The Fish Story

Frigid Isn’t Cold Enough to Kill Boring Beetles; Sinking Ocean Bottoms Could Spark Tsunamis

By JAY MANN | Jan 10, 2018

I’m back at work … alert the media. Oh, that’s right, I am the media.

As I continue to bemoan my winter-ruint vacation, I need to get my head back on a news swivel – so much so that I’m raptly attentive to any story ideas you might have, including local folks of interest and/or odd and curious goings-on hereabouts. To be sure, our corner of the coast harbors some fascinating folks and curious happenings. Bring ’em on.

While our recent snow is the obvious welcome-back story, it will take quite a while before towns are able to assess how much it cost to clean up after the January Blizzard of 2018. Come on, it’s fun to name things. Notice I didn’t add “Great” to that name. I recall a blizzard back in 1978 that was greatly greater. You recall that one, right? This is its 40th anniversary.

As to those cleanup expenses, I wonder how much a single dump truck of road salt costs, though I have no doubt that fuel costs and overtime for public works folks will be the meatiest part of the “storm expense” for municipalities. Blizzards don’t come cheaply.

Quietly outdistancing the snowflakes were numbing, below-zero night temps. I heard of an official -4 in the Pines; a bank sign in Little Egg Township sported a recordish -8.

BUG ME: I was asked if those way-negative night readings might be enough to finally kill off the hideously destructive southern pine beetle (SPB) ravaging many Pinelands areas. Close … but no dead-beetle cigar. I was told by a cranberry farmer that it must hit -10 before it’s positively lights-out for this indigenous bark beetle.

Note: The southern pine beetle is not invasive. It has simply perpetuated, mightily, in recent years – moving northward from its main haunts in the southeast U.S. Our area’s overall warming seems to be at the root of the boring bugs’ ravenous expansion.

In the East, SPB destroyed $1.7 billion worth of timber between 1990 and 2014.

Not much larger than a rice grain, a southern pine beetle saps the life out of pine trees by feeding on the tissue immediately under a tree’s bark. When dining by the thousands, even old-growth trees can be victimized, as was the case along Hilliard Boulevard in Stafford, where some of the area’s largest pine trees were slowly killed by the tiny buggers. I’ve collected bark specimens from those fallen trees, and the inside of the bark looks like some complex inner-city road system, with crisscrossing bore trails showing where the beetles dined to their appetite’s content.

But it’s not just the beetle that puts pine trees to rest. The crafty insects employ a nasty form of biological warfare to fight the natural insecticidal defenses of the trees. Part and parcel to the SPB tree-chewing process are a group of cooperative fungi, cover termed blue stain fungi. These fungi – which, in fact, leave a bluish stain behind – live harmoniously with the beetles, forming a cozy, so-called symbiotic relationship between the two. The fungi neutralize the pine’s defensive chemistry, allowing both the fungi and the beetles to dine freely – before moving on to nearby tree stands.

With southern NJ containing an estimated 440,000 acres of pinelands, this destructive duo has become a gnawing-away nightmare, one that might be decently damaged by this current deep freeze but likely not neutralized, in a military sense.

THAT SINKING FEELING … AND TSUNAMIS: Follow me here because I’m embarking on a matter that surely touches on our coastal existence. A new and startling study has found the waters of planet Earth are putting a monumental squeeze on ocean bottoms, a squeeze that might actually keep us a tad higher and drier in a sea-rise way, while leaving us in the path of hurri-quakes and tsunamis. I’ll explain.

Stunning satellite-based data is clearly showing ocean bottoms are being pressed upon – to the max. They’re under the weighty influence of climate change’s melting ice caps, far more than shorelines.

First of all, don’t go zipping past this segment merely upon hearing it’s about good old rising sea levels. This go-around, I have some shockingly new news, as in: The sea is not rising, it’s sinking – at least for the time being. In fact, arriving topographical findings of ocean bottom contours are so significant that experts are hurriedly readjusting predictions regarding how fast and far ashore sea rise will move upon us.

Per an article in headlined “The Bottom of the Ocean Is Sinking” written by Mindy Weisberger, the melting ice sheets and glaciers are unquestionably swelling Earth’s oceans. However, with all the water entering the sea “comes an unexpected consequence,” writes Weisberger. “The weight of the additional liquid is pressing down on the seafloor, causing it to sink.”

Weisberger is drawing on a Geophysical Research Letter published by AGU Publications, titled “Ocean Bottom Deformation Due to Present-Day Mass Redistribution and Its Impact on Sea Level Observations.” I apologize for going a tad technical here, but I feel compelled to pass on a heady segment taken directly from the introduction to that research letter on increases in the water mass of all oceans.

“Present-day mass redistribution increases the total ocean mass and, on average, causes the ocean bottom to subside elastically. Therefore, barystatic sea level rise is larger than the resulting global mean geocentric sea level rise, observed by satellite altimetry and GPS-corrected tide gauges. We use realistic estimates of mass redistribution from ice mass loss and land water storage to quantify the resulting ocean bottom deformation and its effect on global and regional ocean volume change estimates.”

Believe me when I say the above paragraph has helped me answer a climate change quandary that has bugged me since global warming was first invented. For at least the past decade, I’ve been oft-pissily asking, “Where’s all this sea rise you’re talking about!?”

I had become increasingly irritable over an apparent disconnect between sea rise predictions and the obvious fact the seas weren’t responding all that well to said predictions. My irritability came from being told I must abandon the coast due to rapidly rising sea levels. All I’ve seen rising rapidly are storm intensity levels, which is a different, albeit highly related, matter of warming seas empowering cyclones and tempests.

As to sea level rise, my dubiousness about anyone truly knowing when and where it will play out made me a pariah among sea-rise aficionados – even though I fully agreed that oceans are warming, dangerously, and that ice caps are melting, most visibly via disappearing world-class glaciers. But there is also no denying the seas simply aren’t rising to the occasion. Neither are telltale tidal gauges, nor anecdotal evidence.

Might the ocean bottom sinkage account for at least some neutralization of sea rise? It seems so. What’s more, even more-telling topographical data is being beamed to satellites as we speak. As to how much farther ocean bottoms can sink, there is absolutely no modern precedent to gauge it. This leads one to look back … way back.

Being that “one,” I can’t help but retrograde hundreds of millions of years, with sea bottom sinkage in hand. Geological History 101 dictates the planet has undergone a slew of warm-ups, like we’re now seeing – correction, like we’re now causing.

Earth is no stranger to added ocean tonnage from repeated glacial and polar cap meltdowns. Might such repeated compressions lead to an odd form of planetary elasticity, an innate capacity to compress and decompress as oceans demand? Surely the current global warming is not the planet’s first meltdown rodeo. In fact, it seems fully equipped to ride out climate changes in ways we’ve never imagined, meaning what might come next is anyone’s guess – so I’ll give it a go.

Firstly, I’ll dutifully warn that we should in no way breathe a big sigh of relief regarding sea rise and our ongoing coastal existence. In fact, I’d like to take a moment to scare the tar out of all y’all by assuring there will likely be radical ramifications from over-compressed ocean bottoms. Hey, we’re talking a squeeze play on 75 percent of the planet’s crust. How could this not lead to the planet pushing back?

Without going all that far out on a doomsday limb, I’ll venture a geological guess that monumental increases in oceanic weight/pressure will place incalculable strains upon the always edgy fault lines of the Earth’s crust. We know that fault lines can fly off the handle when pressed too far.

So, how much is too much pressure, fault-wise? It is becoming apparent, via human fracking activity, that it doesn’t take all that much toying around with the planet’s crust to get it moving in an earth-shaking manner. Compare manually shooting liquid into the ground to the impacts from quadrillions of tons of extra water weight added to the ocean. Logic alone dictates that something must give. Did I mention fault lines?

To show I can get as drama-queenish as the sea-rise folks, I’ll openly wonder if an event like the devastating “Great Tsunami of 2004” might have been, at its core, the result of melting ice caps. Might tsunamis become more commonplace as increasing pressure is placed on the ocean bottom faults? Did you know LBI does not have a tsunami warning system in place? Just sayin’.

I can hear some of you thinkers asking if such a squeeze play on the planet might incite volcanic upheavals, considering volcanic vents are where the planet releases pent-up pressure. Good question. Answers … anyone? There are some geological indications that previous planetary warm-ups were accompanied by increased volcanic activity. Nobody related that to heavier oceans squeezing lava out the planet’s pores – until just now, thank you very much.

All this is my odd, albeit science-backed effort to show climate change isn’t simply about rising sea levels. In fact, the aforementioned intensity increase of ocean-fueled storms, like cyclones and maybe even last week’s coastal storm, will become commonplace – likely long before sea rise or even tsunamis will roll over us.

I’ll add, in a sincerely hackneyed way, we just might want to work at doing something about our ongoing screwing around with the climate – and, by extension, our oceans … and their bottoms.

A PINELANDS SAVIOR PASSES: I am saddened by the passing of one of the greatest New Jerseyans I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. The late Gov. Brendan Byrne as much as single-handedly saved the “Pine Barrens.”

I was there, in the midst of things. I saw the governor’s astoundingly aggressive action to drape a “building moratorium” over the “core Pinelands.” I heard and saw, firsthand, the violent, death-threat-laden reactions of developers, who were in the midst of moving into the Pinelands with all plows firing. “Impeach Byrne” stickers popped up on the bumpers of many a dump truck.

The most amazing and improbable part was how the moratorium stuck – and, in doing so, soon gained muscular momentum as green groups came out of the unbuilt woodwork in powerful support of the moratorium. In fact, the people of New Jersey quickly backed the salvation of the Pinelands in both voice and vote. Had Byrne not made that fateful anti-buildout proclamation, there is little doubt our outback would be nothing but backyards by now.

Comments (0)
If you wish to comment, please login.