California’s Fog Is Clearing, and That’s Bad News for Redwoods

By Andrew Moseman | February 16, 2010 10:54 am

redwoodIt’s not easy to survive century after century, through droughts and storms and oscillations of the climate. So California’s majestic coastal redwoods have developed a few tricks, like their great height: The trees can grow to more than 350 feet high, allowing their treetops to pull in moisture from the fog to keep their water levels refreshed. But, according to a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the fog is on the decline, which could spell trouble for redwoods and other area species.

Fog often rolls ashore along the California coast from June through September. The hot, dry inland air rises and creates a vacuum that sucks in the cold, vaporous air from over the ocean [Wired.com]. While the small strip of land about 50 miles inland from the coast where the redwoods live is dry and hot, this influx of moisture keeps the giant trees hydrated.

To obtain a historical record of coastal fog, the researchers looked at data on ceiling heights recorded hourly at several airports from 1951 to 2008. And they extrapolated back to 1901 using long-term land temperature data [The New York Times]. With the sea becoming warmer, less fog formed in the first place: Coastal fog cover decreased by more than an hour a day since 1951, researchers Todd Dawson and James Johnstone found. Temperature changes affected the fog, too. The coast has heated up faster than the redwood’s inland habitat, lessening the temperature difference between the two, which lowers the force pulling the fog inland. As a result of all this, the scientists propose that the redwoods receive at least three hours less fog per day in the summer than they used to.

Redwoods are tough enough to survive anyway, the researchers say, but there’s another problem. “As fog decreases, the mature redwoods along the coast are not likely to die outright, but there may be less recruitment of new trees” [Reuters], says Dawson. That means fewer seeds are likely to sprout and take root along the coast, and then to grow to maturity. In addition, climate scientist Phil Duffy tells Wired.com that we shouldn’t focus exclusively on the towering, awe-inspiring sequoias, because lower levels of fog will affect many ecosystems that rely on it for moisture.

Related Content:
DISCOVER: The Strange Forests That Drink—And Eat—Fog
DISCOVER: The Life, Death, And Life of a Tree
Discoblog: Treehuggers vs. Solar Supporters: Who Cares More About the Environment?
80beats: Is Google the Guardian Angel of Rainforests?

Image: flickr / morgenlandfahrer

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Living World
  • Cory

    I just find it hilarious that there is concern about trees that have lived for centuries over half a century of semi-solid data, and a further half century of pure guesswork.

  • terra incognita

    I find it appalling that you find climate change hilarious. Any reputable, peer respected climate researcher (i.e. those that don’t work/shill for energy interests) will tell you its happening now and is increasing geometrically, and likely (eventually) exponentially. There is a vast amount of defensible data that ecosystems throughout the world are changing due to decreases in moisture & increases in temperature. But I suppose if it doesn’t affect you directly it doesn’t matter and is game for ridicule.

  • Claire

    It is simply outrageous that climate change denialists can’t see the forest for the trees.
    I guess greed trumps everything else, including salvation of the planet’s delicate ecosystems. Don’t these people have grandchildren?

  • Bill

    It is outrageous to me that climate change alarmists are quick to attack skeptics like me by accusing us of not caring about the earth or that we are shills for big corporations. These shrill pronouncements detract from the real debate. Oh and yes it is a real debate. The government stands to make more money than private companies if it enacts a cap and trade type tax. This is an example of people politicizing science for ulterior motives, so I ask simply “who are the greedy ones?” I teach science so I am a big believer in the science peer review process, but when I see data fudged to fit an ideology then I am right in questioning the science. Speaking of shills, this magazine is a shill for big government and if the government is allowed to legislate against “climate change” then the cost to us will be great. The middle class to the poor will be hit hard financially and would be a great burden to the average citizen. We as a world can’t afford the burden that would come with any new taxes or forced changes in our existence. I could argue this all day because there are so many points to bring up that need to be considered by the alarmists but the problem is, and why I generally don’t engage in this discussion, that the alarmists generally just shrilly attack those that don’t agree with them and consider us unworthy of debate since we are obviously to stupid to understand, in other words Global warming is a religion for those who insist it is true and that we should act now. I can argue a strong case for global warming just as I can against it, I suggest you alarmists look at both sides objectively so you can make a more reasonable points and not just attack those that don’t agree with you.
    Remember that once this subject became politicized then it lost much of it’s scientific credibility and why less than 10% of Americans see this as a real issue.

  • Walt

    Fog is as thick and far reaching s as ever. Temp maybe or just a ploy study or ploydy.

    Guess they want a case for Global scamming, I mean warming.

    Another study in vanity. They aught to name the Science Journals ‘Vanity Fair’ Science 101.

  • Cory

    @2. I find this instance, where people are flipping out over fifty years of inferred data, to be hilarious. Good job blindly jumping down my throat — you are far more hilarious than this study, rest assured.

  • Mike

    I do not understand the positions of the anti-climate change mentality. It’s like they attack anything seemingly “green/liberal” – anything to do with preservation or pollution control.

    Even if proved there was no man made climate change, why is it so “liberal/Al Gore/Evil” (in the right wingers mind) to lower pollution levels?

    All I know is that the majority of people I meet who do not believe in man made climate change, or do not care about obsessive consumption/expansion or pollution control have no background in science, are christian, are very conservative and are more concerned about whether or not two dudes can get married in SF than they are about the health of the planet and its species diversity.

    I was recently home in Burnet Texas and heard (from family and friends) nothing but anti liberal, anti global warming spew. Mostly coming from people who don’t even know what photosynthesis is, believe God wants the best for them (and nobody else). I have never met a right wing, conservative who has much knowledge of science beyond what they are told on FOX NEWS or from Rush radio show. I’ll put my faith in the scientist in the field…….not some obese christian skeptic who bends over for corporations and the GOP.

  • Bill

    I anticipated this type of response. First of all first hand anecdotal evidence such as all the people you know who don’t believe in it are such and such is not evidence that you are correct in your opinion that global warming is real. A typical liberal argument is conservatives are too ignorant to understand or they listen to a TV station or a radio commentator to get their opinions. Lefties don’t like to admit that the opinions of those who are different than theirs could be held by intelligent, insightful, non biased people. I am a conservative. I am a science teacher. I am from Texas. I believe and teach the theory of evolution. I am a global warming skeptic. I don’t believe that the ends justify the means, in other words it isn’t ok to create a catastrophe scenario to scare people into cleaning up the environment. Conservatives want the environment as clean as the lefties. To claim I am in the pockets of the Corporations is an argument no more meaningful as me claiming a lefty is in the pockets of the government. Conservatives do not get their opinions from the media. If you watch or listen to the media you denigrate then you may understand that. Christians ( I am not one) in my opinion are an important part of our society. For the ignorance they bring to the homosexual debate they offer so much more to society that is positive. The idea of raising ones kids to be honest and hardworking and faithful is a good thing. Most republicans, contrary to leftist mantra, are not hard line christian just like most dems aren’t radical lefties. The left argues by marginalizing their ideological opponents using aforementioned techniques. Rarely do they make consistent logical points to support their argument. When they are right they do. I know this goes against leftist dogma but I strongly feel this is true. This is why a foxnews can exist and an MSNBC is dying. Here is a shocker WE THINK FOR OURSELVES. Oh and it confounds me that lefties bring up Fox news or Rush. That is not an argument ever for any point ever. Can you imagine if I said “well you’re wrong because you listen to Keith Olberman.” I would laugh myself out of town.

  • Damian

    Bill, I think what most people who aren’t republican tend to hear from republicans is how important money is, and how saving the environment will somehow affect how much money people make. This line of thinking kills me, money at best is a fleeting abstract concept while the earth is a little more substatial. Certain Industry is quite pervasive and can no way be susstained without eventually ruining things for us and the planet. It’s ok to make money but we need to be pro-active about saving the only planet we have at the moment. Can you honeslty say that 6+ billion people on earth all making some sort of impact isn’t affecting the environment? It’s only going to get worse as we keep making more & more children. Denying there is a problem until the problem is a crisis is no way to work. Stop worrying so much about your savings account and start thinking about how we can possibly keep going the way we are for the foreseeable future without a true tragedy occuring.

  • Bill

    Well being a conservative with conservative friends who reads many conservative blogs I can honestly and unabashedly tell you that the myth of the money grubbing republican is a myth. This is once again an example of the media marginalizing the conservatives to discount their points. The left has their fingers deep in corporate pockets too and would be naive to think differently. This issue, in my opinion, is about governments grabbing power by using a scare tactic to gather their forces. All people worry about the environment but I do not believe that overstating the problem to solve the problem is the way to go. I would posit that the US is cleaner and less polluted than it was when I was a kid in the 60’s and 70’s but this is anecdotal so can’t swear to it. I do think people affect the earth but not to the degree the alarmists claim. TO simply say it is about money is missing the point. Any action taken by the government will amount to a large tax on the poor and middle class to “fix” something that may not be fixable. The leaders pushing this don’t care about the environment they care about the power they will gain and the money that comes with it. This is a 2 sided coin and to simply state the the right is stupid and wants money and hates the environment while claiming the left loves the earth and are completely altruistic and are willing to sacrifice everything to save it is so naive that I am tempted to play the stupid card in my favor. There is a way to help the environment but the legislation I am seeing is a far cry from what we need.

  • Ed Marston

    Just last July, scientists were saying just the opposite. They really need to get their Global Warming stories straight. This is embarrassing.

    http://articles.sfgate.com/2009-07-06/entertainment/17218478_1_warming-fog-vapor-cloud

    Get ready for even foggier summers
    July 06, 2009|By Janny Hu, Chronicle Staff Writer

    The Bay Area just had its foggiest May in 50 years. And thanks to global warming, it’s about to get even foggier. That’s the conclusion of several state researchers, whose soon-to-be-published study predicts that even with average temperatures on the rise, the mercury won’t be soaring everywhere. “There’ll be winners and losers,” says Robert Bornstein, a meteorology professor at San Jose State University. “Global warming is warming the interior part of California, but it leads to a reverse reaction of more fog along the coast.”

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