- September 21, 1936 – Article in Schenectady Union Star, about Charles Steinmetz…
Steinmetz Idea on Fires, Floods Gains Followers
Schenectady Union Star
September 21, 1936
Electrical Wizard, in 1921, Accidently Found Rains Followed Flames;
Lack of Trees Brings Droughts
Fifteen years ago the late Dr. Charles P. Steinmetz, Schenectady electrical wizard, appeared before members of the Green Cross, an organization devoted to forest conservation, at a meeting in California, and introduced to them a theory which, he said, he had developed accidentally while searching for something else.
Fires and Floods
That theory concerned the relation between widespread forest fires and subsequent flood conditions.
Green Cross embraces that theory as sound, and its members have developed it to show that careless destruction of forests in the South and Southeast is one of the chief causes of drought in the Middle West.
Frederick Cowles, forestry expert, Oregon rancher and chairman of the executive board of the Green Cross, has told the story of how he connected trees and drought.
“Back in 1921” said Cowles, “Charles P. Steinmetz came to a meeting of the Green Cross in California. He told us, ‘I have spent eleven years to find out how plants make starch. I haven’t discovered that but I have found out some other things that will interest you.’
Steinmetz turned to a map on the wall. Pins in it indicated forest fires that had burned 100,000 acres or more. Attached to each pin was a newspaper clipping telling the story of the fire. Then, he made us sit up by matching nearly every one of those news clippings with another which told a story of heavy rainfall over that burned area, within three years after the fire, accompanied by flood destruction.”
Transpiration is Diminished
“What is the connection? Just this: Vegetation and trees are constantly evaporating moisture into the air – transpiration, it’s called – which rises and acts as a trigger to release moisture in the upper levels which falls as rain. When this happens regularly the rains are normal. But if the forest is burned away by fire there is no transpiration, the upper atmosphere becomes saturated with moisture which finally comes down in one tremendous rainfall. It beats on ground where there is no vegetation to absorb it. The bare soil is flooded and eroded.
“This transpiration of moisture by trees is no small thing. A 50 year old maple tree transpires more water per day than a twenty acre lake.”
Affects Other Areas
“Transpiration has another function. When rain falls, about seven-ninths of it is transpired as moisture again, to be carried off and fall elsewhere. If trees and vegetation are sparse the rain simply runs off in swollen rivers.”
“One of the areas in this country where forest destruction by fire has been heaviest in the deep South and Southeast, where most of the timberland is owned privately. Normally, the land would consume only a small part of the rain that fell into the clouds again to be carried on up into the valleys of the Mississippi and Missouri. But now the rain that falls on the empty soil there and runs back into the Gulf of Mexico. It is not carried north and west as it once was – and that is one of the chief causes of drought in the Middle West.”
Mineral Salts Lost
“Human suffering due to drought, and loss of farm and grazing land are only the obvious effects of this forest wastage. These destructive floods carry back into the sea with them phosphates and mineral salts dissolved from the land by the chemically ‘hungry’ rainwater/ Those fertilizing chemicals should be used by and become part of the plants and in the normal cycle be used again and again.
“A billion dollars’ worth of phosphoric acid is washed into the Gulf of Mexico every year, and you can’t grow so much as a blade of green grass without phosphoric acid as fertilizer.
Plants Make Soil
“Soil erosion by these floods is another serious problem. Plants make soil. They generate carbonic acid which through their roots attacks rocks and crumbles them into soil. In this way soil is produced at the rate of about one inch every 1,500 years. So when six inches of soil is washed away, you’ve lost 9,000 years of nature’s work.”
“Still another aspect of the problem is the disappearance of bird life with the forests. Birds eat insects and worms. Without them, insects and worms multiply and destroy vegetation. The United States now has an annual insecticide bill of $150,000,000.”