Join 3,564 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Too much of a good thing
January 25, 2006 6:18 AM   Subscribe

The ashes of the recently deceased contains high amounts of nutrient rich phosphates, just perfect for sprucing up that garden of yours. On the iconic peaks of Scotland though Mountaineers have decided that enough is enough.
posted by 0bvious (33 comments total)

 
So, by scattering ashes they're encouraging plant growth - which is a good thing. This is opposed by people who want to climb sheer mountain tops. Hmm.

Big deal IMO - if I was recently bereaved (especially if the deceased fell off a mountain!) I'd tell the mountaineers to stfu.

I'd be more inclined to complain about the damage that the mountaineers cause to the mountain...
posted by Chunder at 6:24 AM on January 25, 2006


Chunder writes "So, by scattering ashes they're encouraging plant growth - which is a good thing. This is opposed by people who want to climb sheer mountain tops. Hmm."

Yeah, not so much. Granted, I'm not sure how big a deal it is, and the article is written very poorly, but the issue is the degredation of the alpine ecosystems. Encouraging plants to grow means, in this case, displacing alpine plants that grow in the poor soils already present. What you see as sheer is actually a very delicate (because stressed) ecosystem.
posted by OmieWise at 6:32 AM on January 25, 2006


There's more then ashes ..look at this one

I guess if they were only ashes it would be an acceptable compromise, but cementing memorabilia on mountaintop just ruins the atmosphere and scenario created by a wild mountain top.

on preview: omiewise maybe a better distribution of quantity in time of the ashes could make almost everybody happy ?
posted by elpapacito at 6:37 AM on January 25, 2006


I think the point of this is that scattering ashes on mountaintops changes the soil quality, which can have serious effects on alpine ecosystems.

It's not a matter of more plants = better. Because plants and animals living on mountaintops are surrounded by what is to them inhospitable terrain, they're in an ecological sense living on islands. Alpine ecosystems are for that reason very sensitive to disturbances and, because of the harsh weather and poor resources, can take centuries to recover.
posted by driveler at 6:38 AM on January 25, 2006


what driveler said - and yeah the article could have done a better job of explaining that.

chunder: I'd be more inclined to complain about the damage that the mountaineers cause to the mountain...

Such as?
posted by funambulist at 6:47 AM on January 25, 2006


They seem a bit unclear about how big of a deal this actually is. I mean, granted, it may not be great for the ecosystem, but it seems like other concerns (say, global warming, carcinogens, deforestation, &c.) should take precedence.
posted by craven_morhead at 6:47 AM on January 25, 2006


Well, the other concerns should be addressed, but this one is really easy to fix, so why not bring it up?

I mean, this is something that really does have a "Just stop it" solution.
posted by Dipsomaniac at 6:50 AM on January 25, 2006


Mountaineers damage rocks and destroy fragile lichens in pursuit of their silly, selfish, pointless hobby. On the iconic peaks of Scotland, those who visit the mountains to return dust to dust, have decided that enough is enough.
posted by three blind mice at 7:01 AM on January 25, 2006


Words on the subject at the MCS's site.
posted by Gator at 7:06 AM on January 25, 2006


I don't get what the problem is. In Simcity, all you have to do is build another graveyard. Don't these people have computers?
posted by Afroblanco at 7:07 AM on January 25, 2006


you hear about this sort of thing all the time, just this morning i heard about how these people wanted to introduce every bird mentioned in Shakespeare plays to the USA, and now these European starlings are killing off native birds, nature is so balanced that sometimes little things (like scattering ashes) can have far reaching weird consequences.
posted by stilgar at 7:12 AM on January 25, 2006


I strongly doubt the scattering of human ashes is solely responsible for the surge in vegetation--global warming is probably the chief culprit.

Mountaineers complaining about people scattering ashes on mountaintops is like Exxon complaining about electric cars changing the economy. Aye, for th' love of Scotland, jus' shut the holy fuck up.
posted by fandango_matt at 7:23 AM on January 25, 2006


the issue is the degredation of the alpine ecosystems.

Are these "proper" alpine ecosystems, or are they basically temperate-forest ecosystems with the forests cut down a long while ago?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:32 AM on January 25, 2006


I strongly doubt the scattering of human ashes is solely responsible for the surge in vegetation--global warming is probably the chief culprit.

Then how do you explain the photo that accompanies the article?
posted by event at 9:08 AM on January 25, 2006


But, but Rou! It wouldn't be Scottish anymore, if the trees grew back!
posted by Goofyy at 9:12 AM on January 25, 2006


posted by event Then how do you explain the photo that accompanies the article?

I'd explain it as the result of a decision made jointly by the editor and the art director.

Beyond that, I'd want to see evidence that scattering human ashes is solely responsible and is having a deleterious effect on the ecosystem in question.
posted by fandango_matt at 9:20 AM on January 25, 2006


Assuming that the picture is what it claims to be (and if we're not going to accept that, then why accept any part of the article?) then isn't it exactly the evidence you're talking about?
posted by event at 9:31 AM on January 25, 2006


posted by event Assuming that the picture is what it claims to be (and if we're not going to accept that, then why accept any part of the article?) then isn't it exactly the evidence you're talking about?

Nope. It's a photograph of grass and rocks with the caption, "Ashes were scattered on the ground on the left 10 years before the picture was taken."

Great, okay. What did the same area look like ten years ago, twenty years ago, and thirty years ago? How do we know scattered human ashes and nothing else caused that growth? We don't have answers to any of these questions, so claiming scattered human ashes caused the growth is, at this point, pure speculation.
posted by fandango_matt at 9:43 AM on January 25, 2006


The members of the MCS have been visiting the tops of these mountains for decades. They have years of experience in the area, and they have produced photographs that supports their conclusion.

You have (I am guessing) never been to the tops of these mountains, and have produced no supporting evidence whatsoever, but you claim that it is global warming.

Of course, MCS could be wrong, but forgive me if I find your argument far less convincing than theirs.
posted by event at 9:56 AM on January 25, 2006


I made no such claim. Please reread my posts.
posted by fandango_matt at 10:00 AM on January 25, 2006


?
posted by event at 10:04 AM on January 25, 2006


posted by fandango_matt at 7:23 AM I strongly doubt the scattering of human ashes is solely responsible for the surge in vegetation--global warming is probably the chief culprit.
posted by fandango_matt at 10:10 AM on January 25, 2006


I suspect that urination and defecation are also big problems.
Lots of nitrogen in those human byproducts. I've been on
camping trips where you had to carry your crap home in a
bucket.
posted by the Real Dan at 10:11 AM on January 25, 2006


Mountaineers damage rocks and destroy fragile lichens in pursuit of their silly, selfish, pointless hobby

Whoa... so no humans should set foot on mountains at all? how about non-mountain soil? if you walk on a path, you're still trampling over weeds...

I find this anti-mountaineering sentiment rather bizarre, especially considering those are among the people most interested in conservation and keeping mountains free from big tourist developments and assorted crap.

Mountaineers complaining about people scattering ashes on mountaintops is like Exxon complaining about electric cars changing the economy.

Heh, right... If hyperbole caused global warming, we'd be in full summer now!

Feel free to hate whatever you want, but come on, a little sense of proportion maybe.
posted by funambulist at 10:14 AM on January 25, 2006


Okay. Add word "probably" to this comment. The point stands.
posted by event at 10:17 AM on January 25, 2006


Wrong again.
posted by fandango_matt at 10:21 AM on January 25, 2006


fandango_matt, seriously, unless you believe the MCofS are making it all up, including doctored photographs passed on to unsuspecting media, what reason do you have to strongly doubt their claims?

And why would they even want to make up claims that they observed that phenomenon? What agenda would they have against people scattering ashes? They're even giving advice on where to do it and how to do it to reduce that effect on vegetation.

So I just don't get your skepticism.
posted by funambulist at 10:37 AM on January 25, 2006


This is a serious problem in many places.

Where I do restoration work in my copious spare time in N. California, the invasive annuals are adapted to frequent fire. Fire leaves behind, the first winter, a lot of available nitrogen compounds and minerals like phosphorous, the same things causing problems in the Scotland story.

The invasive annuals -- with widespread shallow roots -- benefit from that flush of nutrients much better than the deep-rooted natives adapted to the mountain soil.

So after a fire, you get a huge growth of invasive annuals. They burn very easily. So fire is increasingly likely, and when it happens again, you get another huge increase in them, next season.

Fairly quickly you can get a monoculture of these fire-adapted annual grasses. Over time the seed bank in the soil degrades and eventually there's nothing much coming up but these problem plants. And by June they're dry and crispy and ready for the next dry lightning strike.

One strategy currently being tried at the research level to discourage these plants is to increase the available carbon (not carbon like charcoal and soot, which aren't easily used, but carbohydrates -- like sugar -- that can be used right away by living organisms) right after a fire.

I've done this and, anecdotally, seen it work --sprayed a checkerboard of meter squares on a burned hillside, and gotten the next spring a checkerboard of growth pattern. The native plants predominated only in the squares that had been soaked and glazed with sugar water after the fire the previous fall (right before the first snowfall that year).

Adding vailable carbon feeds the the soil bacteria and fungi what they most lack -- they increase rapidly during the winter, and soak up the flush of nutrients before the annual invasive grasses germinate in the spring.

Without the boost provided by the excess nutrients, the invasive annuals aren't competitve enough to completely dominate the slower-returning deep rooted natives.

The soil microbiota would get fed less rapidly in natural recovery, as insects and decay organisms worked on the remaining dead wood, beetles toppled the dead standing trees, and so on. The sugar's a very fast boost.

Fertilizer is a very bad mistake on native plant restorations, generally. It feeds just the species you most want not to take over the area. They don't _require_ the added fertilizer, but it helps them take over faster.

"Of the 3 to 4 million acres of shrub-steppe that remain in the Columbia Basin ecoregion in Washington and Oregon, cheatgrass either dominates or is the common grass in from 2.25 to 3 million acres."
posted by hank at 10:57 AM on January 25, 2006


I have no idea what "agenda" they have, if they even have one at all. My skepticism is not based on suspicions of such, it's based on the lack of evidence and the leaps of logic presented here. As I said, we don't know what the area looked like before the ashes were scattered; we don't know what other factors--such as global warming and human waste--and the degree to which they may have contributed to the phenomenon, so to conclusively determine the phenomenon is caused solely by scattering human ashes is erroneous at best.
posted by fandango_matt at 11:04 AM on January 25, 2006


we don't know what the area looked like before the ashes were scattered

Well, clearly, it looked like the patch on the right of the photograph. I don't see any reason to doubt that much. (Unless, again, imagining some cunning doctoring of photos or lying about ashes being scattered there at all).

So, if the ashes have chemical effects on soil as described in the article, and considering all other climatic factors (including global warming) are, without any doubt, 100% equal for those two identical patches of land separated only by a few inches, then one has to conclude it's the ashes that affect the vegetation where they landed. Doesn't sound like such an outlandish leap of logic to me.

And obviously, they must have observed the phenomenon in more than that one place in the photo.

So ok I understand you're not implying any suspicion about Council's agenda, but personally I wouldn't see any reason to be so skeptical if I didn't suspect they had some conspiratorial self-serving motive to make these claims, and I can't imagine what that would be.

They don't gain anything from this. If anything, they risk pissing off the relatives of people who died and wanted their ashes scattered in the mountains. It is a sensitive topic after all. I don't think they'd raise the issue without a good reason (also it's been raised in the context of the more visible problem of memorials being erected).
posted by funambulist at 12:17 PM on January 25, 2006


Are these "proper" alpine ecosystems, or are they basically temperate-forest ecosystems with the forests cut down a long while ago?

Umm we're mostly talking about the summits of Munroes here, trust me but I don't think trees ever grew on top of peaks like Ben Nevis or Aonach Mor
posted by Flitcraft at 4:19 PM on January 25, 2006


Then how do you explain the photo that accompanies the article?
posted by event at 11:08 AM CST on January 25 [!]


Clearly human ashes dissolve rocks.

If all of you are that easily swayed by one photograph, I'm about to prove Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, UFOs, and a 2nd shooter to JFK.

They spread "ashes" 10 years ago. Human ashes, I assume? Ashes of how many people? Just 1?

Also, that is an extraordinarily small difference over 10 years in two patches of ground, one of which just coincidentally (I'm sure) has 50% less rock coverage than the other.

I have MUCH larger differences than that across my 1 acre lawn in 5 years, and to my knowledge there are no grandmas sprinkled around my deck.

It's also very naive to believe the mountaineers don't have an agenda.
posted by Ynoxas at 8:27 AM on January 27, 2006


Clearly human ashes dissolve rocks.

Clearly weeds don't need to possess magic powers to be able to grow so much they cover the rocks.

There's a news story and a statement, not just one photograph, by the way.

Now I may indeed be very naive here. It's just because I see no reason to be suspicious. Exactly what agenda would the Mountaineering Council of Scotland have in telling people to scatter ashes in some places rather than others or bury them instead?
posted by funambulist at 9:16 AM on January 27, 2006


« Older The Real Story of John Walker Lindh...  |  The landscape photography of L... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments