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Five Thousand Gulf Oil Spills

Filed under: — david @ 16 June 2010

That’s the rate that people are releasing carbon to the atmosphere from fossil fuel combustion and deforestation today. I know, it’s apples and oranges; carbon in the form of oil is more immediately toxic to the environment than it is as CO2 (although CO2 may be more damaging on geologic time scales). But think of it — five thousand spills like in the Gulf of Mexico, all going at once, each releasing 40,000 barrels a day, every day for decades and centuries on end. We are burning a lot of carbon!

177 Responses to “Five Thousand Gulf Oil Spills”

  1. 101
    David Horton says:

    #98 “Cut down the dying trees, which are going to be quite large, and process them. Lumber has value”. Any idea of the roles of mature, dying, dead, fallen trees in a forest ecosystem JCH? Your idea for removing them would turn forests into managed plantations, and would certainly result in loss of biodiversity and forest function, the loss of large numbers of species that rely on different successional stages, and probably, in the long run, the effective loss of the forest itself.

  2. 102
    David B. Benson says:

    Barton Paul Levenson (87) — Surely cosine of latitude when the equator is taken as zero arcdegrees.

    As Ray points out, that will agree with irradiance and then maybe albedo plus poleward heat redistribution accounts of the result. So maybe an accident of Terra’s climate, inapplicable to other bodies with atmospheres?

  3. 103
    John E. Pearson says:

    69 David Cook said and David responded:
    “Could you please clarify the 5000×40,000 brl/day value for me… Looking at the IEA site I am seeing an estimate of total oil consumed on the order of 85m +/- 2 brl/day, globally:

    and David responded:

    “Response: Based on total CO2 emissions of about 10 Gton C / year. Check out Le Quere, Nature Geoscience 2: 831, 2009. David]”

    I don’t have access to Nature from home, and many RC readers won’t have access to Nature at all without paying for it, but I’m thinking that the discrepancy is coal.

  4. 104
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Oops. Yes, Barton, please clarify–I would think the temperature has to follow cos(latitude). If it’s really 90 degrees out of phase, that would be remarkable.

  5. 105
    Thomas says:

    87. fiting latitutinal temperature as a function of cos(latitude) won’t work very well, no matter what function one chooses. Any function of cos(theta) is an even (symmetric) function, but our planets climate has a large north south assymetry, caused largely by the large antarctic icecap. In order to get a decent fit, one would have to include one or more assymetric terms I would choose sin(theta) and sin(2*theta).

  6. 106
    Completely Fed Up says:

    snapple: the formula for proof of AGW is:

    CHn+O2 = CO2 + Hn

    I.e. when you burn a hydrocarbon in an oxygen rich atmosphere, you get CO2 out.

    Everything else falls out of climate science (there is no anthropogenic climate science, it’s just natural climate and what makes that natural climate. One of which is the role of CO2 in determining the climate of the planet earth).

  7. 107

    Sine, guys. Sine. R^2 = 0.999. Maybe I’d get the same figure for cosine, since they’re intimately linked. Haven’t tried it yet. When I graphed the two series it looked like a sine curve to me, so that was what I used. No, it’s isn’t a misprint or a mistake. Just a fit.

  8. 108


    I used the average between the two hemispheres.

  9. 109
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Thomas, If you look at the temperatures, they are dominated by solar radiation to a first approximation. Everything else is a second order effect–including the oceans. You’ll get a much better fit to an even function than an odd, which would place the hottest temperatures at the pole.

  10. 110
    Thomas says:

    Ray at 109. You can always separate out the even an odd portions of a function and fit them temporarily:
    Feven(x) = .5*(F(x)+F(-x)) , Fodd(x)=.5*(F(x)-F(-x))
    Then Feven = sumof An*cos(n*theta)
    and Fodd = sumof Bn*sin(n*theta)
    The first series starts at n=0, the second at n=1.

    Decompostion into even/odd components can sometimes make things clearer.

  11. 111

    Ray 104,

    Try Ts = 299 – 53 * sin theta and see what you get.

  12. 112
    David B. Benson says:

    Barton Paul Levenson (111) — This is too bizarre. Theta runs from what value at the north pole to what value at the south pole, please?

  13. 113
    DeNihilist says:

    David, may I impose on you one more time? Have been reading about Charcoaling to sequester CO2 the last couple of days. Some conflicting opinions. What is your thumbnail take on this issue?


  14. 114
    jsobry says:

    @92 Titular controversy.
    1) I am sure that Mr. Haas can be simultaneously Dr. Haas. There is no way that I can give him his due title as I think he deserved that when he wrote his thesis and earned his PHD. If on top of that he is a professor at the University of Alberta so much the better for him.
    But I do not think that I in any way have offended Mr. Haas by calling him Mr. Haas. In fact I never bothered to check on that when I wrote my somewhat lighthearted update and never thought about it.
    I do in fact live in Alberta and happen to know quite a few professors at that university because my wife works there. I have never called any of them doctor this or that.
    It is totally irrelevant to me what your title is whoever you may be. All I am interested in is what you say or do at any given moment in time. This does in no way remove from the person in question her or his title or anything they may have done to earn it.
    I now realize that I called Mr. Barber Dr. Barber in my update but that was only because I was looking at his presentation and there it said Dr. Barber which I just copied. I am sorry if this oversight offends you but in any case there was no intention to do so. I am very sure that Dr. Haas was, is, or will be a fine scientist or not whether I address him as Mr. or Dr.
    2) Allready covered. I am fully aware of the whereabouts of Dr. Haas, the province of Alberta and my chosen country Canada.
    3) Dr. Haas, I am sure, has a very good academic record otherwise he would most likely not have been accepted at the university of Calgary. I do not see how this has any bearing on the thickness and strength of multiyear ice at all.
    4) As I mentioned earlier this was and is a lighthearted update to the observation that DeNihilist made. I just happened to have watched Mr. Barber’s presentation in OSLO, Norge (Norway to you) on the occasion of the end of the International Polar Year. The reason I watched this is that it was referred to in a previous topic on this website but a few days ago.
    It seemed to me that perhaps based on what the Vancouver Sun reported that Dr. Haas had said, he may have spoken too soon and his conclusions notwithstanding his eminent academic credentials may not be up to snuff with respect to the total picture in tis particular case.
    The Canadian arctic cowboys, I jokingly referred to, you may rest assured were equiped with a fantastic array of scientific instruments on board their ice breaker as well.
    I will not mention the fact that these arctic cowboys are part of a large scientific team in a rather large Canadian arctic scientific research project.
    The only real difference to me was that they actually sailed through the 4 to 14 meter thick ice while Dr. Haas simply flew over the ice with his instruments. To me, actually breaking through the ice and seeing it give way like so much slush seems like touching the heart of the matter. Unfortunately, to me, flying over the ice can in no way give the same experience no matter how sophisticated your equipment is. Perhaps I am wrong in taking that view.
    Perhaps Dr. Haas’ instruments could not tell him that the thick ice was rotten or perhaps the Canadians were just drunk when they went sailing through the thick ice and they were in fact just standing still instead.
    But I can assure you that the titles of the respective scientists has absolutely nothing at all to do with the veracity of their respective statements, explanations, hypotheses or theories.
    It is precisely this veracity we are after not their titles.

  15. 115
    jsobry says:

    @98 and @101
    Apparently we have about 2 billion dead pine trees mostly in British Columbia and some in Alberta, victims of the mountain pine beetle. The fear is that the beetle will jump across to the great boreal Canadian forest east all the way to the Atlantic coast and Newfounland. Also claimed is the fact that the beetle is spreading so successfully because of warmer winters here about. The warmer winters are only local here so I can make no claim that this is related to global warming allthough I am sure of it in my own quiet way.
    I have tried to think of a smart way to somehow sequester the trees and remove their carbon from the current carbon cycle.
    Apparently the forestry folks have no use for them.
    Sofar I have not been able to come up with any reasonable and rational solution. Where are our geo-engeneers?

  16. 116
    Richard Steckis says:

    jsobry says:
    20 June 2010 at 10:53 PM

    “The only real difference to me was that they actually sailed through the 4 to 14 meter thick ice while Dr. Haas simply flew over the ice with his instruments. To me, actually breaking through the ice and seeing it give way like so much slush seems like touching the heart of the matter. Unfortunately, to me, flying over the ice can in no way give the same experience no matter how sophisticated your equipment is. Perhaps I am wrong in taking that view.”

    Your are certainly wrong in that view. A ship mounted observation can only measure the ice that the ship can pass through. An aircraft can measure any location on the ice pack. I doubt that there is 14m thickness of rotten ice in the ice pack. This was only measured in the Beaufort Sea. Rotten ice is not multi-year ice. Haas measured thick multi-year ice.

    The fact remains that ships have limitations that aircraft do not have. Until a full grid survey of the Arctic Ocean is conducted (I know. At great expense) these arguments will continue to exist.

  17. 117
    Richard Steckis says:

    P.S. The decaying multi-year ice that the ship passed through measured between 6 and 8 metres. 14 metres is not even mentioned and is nearly double that of Barber’s observations.

  18. 118


    One of the things I wondered about the Haas paper was, where did Dr. Haas look, compared with where Dr. Barber’s team looked? I still don’t know about the latter, but Neven posted a link to an author PDF of the Haas paper, which reveals that the overflights (carried out, BTW, with the towed monitor ‘bird’ just 20 m above the ice!) covered 7 segments in different parts of the Arctic basin, totaling over 2,000 km.

    Seems like a good sample, but there’s still lots of room for the two expeditions to cover largely different areas. And if you look at the Haas data, the remaining really thick ice was found in the area directly north of Ellesmere Island–consistent with what we already knew.

    Here’s Neven’s link:


    Yes. Several American states have problems with bark beetles, too, and apparently for analogous reasons. This crisis is a great example of severe economic impacts *now*–

    Annual spending on beetle control in the Rocky Mountain region is apparently in the range of $70-80 million:

    Cumulative costs in British Columbia have become fairly eye-popping:

    “Since 2001, the Province has committed more than $756 million to battle the mountain pine beetle, mitigate future impacts and promote regional economic development within the mountain pine beetle epidemic zone. The Government of Canada has committed $200 million since 2006, and has promised a further $800 million to help B.C. reduce the effects of its pine beetle infestation.”

    Alberta, too, has big problems, though not quite as bad as BC:

    “Over the three fiscal years since a large inflight of mountain pine beetles was carried into west-central Alberta in July 2006, Alberta has allocated approximately $210 million to fight infestations in the province.”

    Ecological effects are potentially severe, and there has been formal attribution to climate change (so you can be less diffident about that, I think, jsobry):

    Here are some maps of affected jurisdictions:

    And lastly, a local Colorado piece on folks using beetle-killed wood (sometimes called “denim pine:”)

  19. 119

    David 112 — Theta, the latitude, is 90 degrees at the north pole and 0 degrees at the equator.

  20. 120

    jsoby 115,

    Make biochar out of them.

  21. 121
    DeNihilist says:

    BPL – I am reading up on this at the moment. What’s your take on this – postives? negatives?


  22. 122


    I’m not sure what you’re asking about.

  23. 123
    David B. Benson says:

    DeNihilist (113) — Which David? I’m certainly in favor of biochar for carbon sequestration.

    Barton Paul Levenson (119) — I think I’ve finally caught on; lets see if I have it. The two hemispheres are averaged and then treated as northern only. So you could have used


    to obtain the same result (and cut down on several commenters confusion). Ok.

  24. 124
    DeNihilist says:

    LOL! David Benson. Yup, coulda been more specific. It was directed at the David who started this post. :)
    BPL, asking about your opinion on Biochar, just starting to read up on it now, so I’m trying to get some opinions from those who may have already formed those opinions.


  25. 125


    It looks like a good idea–improves soil quality as well as sequestering carbon. It would be difficult to do it on a large enough scale to solve the whole problem, but it should certainly be part of the solution.

  26. 126
    mike roddy says:

    JCH, #88, No. Vegetation is too thick in PNW mature coastal forests to allow for much selective logging. Cedar is not a long lived product, especially as roofing. I repeat my earlier point: wood products recovered from industrial logging represent 15-20% of the logging that occurs on site. Wood is more carbon intensive than steel in the same application, by a lot

    (my work is at,

    It’s also not the case that removing the largest trees allows for automatic regeneration to fill their storage niche. That’s not the way it works in an actual forest. The largest trees play key roles in shading, microclimate capture of clouds, and insect predator and wildlife habitat- especially when they topple and rot on the ground for decades. If you keep logging the big trees, the forest becomes unhealthy, which means less carbon sequestration.

    RC managers- this subject is a constant source of ignorant posts and comments here on Realclimate. I suggest that you recruit a scientist who understands the forest carbon cycle to straighten all of this out. A good candidate is the guru on the subject, Dr. Harmon of Oregon State. You may also want to consider Hansen from UC Davis and Franklin from UW.

  27. 127
    David Horton says:

    #126 Thanks Mike Roddy. And I agree on a forest article for RC, although you might want to consider something on the Australian forests too.

  28. 128
    mike roddy says:

    David Horton-

    Thanks for your support. We really need to get Gavin & company up to speed here, for all of our sakes. Temperate forest carbon cycling analysis is not well understood even by a lot of biologists and forest scientists. Again, Harmon is the man here, or Mackey from Australia.

    For a Down Under perspective, Google green carbon, a book on old growth Australian eucalpyt forests, available for free on the Web. The author, Brendan Mackey, does what someone should have done here a long time ago: established natural forests as carbon baselines, not currently degraded ones. This changes everything, and in a positive way: sequestration opportunities are enormous, if we just allow natural processes to heal our terribly massacred temperate forests. No input on “management” or “fire prevention” from timber industry foresters, please!

  29. 129
    DeNihilist says:

    roddy, here is a bit of the pine beetle story, see where they mention fire supression

  30. 130
    David Horton says:

    #128 There is a current push to get native forests ground up to produce “biofuel” (I think that is the euphemism) to both use in Australia and sell elsewhere. The reason is the drop in demand for woodchips, so to keep up their profits these companies are now selling this appalling process as a source of “renewable energy”.

    And the foresters continue to provide misleading information on the use of prescribed burning, and on the need to “manage” forests. All of this at a time when my gut feeling is that Australian forests are starting to feel the direct effects of rising temperatures, and the effects of increasing bushfires.

    [Response: That’s exactly the reason that prescribed burns and thins are more needed than ever, i.e. rising temps on top of x years of fire reductions. Getting some energy or commercial product out of it is not inherently bad. A lot of it depends on how it’s done. jim]

  31. 131
    DeNihilist says:

    roddy, a bit more background for your article

  32. 132
    Thomas says:

    Mike, what do you think of the common practice of forest thinning? Usually lots of small trees and limbs are placed in piles and burned. The goal is to reduce flammability of forests which have had too many decades of fire suppression. Carbon wise, I would think burying this stuff rather than burning it might enhance carbon storage. Whatever is done we have a lot of forests which are suffering bacause of fire suppression and/or grazing. Thinning makes a tempting source for biomass.

  33. 133
    David Horton says:

    #132 Thomas – we shouldn’t be “forest thinning”. Normally the forest floor is in equilibrium between the amount of leaf, bark, twig falling and the amount rotting away and being incorporated into the soil as organic matter, returning nutrients to the forest. The litter (and fallen trees and branches) is also structurally important as the home of a huge number of small animals as well as fungi and bacteria.

    During drought this balance changes because the decomposition rate slows and therefore there is a build up. A return of wetter conditions will see it reduced again. By burning you are not only removing nutrients and structure but exposing the forest floor to drying and erosion and weed infestation. Forests don’t “need” burning, burning is bad for them, especially at short intervals. Australian plants are not adapted to fire. There is a great deal of mythology about fire in Australia, which is not helpful when we need healthy forests more than ever in the face of global warming. There is discussion of some of these issues here

    [Response: I’m sorry but most of these statements are wrong. There is a great deal of literature regarding the patterns and importance of fires in forests and elsewhere. Artificially reducing fires, and then increasing the potential evapotranspiration rate, is a recipe for disaster which is now being realized in places like the western N America. Furthermore, there are all kinds of fitness traits directly related to fire adaptation, as is well known.–Jim]

  34. 134
    Richard Woods says:

    @23 ghost:

    “My first reaction to the 4-figure barrels per day estimate was ‘hogwash; do they expect us to believe that BP would spend the enormous effort and money to drill a well that would expel only a few thousand barrels a day flowing full-open?’”

    Of course not … but _it wasn’t full-open_.

    You seem not to have followed #21’s link to the explanation of why the flow rate really did start small and increase since then — at
    (“BP’s Deepwater Oil Spill – Why the Flow Rates are Increasing and Open Thread 2”)

    Then you went on: “A four-figure bpd rate estimate was as ludicrous as the deniosaurs’ low-ball claims for the effect of fossil fuel CO2 on climate.”

    The first was not ludicrous at all; it was realistic. But your failure to inform yourself about the actual situation (hint again: NOT “full-open”) did result in your making a posting about as ludicrous as the second of those.

  35. 135
    w kensit says:

    Why argu about who measured what? I just go to U of Washington Polar Science Center and gaze in horror on their chart of Arctic Seaice Volume, now 2700 Km3 below 2007 and sinking like a rock.

  36. 136


    I know how you feel, kensit. I’ve said it before, but the other day I greeted Cryosphere Today’s map on my computer screen with profanity, so striking was the ice retreat. As much as I feel a dramatic loss of extent could be helpful politically at this point, I just can’t feel good about seeing it disappear so quickly.

    And yet–PIOMAS, the UW the ice chart model you mention, needs thickness data, and it needs much more of it if possible. Hopefully Dr. Haas’ overflight program will continue over the next couple of seasons as planned, and hopefully we’ll get shipborne and iceborne in situ measurements as well.

    Whether we like the results or not, we need to lock down as precisely as possible just how bad this situation is.

  37. 137
    mike roddy says:

    Thomas, I agree with David Horton, that forest thinning is almost always useless or counterproductive. There is no “waste” in nature, and fallen limbs and litter are needed for nutrient cycling and water capture. Biomass operators put out all kinds of bad data, about both forests and carbon.

    As for fire, it depends on the ecosystem. Western North American forests are adapted to fire, including hot ones. Most tropical forests are not, and it sounds from David as if Australian forests aren’t, either. In a North American forest, only about 20% of the site carbon ends up in the atmosphere after a fire.

    Denihilist, you’re right, and in the case of our own National Parks such as Yosemite, they do controlled burns in spring and fall to compensate for the historical shortage of lighting induced fires. Western forests are not only adapted to fire, they depend on it- and the large trees of all species generally survive, which is why older forests contain many species hundreds of years old. Their bark is thicker, and enough of the tree (especially the roots) survives fire to allow for regeneration. I also agree that fire suppression is a problem in the West, and it’s hard to fix it at this stage.

    I recommend that you google the website of George Wuerthner on this general subject. He’s a forest ecologist out of Montana.

    [Response: Where this idea that thinning is “bad” or “counterproductive” came from I don’t know, but it is very wrong. If you remove an important thinning agent (i.e. fire) from a vegetation type for an extended period of time, and that agent’s probability of increased intensity increases with it’s removal, then some type of thinning becomes necessary to reduce this risk. It is absolutely not “useless”. As for spring burning, the reasons are that (1) fires are far more controllable than they are in the summer because fuel moisture is higher, and (2) visitation rates are lower. You are correct in general on the strong adaptations to fire in W N AM, but for trees, stump/root sprouting is in general (with a few notable exceptions like redwood and some oaks) not one of them. More important are morphology features such as branch self pruning and bark thickness. Shrubs are another story however.–Jim]

  38. 138
    Thomas says:

    133,137. I was especially thinking about the forests in the US southwest, where I used to live. Especially the ponderosa pine forests are supposed to have many times the historical tree density. This is normally attributed to fire suppression, although I think grazing played a large role as well. Forest managers in this area are primarily concerned about catastrophic fires, especially in the urban forest interface area. I agree about mature forest that are in long term quasi equilibrium. But, we have a great deal of forest area that has been disturbed to a far from equilibrium state.

    [Response: Correct. Great increases in density, fuel loads, fuel connectivity, and fire risk. Far out of their long term range of variability (ROV). Huge, huge problem.–Jim]

    I am not sold on the idea, that the natural state of the forest maximizes carbon retention. I think this means that there probably exists a management regime that allows a higher density of carbon then the natural state. That doesn’t mean that present management practices do that, just that I think it likely that some unnatural perturbations increase carbon density.]

    [Response: It’s best not to use the term “natural”–too vague. Better to talk in terms of either historical ROV, or in terms of concepts like potential carrying capacity. The problem with maintaining a higher-than-historical ROV in carbon or tree density in fire prone forests, is that you increase the chance for high intensity fires.–Jim]

  39. 139
    J. Bob says:

    This quote came from an item at,

    “BP was able to have several safety checks waved because of the high-level interest by the White House and Pentagon in tapping the Gulf of Mexico bonanza”

    This bonanza was a oil field 35,000 ft. down, under the Gulf. It sounds like there is more to this story then put out by the mass media. It also may add credence to comments by other oil companies, as to the reasons BP was able to cut corners, and still get by with government safety inspections. Here is the link:

  40. 140
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Kevin McKinney and W Kensit, Quit’yer bitchin’ and hop to. There are deck chairs to rearrange…

  41. 141
    dhogaza says:

    You are correct in general on the strong adaptations to fire in W N AM, but for trees, stump/root sprouting is in general (with a few notable exceptions like redwood and some oaks) not one of them.

    Odd factoid is that the atypical stump/root sprouting of redwoods is the major reason why northern spotted owl are able to nest with some success in second-growth redwoods as long as there are large enough nesting trees available (the crown of young growth surrounding a redwood stump is perfect for wood rats, which then feed the owls, among other things)

    Totally off topic but interesting to me, at least.

    [Response: That makes two of us!–Jim]

  42. 142
    JCH says:

    In a climax forest carbon loss equals carbon gain. Wouldn’t that mean the forest floor is getting more carbon than at any other time in the forest’s existence. I think borrowing a bit of it for long-term storage is not likely to result in the eventual death of the forest.

    [Response: Yes, the amount of forest soil carbon being sequestered is maximal, but so (potentially) is the amount being respired (there’s more to decay), thus the ~ steady state. But, be careful with your first statement; “climax forest” is a term with a long history, which originally denoted ~ stasis wrt species composition (i.e. succession near its endpoint). It may or may not mean that carbon has been maximized–depending on the forest type involved. I agree in general with your last statement.–Jim]

  43. 143
    David Horton says:

    JIm, I’m sorry but the statements are not “wrong”, I am talking about Australian forests where the idea that “there are all kinds of fitness traits directly related to fire adaptation” is simply mythology. Forests (and some individual trees) can survive fire, like they can survive other disasters, by a range of adaptations. But these are not adaptations to fire and indeed most Australian shrubs and trees while they may or may not survive a single fire will certainly not survive the series of fires of prescribed burning. Whether that is true for American forests I don’t know.

    [Response: David, you cannot be serious. Australia is one of the type cases for plant adaptation to fire. What do you call epicormic and lignotuber sprouts in the Eucalypts, neutral mutations from genetic drift? There is a suite of universally recognized plant adaptations to fire, many of them related to reproductive/regeneration strategies, and you will find them all in Australia ]

    And as for the essential nature of “thinning” this is forest manager talk. How do you imagine the forests survived without the graduates of forestry schools looking after them prior to a few thousand (indeed a few hundred) years ago?

    [Response: Yes it sure is, forest manager and scientist talk. It’s not a question of forest survival. It’s a question of trying to undo mismanagement of the natural fire regime over the last century plus, i.e. ecological restoration to a more stable state to prevent catastrophic fire in the future. That is objective #1, and deservedly so, from many angles–Jim]

  44. 144

    Ray (#140)–

    Rearrange deck chairs? I’m in the band, and “Nearer My God To Thee” is too low in Eb for the current vocalist.

  45. 145
    Matthew Adams says:

    Why did the rate of global warming on the temperature of the earth “become” less over the last ten years. How much co2 is being released per day from the oil spill.

  46. 146
    Andrew Hobbs says:

    #133 David Horton

    With regard to fire and Australian forests. Many of the points you make with regard to fire are generally wrong, though they may be correct is some specific situations.
    For a start many Australian plants do have strong adaptations for fire.
    1. After fire many eucalypts and other trees can rapidly regenerate entire foliage from completely blackened denuded trunks and branches. This is because of the presence of numerous epicormic buds buried deeply within the very thick bark (which itself helps protect the tree from fire.
    2. Many plants have seed pods (many eucalypts, Banksias etc) that will retain their seeds for many years until soon after being burnt.
    3. The propogation of numerous Australian plants has been a major horticultural problem for revegetation projects etc. Collected seed for many species had negligable levels of germination. That is until fairly recently when it was realized that exposing the seeds to the smoke of burning vegetable matter stimulates hugely the rates of germination. In some cases germination rates have risen from negligable to almost 100%. In fact I often buy packets of ‘smoke’ to added to native seeds collected from the bush to increase germination rates.
    4. The very high oil content of eucalyptus leaves itself has been considered an adaptation to increase chances of fire and hence increase its chances of reproduction in competition with other plants.
    Secondly, many Australian soils have very low fertility and much of the fertility they do have is because of high levels of charcoal which helps with soil structure and water retention. Presumably this charcoal has come from fires burning through the forests (Not sure of any other likely source). The level of charcoal can be quite high. Agriculture has caused a fairly rapid loss of this charcoal, partly because there is no replenishment due to fire.
    However I also believe you are correct in opposing very frequent burn offs as part of forest management. Many Australian forests are very floristically diverse with a rich variety of species (unlike forests in many other parts of the world) many of which can take years to mature and produce seed. Frequent burnoffs can turn such diverse forests into monoculture tree farms fairly quickly. In addition the forest litter is important for the fauna population. As an example, the Department of Environment and Conservation in Western Australia recommend a burn off cycle of 52 years, with intervals of 13 years, 13 years and 26 years. This is not necessarily optimum for anything, but the best tradeoff between fire control requirements and ecological sustainability.

  47. 147
    David Horton says:

    #143 Jim, no, I’m sorry. The adaptations that are referred to as “fire adaptation” are simply general adaptations to recovery after disaster (storm, flood, drought) and can also assist recovery, in some species, after a fire disaster. That some species are able to recover after fire does not mean they are adapted to fire, and it most emphatically does not men they need fire to survive.

    [Response: Baloney. Why do a number of the eucalypts have deeply buried epicormic buds and/or bud primordia in the cambium or even the outer xylem, if not to protect them from excessive heat and provide an immense competitive advantage after a fire (to give just one example)? Read the work of Burrows and others, e.g: Burrows, 2002. Epicormic strand structure in Angophora, Eucalyptus and Lophostemon (Myrtaceae) – implications for fire resistance and recovery. New Phytologist 153:111-31.]

    And mismanagement of a natural fire regime? Well, maybe, if you include in that the mismanagement of “prescribed burning”. But having said that it is clear that we have so altered the landscape with land clearing, weed infestation, roads, splitting up forests into small units, grazing and so on, that we can’t really allow the natural regime of occasional big fires, even if you could ignore (which you can’t) the presence of homes, businesses, infrastructure, in fire prone areas and the need to protect them. Have a look at some of the stuff I’ve written about this at length. It really isn’t possible to discuss this at length in this format.

    [Response:1. No, mismanagement in the sense of drastically altering the historical spatio-temporal disturbance dynamic without considering the possible consequences, such as system stability and resilience. 2. Prescribed burning is not mis-managed except in the sense that there is not nearly enough of it in many places. 3. The fragmentation of the landscape helps prevent fire spread, but it does not generally reduce fire intensity in those areas with elevated fuel loads. 4. I have read some of your writings and I find them to be in direct contradiction to consensus scientific understanding on even the most basic fundamentals and that you have some rather severe misconceptions on the nature of fire, fire management, vegetation and climate change. That is obviously going to raise some objections at a site devoted to opposing such things.]

  48. 148
    David Horton says:

    #145 Andrew, sorry, but no. Don’t want to go through it in detail here, check out what I have written. But briefly – recovering after damage is not an adaptation to fire per se; most eucalypts don’t have thick bark; seed pods are adaptation to drought, not fire. In fact opening inadvertently, after fire is not a good thing; All plants respond to smoke, it is just a function of being a plant, not fire adaptation. The ingredient is obtained as readily from burning straw as leaves; may trees in other countries contain oil and burn just as fiercely. The oils are an adaptation to pests and herbivores, and drought – why would you think a tree would adapt to make itself burn more fiercely?; Fertility doesn’t come from charcoal – and burning leaf litter and the top few inches of soil removes organic matter.

  49. 149
    DeNihilist says:

    So a simple question on biochar gets all of this. Simply wonderful!
    Thanx to all so far, I have really learned a lot.

  50. 150


    “But wait, there’s more!”

    Here’s a link to multiple sources discussing biochar use to increase soil fertility and sequester carbon; there’s some discussion of FF industry disinformation.

    Included is Dr. Bill Woods’ book, “Amazonian Dark Earths”–he is at U Kansas and has DVDs on the topic available if you ask nicely.

    The Wikipedia entry on “biochar” is quite substantial, fairly recently updated, and has lots of references to pursue. (I won’t link to it, since finding it will present no problems!)