I received a really nice comment on my last post from Oakmoss Education, which prompted me to go check out their website and blog. (You should too, especially if you live in the Buffalo, NY area. They offer the kind of classes I would have LOVED as a kid…what am I saying, I still love that stuff!)
Anyway, I learned something there which I think is so cool I decided I had to share it with you. If you are interested in plants, science, climate, conservation, or any combination thereof, this article will tickle your fancy. I summarize the report below but go check out the original for the full details.
On one of my visits to Korea (I’ve been there a few times for archaeological research and to visit friends and I adore it), I was staying with a friend and her mother. My friend was supposed to go sightseeing with me but got called into work at the last minute, so her mom took me out instead. We went to one of the old palaces in Seoul and were strolling through the gardens. Korean gardens in my admittedly limited experience always seem to have lots of pine trees. As we walked along my friend’s mother mentioned to me that breathing in the scent of pines is good for you. I wasn’t sure if she was referring to a traditional belief or some modern study, and although her English is excellent (which is good because my Korean is totally inadequate) I could tell she was a little frustrated at not being able to convey the nuance. At any rate I did understand that she meant something like purification of the air.
I don’t know if there’s any scent more refreshing than walking through a forest of conifers. I like the smell of my Ancient Forests salve so much that for a long time I was huffing it at every opportunity, but I soon learned not to do this at bedtime, because it really wakes my brain up. It’s an instant mental clarifier and it just occurred to me I should probably sniff it before doing my accounts. (I am currently smelling pine scent wafting in from the bathroom where it is cleaning my toilet.)
Well it turns out that pine scent isn’t just pleasing to human noses–it’s actually an integral part of the climate system. We know that preserving the rain forests is essential (even though we as a species are doing a crap job of it); now we are learning how important it is to conserve boreal forests too, because the aerosol vapors emitted by pines actually form clouds!
Clouds, of course, produce rain and snow, but they also reflect back the sun’s radiation. This reflective action is called “albedo.” Glaciers are also essential to the Earth’s albedo effect, and as they melt the warming of the climate is accelerating dramatically. That makes it that much more important that we conserve all our forests. They all emit these aerosols, but the vast majority comes from northern boreal forests. Now here’s the cool thing–the more the climate warms, the more of these cloud-forming aerosols are produced. Although the aerosol particles start out beyond tiny, they can increase in size 100x in a single day, becoming large enough for water to condense.
It is still unknown how much effect this has on temperature.
I find this research very interesting in light of the belief in magical circles that pines are protective. It seems they literally are protecting our planet, our climate, and by extension us humans, from being burned to a crisp. Thanks pine trees!
(All these pines doing their magic were witnessed and photographed by yours truly in Alberta, Canada and Seoul, Korea.)