwing forests 
wildly off kilter.

"There's some reason for optimism that we could use vegetation to stave 
off global warming," said William H. Schlesinger, an expert on climate 
change and dean of the Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth 
Sciences at Duke University. "But there's no telling that the mix you 
come to is going to be stable or functional the way today's ecosystems are."

Trees and plants play a vital role in soaking up carbon dioxide that is 
released into the atmosphere. Scientists are trying to determine whether 
plants can keep pace with -- or perhaps even begin to reverse -- the 
rise in carbon dioxide.

For 20 years, Bert Drake has been exposing marsh grasses to twice as 
much carbon dioxide as normally found in the atmosphere. On a recent 
day, he strolled the wooden decking that winds through his laboratory, a 
swath of Chesapeake Bay marsh at the Smithsonian Environmental Research 
Center in Edgewater.

Drake said his research suggests that most plants grow faster on higher 
levels of carbon dioxide -- including plants already used as alternative 
fuels, such as switch grass. If burned instead of fossil fuels, these 
plants, the theory goes, could form a defense against climate change.

But whether every plant will grow faster in those conditions, or how 
fast, or at all, is maddeningly unpredictable.

At Edgewater, Drake found that most grasses grow about 35 percent faster 
in the altered atmosphere. But they are able to grow much faster than 
that, a variance he can't fully explain. Similarly, his experiments on 
oak trees in Florida found that each oak species responds differently to 
the same carbon dioxide overload.

"It's quite imaginable that we could make an oak tree [that is] more 
efficient at trapping carbon dioxide for us," Drake said. "But until we 
know a lot more about how each species responds, we can't make solid 

In a Prince George's park, poison ivy, Japanese honeysuckle and other 
vines wind around most vertical surfaces and creep across the ground, 
looking for more.

"Anytime we move earth" -- for construction or repair projects -- "all 
we see is invasive species," said Mark Smith, who handles weed 
management at the Maryland Department of Agriculture. "We are seeing a 
tremendous variety of things, and we're getting more calls from the public."

In 1999, when the federal government recognized invasive plants as a 
national problem, Bergmann, of the Parks and Planning Commission, 
founded Weed Warriors, volunteers who patrol the region, ripping out 
offenders. Now an army of 500, they can't keep up. Many of the vines -- 
English ivy, porcelain berry, winter creeper -- were planted by 
homeowners who prized them as fast-growing, attractive ground cover.

"Just not buying these would really help a lot," she said. "I'd rather 
see native trees doing well than have some robotic tree developed that a 
vine can live on and create a super-jungle."

Published on Wednesday, July 19, 2006 by the Independent 
<http://www.independent.co.uk> / UK
Temperature Set to Hit 100 Degrees - and Global Warming is to Blame
by Michael McCarthy and Steve Connor

Think before you enjoy it. The near-record temperatures expected today 
are a sign of things to come, and will become commoner and hotter in 
future years as man-made global warming takes hold, scientists predict.

With the mercury expected to approach 100F (37.8C) for only the second 
time in Britain's history - but also the second time in under three 
years - researchers said the unusual heat was entirely consistent with 
predictions of climate change caused by rising emissions of greenhouses 
gases, such as carbon dioxide (CO2) from power stations, motor transport 
and, increasingly, aircraft.

Temperatures are expected to peak today. In some parts of southern 
England, in particular the London area, they may reach the high 30s, 
nearing or even exceeding 38C.

The UK's air temperature record was set on 10 August 2003, when 100F was 
breached for the first time, with a reading of 101.3F (38.5C) at 
Brogdale, near Faversham in Kent.

The Met Office says there is a 30 per cent chance that this all-time 
record will be beaten today. Even if it is not, it certainly seems 
likely that the record for the hottest July day will be beaten, a record 
nearly a century old. It was set on 22 July 1911 in Epsom, Surrey, with 
a temperature of 36C (96.8F).

The immediate reason for the heatwave is a prolonged period of very 
settled weather, with cloudless skies and strong sunshine which has 
allowed temperatures to rise. Over recent days, hotter air has moved 
across from the Continent, causing the temperature to rise further.

But a look at the temperature records - and Britain has the 
longest-running set in the world - strongly suggests it is much more 
part of a pattern showing the advent of global warming. The Central 
England Temperature Record dates to 1659 and we show here a graph of it 
since 1772. The smooth line shows how far the annual mean temperature 
diverged from the mean of 1961-1990; and it will be seen that from about 
the 1980s, the line starts to rise steadily above all previous values. 
It is still rising.

For most of the 20th century, British temperatures did not exceed the 
record of 98F (36.7C) set at Raunds in Northamptonshire on 9 August 
1911. But on 3 August 1990, this was smashed when 98.8 F (37.1C) was 
recorded in Cheltenham, then broken again at Brogdale in 2003. Now it 
may be broken yet again.

These new peaks do not in themselves prove global warming, say 
scientists - but global warming makes them much more likely. "As you get 
a warming trend in temperatures, which is what we are observing, the 
risk of exceeding extreme temperatures increases dramatically," said 
Peter Stott of the Met Office's Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and 
Research. "This is what we saw with the European heatwave of 2003. When 
we analysed it, we found that the rise in average temperatures over the 
previous century of about one degree had doubled the risk of an extreme 
event like the heatwave of that year.

"And, as we go into the future, the risk of what was quite a rare event 
rises dramatically. We think by 2040, a summer like 2003 will be a 
regular event; the chances of it happening will increase from one in 250 
all the way to one in two." He added: "We have an increasing amount of 
confidence that we are observing rising temperatures caused by 
human-induced rising greenhouse-gas concentrations. Unless the world 
changes what it is doing, we are going to see these extreme temperatures 
very much more."

People should remember the downside to rising temperatures, said Sir 
John Houghton, former head of the Met Office, and chairman of the 
scientific working group of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate 
Change (IPCC) from 1988 to 2002. "Yes, we can enjoy the heatwave when it 
comes," said Sir John. "There's no point in saying let's be miserable. 
But let's remember, let's recognise that the world is warming, and let's 
remember that the downside is very severe. We are already going outside 
the range of what a lot of people can cope with and what a lot of 
ecosystems can cope with, and a lot of crops."

Tony Juniper, the director of Friends of the Earth <http://www.foe.org>, 
said last night: "Our society needs to get real about climate change, 
and understand it isn't a distant future event - it's happening now and 
it's causing major problems already. The longer we leave it, the worse 
it will get. Any person who claims to be representing the best interests 
of our society must demand urgent action, now, and not tomorrow."

Feeling the heat

* Temperatures on buses in the hottest parts of Britain hit 52C 
yesterday while the London Underground reached 47C. EU guidelines state 
that cattle should not be transported at temperatures exceeding 27C.

* Speed restrictions were implemented on trains because of "hot rails" 
and sagging overhead wires.

* Council gritters were on stand-by to prevent roads melting.

* A Level 3 health warning has also been issued, requiring primary care 
trusts to provide additional care for those most at risk from 
dehydration and heat stroke.

* More than 170 people were forced to swelter on a grounded plane at 
Heathrow for five hours after its air conditioning broke down.

* Charities for the elderly expressed concern about the effects of the 
heatwave, advising those at risk to take precautions such as staying 
indoors or in the shade.

* The Government has issued smog warnings across Britain for the coming 

* The House of Commons Speaker Michael Martin granted an "unprecedented" 
request to give 500 bottles of water to demonstrators outside Parliament 
suffering in the heat.

* With southern England facing the worst drought in 100 years, initial 
signs are that customers are being more careful with water - a total of 
300 million fewer litres a day were used during June.

* Fish are threatened by reduced water levels as oxygen levels drop. 
Toxic algae bloom can form and fish struggle to breathe.

* Employers have been urged to relax office dress codes to enable 
workers to wear casual clothes in the heat.

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