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.


On Sudden Oak Death, fire mimicry, and canker surgery

22 10 2012

Coast live oak in Marin succumbing to Sudden Oak Death after 4 years (Photos by Lee Klinger)

Recently the California Oak Mortality Task Force issued a press release reporting on an explosive growth in Sudden Oak Death in the San Francisco and Monterey Bay areas. This is a sad situation, knowing that untold thousands of ancient heritage oaks will die while under our care, or rather our lack of care.

For thousands of years California Native Americans tended and cared for all these ancient oaks, and associated plants, animals, and fungi, in an effort to live sustainably. The concept of reciprocity permeated their spirituality and culture, the oaks provided them an abundance of food (acorn), and so in return they managed the land in ways that helped the oaks prosper.

Oaks we know, and as the native people knew, are early successional fire-adapted species, meaning that they need periodic understory (ground) fires to thrive. These fires alkalinize the soils, which is a good thing, and they remove encroaching shrubs and young trees which draw away water and nutrients from the mature oaks.

Without periodic fires the oaks begin to decline. Over many decades the soils gradually acidify and more shade-tolerant species such as bays, firs, pines, and redwoods invade the oaklands. Eventually these later successional species overtop the oaks and out-compete them for light, water, and nutrients. At this point fires, if they due occur, are usually large stand-devastating fires that burn the entire canopies of the trees, from which few oaks can recover.

The oak forests in California are experiencing a rapid shift in their ecology the likes of which has not been seen for thousands of years. The weakening oaks are succumbing to diseases like Sudden Oak Death, and it is likely to get worse.

Unless, we started start caring for the oaks under our care.

How many of us have befriended an oak, enjoyed its protective canopy and felt the nurturing presence of a stately being?

How many of us have tended an oak?

All the while the oaks are enriching the air and land, helping sustain us, along with so many birds, mammals, insects, plants, fungi, and much much more, they are running out of time. The current sad state of affairs is largely due to improper actions, or lack of actions by our parents, grandparents, and great grandparents in managing the oaks on our lands. They simply didn’t know what the native people knew, that oaks need tending.

So now many of us know, and I pray others will too, that the problems with our oaks, with some effort, are solvable. I and many others are using fire mimicry methods, which involve restoring oak forests using  clearing, pruning, and soil fertilization methods that mimic to a degree the normal effects of fire.

My purpose here, as is the purpose of my life, is to inform you and others that we can save our oaks and, more importantly, to do the work on the oaks and show you how it’s done.

Here are several oaks that have received fire mimicry treatments beginning in 2005:

Note the improved canopy density and fullness. Fortunately these oaks are not infected with Sudden Oak Death, nor will they be (at least on my watch).

Here, however, is a nearby oak that is infected with Sudden Oak Death:

(Note the roof line has been altered by remodeling since the original photo)

While infected, this oak has some hope for a longer and healthier life as a result of the treatments. In addition to the fire mimicry treatments, I have done a surgical removal of the canker, which was still at an early phase of growth when discovered. For this I used an axe, then hammer and chisel to excavate the infected tissue, then I used a propane blow torch to cauterize the wound. This tree still has a small infection and will require some additional surgery, but the majority of the surgery appears to have worked to clear the tissue of the canker, and the tree is already healing over much of the wound. I predict that this oak will live for many decades, and if you hang around here I’ll keep showing you the photos of its recovery.

Finally, let me remind all you tree lovers that these techniques work on many kinds of trees. Here’s an example of what can be done for sick pines:

Interested? We’d love to hear from you!

On managing California bay laurels to improve oak health

16 07 2011

Removing young bay laurels and burning the remains. Photo by Lee Klinger.

Several friends and tree professionals have contacted me about my thoughts on the following article by Peter Femrite that recently appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle:

Saving oak trees by chopping down bay trees

Workers began chopping down 250 California bay laurels this week in the Santa Cruz Mountains so that 49 signature oak trees might be saved from the infectious scourge known as sudden oak death.

The tree-removal project is an attempt by the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District to prevent the spread of the tree-killing pathogen, which uses bay trees to scatter spores in the forest.

(h/t to R Zingaro for alerting me to this article)

First, there are important points here with which I agree. The bays are clearly major vectors for sudden oak death disease. I do believe that selective removal of bays will lower the incidence of sudden oak death (SOD). However, I am bothered by the singular focus on the disease. I would rather the focus of efforts be made toward promoting the overall health of the forest ecosystem. Read the rest of this entry »

Acid rain in Big Sur – May 2011

6 06 2011

Acid rain falling on Big Sur. Photo by Lee Klinger.

It has been an unusually rainy spring here in Big Sur. We received 1.86″ of rain in May and have just had another full on winter storm here in the first week of June. I’ll be summarizing the 2010-2011 rain season data once it is clear the rainy season had ended.

The rains in May were notably acidic. There were five measurable rainfall events with pH values ranging between 4.46 to 4.63. The table below shows all the results for May 2011. Read the rest of this entry »

Interview with SustainableWorld’s Channel

17 02 2010

SustainableWorld’s Channel did a recent interview with me at La Casa de Maria (Santa Barbara, CA) about oak health, native people, and fire mimicry and has posted a portion of the interview on YouTube. Here is the video:

The potential role of peatland dynamics in ice-age initiation

10 01 2010

As I mentioned in a previous post I am putting up some of my earlier work on feedback mechanisms by which the planet cools itself. This background will be useful in an upcoming post on planetary temperature regulation.

The potential role of peatland dynamics in ice-age initiation

by Lee F. Klinger, John A. Taylor, & Lars G. Franzen

Quaternary Research 45: 89-92 (1996)

Summary – Physical and chemical coupling of peatland vegetation, soils and landforms and atmosphere creates feedbacks which may be important in ice-age initiation. A box diffusion CO2 exchange model shows that a transient forcing of 500Gt C (the amount proposed to have accumulated in peatlands during the last interglacial-glacial transition) over 5000 yr results in a lowering of atmospheric CO2 by about 40 ppm. Proxy data indicate that a decrease in atmospheric CO2 may have occurred over the last 5000 years up to pre-industrial times, and the amount (~22 ppm lowering in 5000 yrs) is similar to that calculated from Holocene peatland expansion. These results suggest that models should consider the role of peatlands in ice-age initiation.

View the entire paper here.

In Fig. 2 (see below) we present evidence that prior to the industrial era atmospheric CO2 was undergoing a decline. We attribute the decline to large-scale landscape transformation involving the replacement of forests by peatlands. Peatlands store immense amounts of carbon and, as described in an earlier publication, are potentially powerful organs that help cool the planet.

Peatland formation and ice ages: a possible Gaian mechanism related to vegetation succession

6 01 2010

To prepare readers for some upcoming posts on the implications of Gaia theory in climate change predictions I would like to provide some background literature of my earlier work in this area. Below is a paper I gave at the American Geophysical Union Chapman Conference on the Gaia Hypothesis held in San Diego, CA in 1988. This paper was published as a chapter in a 1991 book on the proceedings of the conference: Scientists on Gaia. Here is the summary of my paper:

Peatland formation and ice ages: a possible Gaian mechanism related to vegetation succession

by Lee F. Klinger

Summary – Terrestrial areas, which support over 99% of the earth’s biomass, have considerable potential for being involved in biosphere-atmosphere feedback loops as postulated by the Gaia hypothesis. This paper presents a model of a possible Gaian mechanism related to landscape-level successional changes during a glacial-interglacial cycle. The model is based on the view that terrestrial successions converge toward bogs, rather than toward old-growth forest, and that bogs represent structurally and compositionally stable (climax) communities. The model also assumes, as in classical successional theory, that during the course of succession the biota modifies the environment, both the soil and the atmosphere, to favor the progression of succession toward the climax state. Feedback mechanisms between peatlands (landscapes of bogs and bog forests) and the atmosphere are proposed which should favor the initiation and maintenance of relatively stable, ice age climates. These cooling mechanisms are related to increased albedo, increased evapotranspiration, and decreased atmospheric CO2 associated with the succession from woodlands to peatlands. Ice core and ocean core data for CO2, CH4, and delta 13C and delta 14C isotope ratios are consistent with the proposed terrestrial dynamics involving organic carbon.

Here is the full reference for my paper:

Klinger, L.F. 1991. Peatland formation and ice ages: a possible Gaian mechanism related to vegetation succession (Chap. 28). In: S.H. Schneider & P.J. Boston (eds.), Scientists on Gaia. The MIT Press, Cambridge, pp. 247-255.

Forest vegetation and soil succession

25 12 2009

Readers who are interested in more details of the general theory and empirical studies of forest decline and soil acidification please consult this paper:

Forest vegetation and soil succession

by Lee Klinger MA PhD

Presented at: Treework Environmental Practice Seminar XIII
Linnean Society, Burlington House, London, UK – 30th June 2009


Forest communities are complex systems comprised of populations of organisms representing every kingdom of life – plants, animals, fungi, protists, and monists – living and growing together on the land. They are part of a larger group of communities that constitute the regional ecosystem, or landscape. Forest communities are developmentally related to the surrounding communities in ways that can be characterized through chronosequence studies. Chronosequences from southeast Alaska and subarctic Canada are described and interpreted as indicating that, while early successional processes facilitate forest growth and productivity, later successional processes tend to slow and inhibit forest growth and regeneration. In many places forests are seen to have transitioned into peat bogs over the course of several thousand years. This is thought to reflect the true climax nature of bog ecosystems.

Forest to bog transitions are linked to two main developmental processes: podzolization and paludification. Podzolization affects many northern forests and involves the translocation of iron, aluminium, clays and organic compounds in response to vegetation, especially mosses, acidifying and leaching the soils. This is often followed by paludification, which occurs as peat-forming mosses, such as Sphagnum species, become established and expand.

From the perspective of succession, forests are seen to flourish under early successional conditions, conditions that are enhanced by periodic or regular disturbances. However, where disturbances are eliminated, forests begin to show decline as a consequence of natural successional changes. This work points to the potential for managing forest ecosystems through the maintenance of disturbance regimes and the remediation of acidification tendencies in the vegetation and soils.

Download the complete paper here.

Trees, Roots, Fungi, & Soils (Part 2)

22 12 2009

On June 30 of this year I presented a paper titled “Forest Vegetation and Soil Succession” at a gathering of UK and US arboriculturists at the Linnean Society, Burlington House, London. The event, “Trees, Roots, Fungi, & Soils 2”, was the second of two meetings on the topic of soils in arboriculture organized by Neville Fay of Treework Environmental Practice.

The first meeting, “Trees, Roots, Fungi, & Soils 1”, was held in November of 2008 at the National Museum at Cardiff, Wales. At that meeting I presented the paper “A holistic approach to mitigating pathogenic effects on trees”. A copy of that paper can be found here.

Catharine Stott attended the second meeting in London and has written an excellent recap of the talks here.

Excerpts from Catharine Stott’s article:

“Independent scientist Dr Lee Klinger was once again over from California with a fascinating take on climax vegetation. He explained that, contrary to popular belief, forests and woodlands continue to evolve beyond what we regard as their climax state of ancient trees, particularly if there is no natural disturbance to halt and hinder succession. Indeed, if left alone and undisturbed, forest vegetation will succeed into peat bogs. Dr Klinger cited his studies of ancient forests and successions of vegetation on the slopes of Mount Edgecombe in Alaska, where all stages of vegetation succession can be seen. He argued that if we want to keep our old growth forests as forests, it is important that we allow and perhaps manage natural disturbances, such as landslips and fires.”

“In summing up the day, Neville Fay spoke more about Treework Environmental Practice’s plans to develop arboricultural practices that focus more coherently on the soil environment as a means of assessment and treatment. He has a suspicion that in the future arboriculturists will become soil specialists and relatively speaking most assessment and work will take place in that region, and very little to the crown. Without ignoring the huge weight of nursery and in vitro experimental investigation, his preferred approach is from an ecosystem perspective, hoping to find ways to look at the whole tree growing in its context, informed more by the organic model. With this in mind he is working with Laverstoke Laboratories, Lee Klinger, Olaf Ribeiro, Myerscough College and others to explore soil factors associated with rapid decline in mature trees and to compare a range of remediation measures.”

A copy of the June 2009 paper I gave at the Linnean Society is available here.