Everyday entropy: lightning in a bottle


The top spots for lightning strikes are in the Congo basin and Orinoco rainforests.  The rate of energy and entropy cycling through these ecosystems exceeds that of anyplace else on the planet.  The compactness of these ecosystems means that they harbour more information and energy in the form of unique DNA and molecular bonds forming and breaking than anywhere else on earth.  The Amazon may be bigger, but the Orinoco and Congo are more concentrated and have better access to moist ocean air cycling up through the canopy.  Presumably, the lightning itself is a function of the rate of evaporation in the rainforest basin, which is astronomical, but the thunderstorms are also symbolic of the incredible rate of recycling of energy and entropy in the tropical forests.  It is important to understand that the evaporation is driven by respiration, not radiation, although light from the sun makes the whole process possible.  It is also significant that the rate of evaporation actually increases as you move east with the wind across the rainforest, but I’m not sure why.

Because the entropy and energy in the forest passes through its organisms at the level of individual molecules, you can’t really talk about either one in relation to the forest as a whole.  All forests have a tremendous amount of free energy at any given time and a tremendous rate of entropic recycling, but because the energy is almost perfectly distributed throughout the organisms, the free energy can’t be separated from the entropy without wholesale extraction.  Then the cycle stops recycling entropy into energy and the entropy takes over.  “The average amount of carbon locked up in trees in the primary forests has been estimated at 243 tonnes per hectare, compared with 49 tonnes per hectare in logged forest and just 4 tonnes per hectare within palm plantations.”  Like lightning, the carbon capture in a forest is a good indication of the entropy cycle, as carbon serves as the delivery bus for all active molecules.  This leaves an open question as to whether the forest cycle of energy and entropy can be tapped without system-wide collapse.  More importantly, how do you avoid the temptation to cut and run with the profits?


Note how difficult it is to imagine reforestation.  On this map it looks like the endless suburbs from Washington D.C. up to New York City are all now forestland  when the reality is that these areas have increasing biomass because they hit rock bottom.  They were so completely developed that it was physically impossible to clear any more forest away.  After that point, biomass had to increase.  Additionally, the trees planted along the new suburban streets in the seventies and eighties have matured.  What is significant is that where there are still forests, there is deforestation.


“Nationally, the total forest cover loss was approximately 90,400 km2, roughly the size of the state of Maine, constituting a decline of 2.96%. Examining the spatial arrangement of this change the average FAD was 3674m in 1992 and increased by 514m or 14.0% in 2001. Simulations of forest cover loss indicate only a 10m FAD increase suggesting that the observed FAD increase was more than an order of magnitude higher than expected. Furthermore, forest attrition is considerably higher in the western United States, in rural areas and in public lands.”  http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0171383

Forests are preserved where they have symbolic value and people have enough money to protect them.  “While people in the sticks are losing their forests, the relationship between urban dwellers and trees is a love story. Dating back to when President Thomas Jefferson denounced the removal of trees that cooled the new capital city as “a crime little short of murder,” Jill Jonnes wrote in her book, “Urban Forests,” city slickers have fought to defend the little green space they get.

Rock Creek Park in the District of Columbia, Central Park in New York, Piedmont Park in Atlanta, Griffith Park in Los Angeles, and Golden Gate Park in San Francisco are examples of urban forests that are fussed over, pampered and protected by law. They are also cherished gathering places that help define their cities.

The remote areas that Americans have come to know as wild lands are being whittled away by farms, development and wildfire, particularly in the West, Mountrakis said. Arizona, Colorado and Nevada saw significant attrition or separation of forests, according to the satellite images.”  https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2017/02/22/americans-once-moved-away-from-forests-now-forests-are-moving-away-from-americans/?utm_term=.aaea685a6f6f

There is no handle on what deforestation means http://www.bioenergyconnection.org/article/woods-turning-forests-energy.  “Perhaps the biggest question for woody bioenergy is whether policy can mend the gap between those who see an underutilized resource that can address climate change and provide other sustainability benefits, and those who fear that our forest will be pillaged to feed our energy addiction.

Right now, Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) regulations are a patchwork at federal, state and local levels. California has the most comprehensive set of bioenergy policies in the U.S., if not the entire world, much of it focused on the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, says Jody Endres, an assistant professor of law at the University of Illinois’ Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences. (See “Tangled Up in Green”)”

Congo rainforest deforestation: the challenge of even measuring deforestation:
Taiga (boreal) deforestation: http://www1.american.edu/TED/TAIGA.HTM



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