Thursday, July 4, 2019

How We Keep Destroying the Things that Make us Live: The Biotic Pump and the Raw Power of Science


Dr. Anastassia Makarieva describes the concept of the "Biotic Pump" at the Smart Biotic Pump Summit Prague 2018


This is not an easy video to follow, but I thought to propose it to you nevertheless. Perhaps its most impressive feature is how it is not refined, it is not slick, it uses no tricks. It is just a plain talk of the kind you normally hear at scientific conferences. And yet it gave me an impression of something I would call the "raw power of science." 

It is the power science has to create new ideas, new concepts, new views of seeing the natural world. The biotic pump is not just a refinement of what we know about the Earth's climate. It is a revolutionary way to look at the way the ecosystem works. Dr. Makarieva, here, shows that science produces not only new ideas but relevant ideas. Relevant for our life and for the life of the whole biosphere.  

I know that the concept of biotic pump is controversial and it is in itself a complex concept, not easy to grasp. Not being an expert in atmospheric physics, it is not easy for me to evaluate it in depth. But, if it is true, that is, it is so massive and on such a large scale as Makarieva and Gorshkov propose, then it is mind-boggling. It means that the ecosystem controls the Earth's climate in a much deeper and stronger way than commonly believed. 

According to this view, forests are immense machines that pump water away from the oceans to the land. Forests, not just trees, not grass, not pastures, not cultivated fields. You need a fully grown forest to keep the machine running and to provide the biosphere with the water it needs. And, just for a change, humans are destroying the world's forests. As usual, we keep destroying the things that make us live.

So, if you have 26 minutes, you could do much worse than using them to listen to Dr. Makarieva speaking. But if you limit yourself to the first few minutes, just listen to what she says about professor Gorshkov, who couldn't come to the meeting. She says, "I am just a pale shadow of him." It is a very kind way to honor a man who spent his life honoring the biosphere with his scientific work. 

Victor Gorshkov died last May. Anastassia Makarieva wrote to me that "the biosphere is now orphaned." 


Above, Victor Gorshkov and Anastassia Makarieva
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For more data on the biotic pump,  see


A recent paper by a different research group


18 comments:

  1. Wonderful post Professor Bardi. And to support this extraordinarily beautiful system of forest pumping, the forest must be healthy, and its soils rich. Difficult with the continuous loss of matter over time as gravity, rain, and weather have their way. Voila! A mechanism is there, and it fertilizes the forests so they can remain healthy and grow.

    In the Pacific Northwest, that delivery mechanism is the salmon. But, when fish stocks are evaluated, and fishing quotas derived by the human interlocutor and the 'economist', well, something goes crosswise in the system. In the neo-liberal economic paradigm the margin of fish to catch is based on deducting the numbers needed for a successful spawn from all that return to spawn (to simplify egregiously). Gosh, the rest is for the taking out of the energy stream of that forest ecosystem to go to 'market', make money, and the residue after eaten deposited in trash pits. Doesn't need to go to where it was intended or arranged to insure this vital aspect of the pump is maintained, protected and enhanced. No, we can just pull a huge amount of something from one place and put it somewhere else with no worry that we are hoisting our own petard in every way possible. We do need lots of toilet paper of a certain softness to wipe away the residue of any fish we eat, though...

    http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20140218-salmon-fertilising-the-forests

    we have really stuck some sticks in the spokes of this juggernaut.

    http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20140218-salmon-fertilising-the-forests

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  2. Ugo,

    Thank you for the link. This is fascinating food for thought. Several negative trends are at work here simultaneously, all of human origin.

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    1. For some unknown reason I was unable to download YouTube video (using Freemake video downloader). I tried several times. It always crashes in the middle of the video file.

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  3. Anastassia M. Makarieva is intense and knowledgeable and I was able to follow everything she presented.I would hope that she has the continued support and resources to adopt the concept of the biotic pump from the orphanage.

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  4. Thanks Ugo, very interesting and well explained. It has always been obvious that the climate equilibrium strongly depends on forests from looking at the very large, time of the year dependent, sawtoothing variation rates of the atmosphere CO2. The CO2 equilibrium level depends on those seasonal variation rates and those rates in turn on forested surfaces. I wish I could rest my intuition on a well illustrated physical model which consistently takes all of these elements into account.

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  5. Dear Ugo,

    Thank you very much for your interest in our work. It is sincerely appreciated. Victor used to tell me, when I began to complain that nobody cares: "Don't worry about publicity, about where to publish, prestigious journals or modest. Do your job. People will find, read and understand." He himself had been working till the very last days in the hospital.

    These are some of the views of nature that inspired us to work
    https://yadi.sk/d/ue8djQj2V3u9Wg

    Just in case, PDF of the slides shown during this lecture can be downloaded from https://bioticregulation.ru/ab.php?id=brno (6 Mb)

    Best wishes,
    Anastassia

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    1. Thank you Anastassia and Ugo. This is very important work and the theory is sound so much so it almost a law scientifcally. It explains the old foresters and sensible farmers saying, the rain follows the trees, cut down the trees you stop the rain.

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    2. Ugo of course trees are water pumps, they use partial pressure (osmotic pressure) to move water from the ground to the leaves and back again, which is why when they begin to suffer severe water stress they die from the top, the pressure is falling and the pump stops working and begins to fail from the top.

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    3. Yes, of course. But the forest as a whole is a different kind of pump

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    4. Thank you Anastassia. Your (and Victor's) idea is starting to gain some traction in science. I'll be glad if I can give a hand.

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  6. Ugo thank you for this presentation from Anastassia M. Makarieva. I followed the presentation closely and I understand and teach meteorology so I found no inconsistencies with known action or properties of the atmosphere and the transfer of water as vapour around the planet. I think this is one of the last missing links in our understanding of our 'LIMITS'. Actually there is an old saying 'rain follows the trees' so you cut down your trees your reduce the rainfall locally and over large geographic areas. I think you will find that water vapour has similar properties to C02 excepting that it condenses when cooled adiabatically and hence heat is removed and water returns to the surface as rain. I am now of the view that when you combine this Biotic Pump theory with Lovelock's Gaia theory ( principally a living vegtative organisms, such as trees, like a skin helping keep the planet cool) and his misunderstood findings about cloud formation from amoebic sulphides created in the ocean you are beginning to see the elusive 'why does it rain'problem that has beset atmospheric science now come into sharp focus. Living organism allow for the transportation and storage of water and its release such that other physical processes, evaporation and condensation can occur. Her points about pressure changes and wind and the role of trees sounds well correct as well. This is very significant. I always was perplexed that one gas alone could be the sole cause, and of course it is not its production is supercharging the heat storage and acccumulation issue and our overshoot as large animals is destroying the living systems that would have controlled and minimised this.

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    1. Thanks, Mike. It is great to hear from someone who understands these matters in depth. And I tend to agree with you. This is one of the links to understand the way the ecosystem -- Gaia -- works.

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  7. Obviously, we depend on vegetation in more ways, not only as food source but for water too. Our dependence on plants is also logical from the evolutionary point of view. Because, in evolution, land plants precede land animals. Without plants, and especially forests, we are "kaputt".

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  8. I would posit that large cities and other large human development would have almost the opposite effect in that they create a force that repels rather than attracts moisture. Is that possible?

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  9. I think the idea about whole forests is correct.
    I've seen that when patches of jungle are cleared, local temperatures go up, humidity and rainfall go down and desertification gets its foot in the door.

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    1. see this
      https://www.ted.com/talks/allan_savory_how_to_green_the_world_s_deserts_and_reverse_climate_change?utm_campaign=tedspread&utm_medium=referral&utm_source=tedcomshare

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  10. actually, the theroy of the biotic pump seems at least controversial... have a look to the reply to their seminal paper: https://www.hydrol-earth-syst-sci.net/13/1299/2009/hess-13-1299-2009.pdf

    see also: https://journals.ametsoc.org/doi/abs/10.1175/JAS-D-17-0293.1

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  11. What a coincidence ! I discovered Victor Gorshkov and Anastassia Makarieva's biotic pump theory in May as I was researching for an article on seed dispersal for the July/August 2019 Nature feature of a magazine for the expat community in Egypt. I mentioned it in the conclusion as the "biotic water pump": …natural systems such as the biotic water pump that brings freshwater inland are far too complex to ever be mimicked, so the rainforests that are an essential part of it should not be razed."

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Who

Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome and the author of "Extracted: how the quest for mineral resources is plundering the Planet" (Chelsea Green 2014). His most recent book is "The Seneca Effect" (Springer 2017)