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Scientists Say Beetle-Killed Trees Now Creating Haze

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Beetle-killed trees (credit: CBS)

Beetle-killed trees (credit: CBS)

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. (CBS4) – Coloradans know the pine beetle has been causing catastrophic problems in the national forests, and now there could be a new one.

Some scientists in the Steamboat Springs area say the beetle-killed trees are creating a haze that’s preventing people from seeing across mountain tops. The research is getting world-wide attention.

The research started in Norway with a different species tree and pest, but when the research was done in Colorado, the findings were remarkable. The scientists say their research is conclusive.

“Our findings have implications in Colorado, but also all across of North America, so we’re really looking at what is the impact on visibility due to these infestations,” Dr. Gannet Hallar with Storm Peak Laboratory said.

The signs of beetle kill are abundant, especially around the central mountains of Colorado and high up on a mountain top such as at Steamboat Ski Area, the view isn’t as impressive as some would like.

“What we did was sample directly here to see what kind of emissions or changes to the atmosphere were happening at this point,” Hallar said.

Trees and even wildlife emit something called a volatile organic carbon.

“One thing that you can think about is the smell of a pine tree. That’s actually what you’re smelling; you’re smelling these compounds,” Hallar said. “What happens is, they get out into the atmosphere and then they mix with man-made chemicals like ozone and they form particulate matter. What that means is they are essentially forming haze in our atmosphere.

“We literally see 20 times more of these compounds coming from infested trees than non-infested trees.”

It’s a remarkably higher rate than scientists were even anticipating, but they admit more research needs to be done.

“We can’t directly say that specific haze is coming from bark beetles, but we’re really trying to get to that point.”

There’s some added research going on now at Colorado State University where a scientist is taking the findings and putting that information into a model to try and see what kind of impact the beetle-kill epidemic has had on not just the state, but the entire region.

For more information on the study, visit the Environmental Science & Technology website.

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