Scientific meeting on Gaia at the Geological Society of London – November 11, 2015

5 10 2015
Carlsbad caverns. Photo by Lee Klinger.

Carlsbad caverns. Photo by Lee Klinger.

On November 11, 2015 there will be a meeting entitled “Puzzle of Earth’s Uninterrupted Habitability” to be held at the Geological Society of London (GSL). This meeting will have a strong emphasis on Gaia theory and several prominent Gaian scholars will be speaking, including Tim Lenton, David Wilkinson, Toby Tyrrell, and David Schwartzman. As a Fellow of the GSL I have been invited to speak at this meeting. Here are the title and abstract of my talk:

Biological mediation of acidity and alkalinity: Does habitability require regulation of environmental pH?

Lee Klinger, Independent Scientist, Big Sur, CA USA

Abstract – Climatic cycles such as ice ages represent large excursions in global temperatures and are associated with significant changes in atmospheric CO2, non-sea salt sulfate, and dust, as recorded in ice cores. Ice age excursions in the pH of marine waters are predicted to result from the altered concentrations of CO2 in those waters. In addition, there are a number of biologically mediated processes affecting the pH of terrestrial and marine environments.

During interglacials terrestrial ecosystems are dominated by forests and grasslands that experience frequent disturbances, especially fire, which tends to alkalinize the soils. At the onset of glaciation higher latitude fire regimes subside and the forests become podzolized, with a corresponding decrease in soil pH. Many of these areas are eventually paludified, owing primarily to the acidifying and swamping effects of mosses and lichens, which eventually dominate the expanding peatlands. Mosses and lichens are known to stimulate silicate weathering rates to levels that could significantly reduce atmospheric CO2, and the cooling effects of peatlands are thought to play a role in ice age initiation. There is evidence that the production of iron-rich organic acids by peatlands greatly enhances phytoplankton blooms in adjacent coastal areas. Rainfall chemistry from the Pacific northwest points to the occurrence of biogenic acid rain likely originating from DMS and other biogenic sulfur compounds emitted by the phytoplankton. A feedback results through the nss-sulfate deposition enhancing the growth of mosses.

As ice ages progress and glaciers grow, dust levels in the atmosphere are also seen to rise. Much of this dust is due to an increase in glacial loess. The iron content of the dust stimulates marine productivity in open ocean areas. Oceanic inputs of iron from volcanic ash and glacial outwash are also seen to increase during glacial periods.

The culmination of the glacial period is defined by feedbacks involving the expansion of glaciers into areas formerly occupied by peatlands. The high mineral content of the glacial loess, along with episodes of volcanic ash would tend to alkalinize the terrestrial ecosystems and discourage the proliferation of mosses and other acidifying organisms.

Thus, the pH excursions in the ice age cycle may be related to the biogeochemical coupling of the iron and sulfur cycles. This coupling could have its roots in the Precambrian banded iron formations (BIFs), cyclic depositions of iron-rich minerals that are likely biogenic in origin. BIFs are seen to be closely associated with snowball earth conditions.

Improvement seen in pine health with fire mimicry

16 05 2012

I’m often asked whether the fire mimicry techniques that have been so successful in oak restoration work on other trees. Given that many California native tree species are fire-adapted there is every reason to believe that fire mimicry could help them too. Indeed, I have several previous posts showing positive responses of a variety of non-oak species to fire mimicry treatments, including buckeyes, redwoods, and Douglas firs.

Today I would like to share some recent results with pine trees. California pines are also fire-adapted, and with the suppression of forest fires, are becoming ill and infected with bark beetles and pitch pine canker. Thus, fire mimicry treatments seem to be critical in helping sick pines and in keeping healthy pines from deteriorating.

The four-year results shown below are of a sick Monterey pine in Carmel, the two-year results are of mostly healthy ponderosa pines in Glen Ellen, and the one-year results are of mostly healthy Monterey pines in Mill Valley.

A word about the four-year results. I first treated this Monterey pine in 2008 when the owners observed some decline in the tree. On my return the following year I found the pine to have deteriorated slightly. By the second year it had deteriorated significantly. I was mystified since the nearby oaks I had treated were responding nicely. Pines have an extensive root system, so I decided to peek over the neighbor’s fence and was surprised to find the entire yard was a Japanese garden with a mat of mosses forming a solid carpet on the ground. While mosses serve a purpose in a Japanese garden by stunting growth, creating twisted forms, and stimulating unusual foliage coloration in the small trees and acid-tolerant shrubs, a heavy moss cover is not compatible with a nearby large, fast-growing pine.

I was able to get permission from the neighbor to treat the soils, but I could not spread minerals on the soils as that would likely damage much of the moss cover, thus, ruining the aesthetics of their garden. So, instead, I did a deep root feeding by drilling small holes through the moss mat and injecting the minerals into the subsoil. These treatments were done in 2010 and again in 2011. The photos below show that after two years the pine has made a nice recovery. Read the rest of this entry »

Life and the Planet – Part 2

23 05 2011

Lynn Margulis, who as Lovelock said earlier “put the flesh and bones” on Gaia, spoke on ‘Evolutionary novelty in the Proterozoic eon: Symbiogenesis in Gaia’. She described a sequence of evolutionary events involving eubacteria and thermobacteria coming together to form the first eukaryotes. This occurred not through random mutations but through symbiosis occurring over evolutionary time scales, or symbiogenesis. While Lynn is often credited with the theory of symbiogenesis she emphatically states that others preceded her in this idea, particular a Russian scientist, Boris Mikhaylovich Kozo-Polyansky, who in 1924 published a book “Symbiogenesis: A New Principle in Evolution”. Still, Lynn undoubtedly put the “flesh and bones” on the theory of Symbiogenesis as well.

Nicholas Butterfield spoke on ‘Multicellularity in deep time’ where he described the early fossil record of various multicellular life forms. He pointed out that by ~1 Ga ago there is evidence for clonal colonies of cyanobacteria, coenobial and filamentous green algae, and branched multicellular filaments of red algae. There is even a 850 Ma old fungus-like fossil with complex multicellular vesicles/hyphae. He states, however, that at this time there is “not a whisper of land plant fossils”. Doubting that this is a preservation issue, he left open the question of plant and animal life on land in the Proterozoic.

Speaking on ‘Neoproterozoic glaciation: Microbes at work in terrestrial oases’ Ian Fairchild acknowledged that even under the most extreme conditions of Snowball Earth life must have persisted and even flourished in places. He described stratigraphic sequences from northern Svalbard which bear units of sandstone, rhythmites, and carbonates which appear to owe their origin, in part, to microbial mats of cyanobacteria. He concludes that “extremophile” life flourished at this time and provided a geochemical record of the Cryogenian (Snowball Earth) period. Unfortunately, he offered no ideas on possible biological feedbacks on the climate. Read the rest of this entry »

Five-year response of California buckeyes to fire mimicry

12 07 2010

Last year I posted a piece on using fire mimicry to treat early leaf senescence in California buckeyes. A few days ago I checked up on these buckeyes and re-photographed them. As you can see in the photos posted here the buckeyes are continuing to show improvement after tending with fire mimicry practices.

When I first saw these trees in 2005 they appeared to be severely stressed due to soil acidification. The lawn areas around their base had a dense cover of mosses growing among the grasses. The mosses were removed by thatching the lawn areas and the soils were treated with several hundred pounds of soil minerals (Azomite and calcitic limestone).

These and other results (see here and here) are showing that the fire mimicry practices which are working so well in restoring the health of the oaks (see here, here, here, here, here, etc.) are also useful in restoring the health of other kinds of trees. This certainly makes sense if the problem is ecological (e.g. fire suppression, soil acidification, overcrowding, etc.) rather than pathological (e.g. disease, insect pests).

I encourage anyone who is interested in getting more information on the methods and services of tree care and forest restoration shown here to please contact me. Read the rest of this entry »

Acute Oak Decline in the UK – Part 2

30 04 2010

In my previous post on Acute Oak Decline I posed the question of whether ecological factors are predisposing oaks to this “new” disease. My concern is that research groups led by the plant pathologists will remain focused on the disease model and not consider the ecology of the problem. I encourage scientists studying Acute Oak Decline to pause for a moment, take a breath, and consider things like rain pH, soil fertility, and ecosystem structure before launching into a costly vortex of biological studies on whatever bacterial species is determined to be the “cause”.

In this post I would like to present some preliminary findings of soil fertility in a stand of diseased and non-diseased English oaks (Quercus robur) in Bushy Park, London, UK. Several oaks showed bleeding symptoms characteristic of Acute Oak Decline (see photos below), although the bacterial species was not positively ID’d.

English oak with Acute Oak Decline in Bushy Park, London (photo by Lee Klinger)

Closeup view of Acute Oak Decline bleeding symptoms. Note deep cracks in the bark. (photo by Lee Klinger)

Upon inspecting the soils I noticed that near the diseased trees there were large mats of mosses, whereas few mosses were found around the non-diseased oaks. Having a strong interest in the influence that mosses may have on soil fertility, and thus oak health, I, along with Neville Fay of Treework Environmental Practice and Vinodh Krishnamurthy of Soil Foodweb Lab Services and Research, devised a simple test. Read the rest of this entry »

Using fire mimicry to treat early leaf senescence in California buckeyes

15 07 2009

The buckeye (Aesculus californica) is a deciduous tree, low and broad in stature, that is endemic to California. Every year these trees extend their gratitude by offering up a harvest of enormous size nuts. The species is a vital part of the California ecosystem and ever so worthy of our attention. Some even believe that tending the buckeyes is a responsibility passed on to us by the native people, who for the past few thousand years have been tending California’s buckeye groves.

Buckeyes do very well in open forests and savannas, especially in places where fires have been allowed to burn. However, on unburned lands buckeyes are often seen to be in poor health. Where forests are overgrown and acidified the buckeyes are experiencing serious health problems, including stem failure, canopy dieback, and any numbers of leaf blights including anthracnose and sudden oak death.

One of the first symptoms of ill health in buckeyes is the early seasonal onset of leaf senescence. Several years ago an astute friend of mine began noticing that for several years the buckeyes near her home had been losing their leaves earlier than usual. She contacted me about the problem and I suggested we try fire mimicry, the same treatments that I’ve been using on the oaks.

After four years of ongoing treatment here are the results . . .


Read the rest of this entry »