Dr. F. Herbert Bormann in 1970. (Joyce H. Dopkeen)
F. Herbert Bormann, a plant ecologist whose research with colleagues on a swath of New Hampshire forest in 1971 documented a new environmental horror in the United States — acid rain — died on June 7 at his home in North Branford, Conn. He was 90.
The cause was complications of a lung infection, his daughter Rebecca Bormann said.
Dr. Bormann and his team of scientists discovered the threat of acid rain in a small watershed in the White Mountains, where they had gone to analyze chemical interactions in the area’s ecosystem. They found rain and other precipitation to be much more acidic than expected. Over the next few years, they tested rain throughout the Eastern United States and found that acidity had increased 100 percent to 1,000 percent since the early 1950s.
The scientists traced the acidity to sulfur dioxide emissions and various nitrogen oxides from faraway smokestacks. The gases are converted to sulfuric acid and nitric acid in the air.
Dr. Bormann and his team detailed some of the pernicious effects of acid rain, including reduced forest growth and fish kills, in Science magazine in 1974. Their laboratory experiments showed that tomato plants, birch leaves and pine needles were damaged when misted with acid water, confirming similar conclusions reached in Sweden.
American factories and power plants had some success in preventing visible particles of pollution from being spewed into the atmosphere, but Dr. Bormann and his team found that the new pollution-control gear did not prevent the emission of acidic gases. Moreover, the solid particles, when they were being emitted, had helped neutralize the acids. Another factor behind the increase in acid rain was that smokestacks were being built much taller, some up to a quarter of a mile, and thus dispersing pollution over wider areas. In effect, a solution to local soot problems had helped lead to regional acid rain problems.
Congress consulted Dr. Bormann’s work on all of this when it moved to regulate acid rain in the Clean Air Act of 1990.
An earlier study by Dr. Bormann and others, performed in the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest in the White Mountains, found that clear-cutting — the lumber-company practice of felling every tree in a cutting area — diminished water quality and quantity as well as soil nutrients. The study has often been cited in discussions about forestry practices nationally.
In 1993, Dr. Bormann and a colleague, Gene E. Likens, an ecologist, were awarded the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement, administered by the University of Southern California, for their work in the New Hampshire forest. The citation commended them for “bringing fundamental order to the science of ecology and for creating the premier model for ecosystem studies in the world.”
Frederick Herbert Bormann, the son of a waiter, was born on March 24, 1922, in Manhattan and grew up in Westwood, N.J. As a boy, he learned about plants by playing near a creek, and a high school teacher encouraged his love of nature. He went to the University of Idaho with the idea of pursuing his outdoor interests, but with the outbreak of World War II he enlisted in the Navy after a semester, serving as a welder.
Dr. Bormann earned a bachelor’s degree in agricultural science from Rutgers and a Ph.D. in plant ecology from Duke. After teaching at Emory University in the early 1950s, he moved to Dartmouth in 1956 and began taking his botany classes on field trips to the White Mountain National Forest. The Hubbard Brook forest had been established there the year before as a center for hydrologic research, and Dr. Bormann proposed that the United States Forest Service let him use the area to study a watershed closely. He continued to do research there after he moved to Yale in 1966 to be the Oastler professor of forest ecology.
Besides Dr. Likens, who also taught at Dartmouth, Dr. Bormann’s colleagues on much of his research, including the acid rain studies, included Noye M. Johnson, a Dartmouth geologist, and Robert Pierce of the Forest Service.
Dr. Bormann retired from Yale in 1992. He wrote more than 200 articles and wrote, helped write or edited eight books.
In addition to Rebecca Bormann, Dr. Bormann is survived by his wife of nearly 60 years, the former Christine Williamson; another daughter, Amelia Bormann; his sons, Bernard and Lincoln; and six grandchildren.
In an interview, Mrs. Bormann recalled that on their honeymoon she and her husband had passed the towering smokestacks of the smelters of a giant Canadian nickel mine. There was not a tree in sight; the landscape was denuded. “What on earth happened here?” Dr. Bormann asked.
Years after he earned international renown for helping answer that question, he turned his attention to another intriguing topic: the American lawn. The 1993 book “Redesigning the American Lawn,” which he wrote with Diana Balmori and Gordon T. Geballe, derided lawns as devouring dangerous chemicals, scarce water and, almost as grievously, homeowners’ time.
The time had come, Dr. Bormann proclaimed, for “freedom lawns.”
Autor: Douglas Martin
Source: The New York Times