Accelerated Tree Mortality Alarms Water Educator Sharon Kleyne

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Sharon Kleyne Cites Research of International Team of Scientists Exploring Causes of Tree Mortality in Moist Tropics. Tree Mortality Threatens Earth’s Oxygen Supply Says Sharon Kleyne.

Sharon Kleyne, host of the nationally syndicated radio program, The Sharon Kleyne Hour Power of Water, Global Climate Change and Your Health sponsored by Nature’s Tears® EyeMist® on VoiceAmerica, is concerned that trees in the moist tropics are dying at twice the rate that they were 35 years ago.

So finds an international team of scientists led by Nate McDowell of the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. In a study published in February 2018 in the journal New Phytologist, McDowell and his co-authors identify several factors that are driving the increase in tree mortality. According to Kleyne, these factors include increasing temperatures and carbon dioxide levels, fires, drought, insect infestation, potent storms and an increase of woody vines called lianas.

But according to the international team of scientists, tropical tree mortality mostly comes down to two phenomena: ‘carbon starvation’ as a result of lack of food and ‘hydraulic failure’ due to lack of water. “Water,” says Kleyne, “is the breath of life. As trees become dehydrated, they are no longer capable of producing sufficient oxygen in the atmosphere. Water loss means loss of the breath of life.”

McDowell points out that some might think that since rising global temperatures are related to increasing levels of carbon monoxide, that this tree food source would result in thriving trees. Unfortunately, higher temperatures strangle trees’ ability to absorb CO2. Higher temperatures also dehydrate trees. This occurs because of stomata—tiny pores on leaves and needles that are channels through which trees absorb CO2 and cool through evaporation. Hot, dry trees try to conserve moisture by closing their stomata. When the stomata close, though, the tree can no longer absorb CO2. “It’s like going to an all-you-can-eat buffet with duct tape over your mouth,” McDowell says.

McDowell’s team says that moist tropical trees play an essential role in Earth's ability to regulate carbon dioxide, absorbing much more carbon proportionally than all the other forests of the world combined. Their deaths reduce the planet's ability to cope with high levels of CO2. "Trees have a great ability to survive, but there is only so much they can withstand,” McDowell adds. “The question we now face is identifying those thresholds so we can predict risk to tropical forests.”

Kleyne, also the co-founder and research director at Bio-Logic Aqua® Research Water Life Science®, hopes that additional research and studies will discover solutions that can turn around this disturbing, life-threatening trend in tropical tree mortality. “We must protect our oxygen sources at all costs,” says Kleyne, “and that means protecting the trees in tropical forests. Kleyne also believes that better education about this issue and political activism can lead to more funding for research and development of viable solutions to this crisis of tropical tree mortality.

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