Why are the Great Smoky Mountains smoky?

I don’t know why, but I woke up today thinking about terpenes.  Probably because the skies down here in the Delta have been hazy lately and I have to stay here another couple more days.  In any case, I believe what you wake up thinking about is usually what you are most passionate about for good or ill.  Then I went outside and saw the biggest meteorite I’ve seen in a long time.  Since terpenes that woke me up so I could see that meteorite, terpenes are in my cross-hairs.

Great-Smoky-Mountains-National-Park1President Ronald Reagan said in 1981. “Trees cause more pollution than automobiles,”  After the poor fool and tool was much pooh-poohed by the scornful and supercilious left, environmental scientists ruefully confirmed he was partially right. Especially in hot weather, trees release volatile organic hydrocarbons, some of which are terpenes.  Terpenes from trees act as catalysts to increase the rate at which sunlight breaks down oxides of nitrogen – mostly from agriculture and cars – to produce atmospheric ozone.  Ozone is great stuff high in the trophosphere where ti keep UV radiation out.  It’s no good down where we live, according to most health experts.

In very hot weather, the production of terpenes accelerates.  The terpenes released by trees appears to have a cloud-seeding effect to stimulate rain if enough moisture is in the atmosphere.  Maybe that’s what’s happening here in Arkansas.  The plants are trying to get it to rain.  The clouds formed around terpene molecules allow the forest to make its vicinity cooler.

America’s Great Smoky Mountains take their name from the smog caused by millions of hectares of pines.

Terpenes are produced by a variety of plants and even insects such as termites and swallowtail butterflies, but mainly by pines and other conifers.

The name “terpene” is derived from the word “turpentine” which is produced from the resin of pine trees.  Terpenes are also major biosynthetic building blocks within nearly every living creature. Steroids, for example, are derivatives of the terpene called squalene.

Terpenes are often strong-smelling. They protect the plants that produce them by deterring herbivores and by attracting predators and parasites of herbivores. Terpenes are the primary constituents of the essential oils of many types of plants and flowers. Vitamin A is a terpene. Essential oils are used widely as fragrances in perfumes, medicines and  aromatherapy.

I really don’t think terpene essential oils can cure depression or any other mental problems.  They might help, but depression is caused by people who punish you no matter what you do–like hell fire and brimstone preachers or mean mothers.  When that happens as a child, you internalize it and you begin to punish yourself no matter what you do or don’t do.  Terpenes and other anti-depressive medicines can only mask it.  The depression lingers on and will rear its ugly head in other ways.

The aroma and flavor of hops, which some like in beer, comes from terpenes.  Beer also is no cure for depression, but it can make the opposite sex look more attractive.  The famous beer goggle effect.

Terpenes are released by trees more actively in warmer weather, acting as a natural form of cloud seeding. The clouds reflect sunlight, allowing the forest to regulate its temperature.

Ozone is three bonded molecules of oxygen. High in the stratosphere it is a godsend, screening out cancer-causing ultraviolet radiation. But in the lower atmosphere it is a toxin: it causes stinging eyes, prickling nostrils and aggravates severe respiratory problems. In the really hot 2003 summer in Europe, more than 500 British deaths were attributed to ozone pollution.

Terpene specific activity regarding air pollution is to break down nitrogen oxides.  Nitrogen dioxide is the real problem. Nitrogen oxides (NOx) consist of nitric oxide (NO), nitrogen dioxide (which is similar to synthetic fertilizer) and nitrous oxide ((N2O)) and are formed when nitrogen combines with oxygen.

Nitric oxide has no colour, odour, or taste and is non-toxic. In the air it is rapidly oxidized to nitrogen dioxide.

Nitrous oxide is a colourless, slightly sweet-smelling, non-toxic gas which accounts for about 5% of the greenhouse gases produced by man’s activities. Man-made nitrous oxide is used as the anaesthetic commonly called “laughing gas”.

Nitrogen oxides occur naturally. In nature, they are a result of bacterial processes, biological growth and decay, lightning, and forest and grassland fires. The primary source of man-made nitrogen oxides is from the burning of fossil fuels in cars, trucks and power plants.

Of the nitrogen oxides emitted, most is nitric oxide, some is nitrous oxide and less than 10 per cent is nitrogen dioxide. The amount of nitrogen dioxide emitted varies with the temperature of combustion; as temperature increases so does the level of nitrogen dioxide.

Agriculture, fossil fuel combustion, wastewater management, and industrial processes are increasing the amount of N2O in the atmosphere. Nitrous oxide molecules stay in the atmosphere for an average of 114 years before being removed by a sink or destroyed through chemical reactions. The impact of 1 pound of N2O on warming the atmosphere is almost 300 times that of 1 pound of carbon dioxide.

In 2013, nitrous oxide (N2O) accounted for about 5% of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from human activities, according to the EPA. Globally, about 40% of total N2O emissions come from human activities. 

Agriculture is the biggest culprit in nitrous oxide production. Improper use of synthetic fertilizers is the largest source of N2O emissions in the United States, accounting for about 74% of total U.S. N2O emissions in 2013. Nitrous oxide is also emitted during the breakdown of nitrogen in livestock manure and urine, which contributed to 5% of N2O emissions in 2013.

Nitrous oxide is also generated as a byproduct during the production of nitric acid, which is used to make synthetic commercial fertilizer, and in the production of adipic acid, which is used to make fibers, like nylon, and other synthetic products.

Nitrous oxide is removed from the atmosphere when it is absorbed by certain types of bacteria or destroyed by ultraviolet radiation or chemical reactions.  So we could blast the earth with UV or coat it with bacteria and get rid of the stuff.  Might get rid of humans too.  That would sure reduce human-caused pollution.

I’m getting depressed just thinking about terpenes, nitrous oxide and pollution.  Maybe I need some terpene essential oil aromatherapy to get in a better mood.  Or I could just become a climate-denier and stick my head in the sand.  I’ll bet when I go to church in a few minutes I’ll be distracted from this depressing topic.  Hope so.

Or I could start a campaign against synthetic nitrogen fertilizer, but that already exists, its called organic agriculture.  And, anyway, the sources of nitrogen used in organic agriculture also forms nitrous oxide.  There is no hope.  Except to reduce the human population of the world.  I’m not going to volunteer though.


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