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Beetle-infested pine trees contribute more to air pollution and haze in forests

Date:
May 23, 2012
Source:
American Chemical Society
Summary:
The hordes of bark beetles that have bored their way through more than six billion trees in the western US and British Columbia since the 1990s do more than damage and kill pine, spruce and other trees. A new study finds that these pests can make trees release up to 20 times more of the organic substances that foster haze and air pollution in forested areas.

Bark beetle.
Credit: US Forest Service

The hordes of bark beetles that have bored their way through more than 6 billion trees in the western U.S. and British Columbia since the 1990s do more than damage and kill stately pine, spruce and other trees. A new study finds that these pests can make trees release up to 20 times more of the organic substances that foster haze and air pollution in forested areas. It appears in ACS' journal Environmental Science & Technology.

Kara Huff Hartz, Gannet Hallar and colleagues explain that western North America is experiencing a population explosion of mountain pine beetles, a type of bark beetle that damages and kills pines and other trees. The beetles bore into the bark of pine trees to lay eggs. Gases, called volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which act as defense mechanisms against the beetles, are released from the bore holes. VOCs, however, also contribute to the smog and haze that obscures views of natural landscapes in U.S. National Parks and other nature areas where tourists gather in the summertime. To determine exactly how beetle attacks affect the atmosphere, the researchers measured VOC levels in the air near healthy and infected pine trees.

They found that beetle-infested trees release up to 20 times more VOCs than healthy trees near the ground surface. The predominant type of VOC was a monoterpene called ß-phellandrene. The data suggest that the bark beetle epidemic in the western U.S. could have led to higher monoterpene concentrations in the air that can contribute to haze, which can harm human health, reduce visibility and impact climate, say the researchers.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by American Chemical Society. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Hardik Amin, P. Tyson Atkins, Rachel S. Russo, Aaron W. Brown, Barkley Sive, A. Gannet Hallar, Kara E. Huff Hartz. Effect of Bark Beetle Infestation on Secondary Organic Aerosol Precursor Emissions. Environmental Science & Technology, 2012; 120511074559003 DOI: 10.1021/es204205m

Cite This Page:

American Chemical Society. "Beetle-infested pine trees contribute more to air pollution and haze in forests." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 May 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/05/120523115045.htm>.
American Chemical Society. (2012, May 23). Beetle-infested pine trees contribute more to air pollution and haze in forests. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 1, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/05/120523115045.htm
American Chemical Society. "Beetle-infested pine trees contribute more to air pollution and haze in forests." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/05/120523115045.htm (accessed October 1, 2014).

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Bark Beetle May Impact Air Quality, Climate

May 23, 2012 — If you've traveled to a forested national park out West in recent years, you may have noticed two things. First, a growing number of lodgepole pine trees are dying, victims of the bark beetle. ... read more

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