Do you remember the “Dying Forest Syndrome” in the 80ties? That was a really huge political issue in Germany and some other countries. 30 years ago there was a nearly apocalyptic fear that the forests could decline due to acid rain. 

Scientists found that air pollution had led to critical concentration of chemicals even far away from the power plants or industries which were responsible. Images of dead trees particularly from the Black Forest, the Harz Mountains and the Bavarian Forest shocked the public.

A huge change in society followed. The political debate led to the rise of the German Green party. New laws were put into place. The apocalypse didn’t happen and the German word “Waldsterben” wasn’t any longer in the news.

But matters proved to be much more tricky as expected. The forest recovered. Certainly, the measures to protect the air were helpful but later scientists found that there were huge mistakes in their assumptions.

It wasn’t always acid rain. Today we know it is a complex chain of factors which isn’t fully understood yet.

Again we see dramatic images in the Harz Mountains. These pictures were taken on a trip on the Western side near Torfhaus and the “Achtermann” peak in summer 2018. There is a fantastic trail from Torfhaus to Braunlage, a skiing centre in the winter. But during the walk, there is indeed a feeling of apocalypse. Getting closer to Braunlage the scenery reminded me of the Doomsday drama “The Road”.

Officials of the National Park say everything is okay. This time the culprit is not acid rain. The trees, which are dying were mostly penetrated by the bark beetle. The management of the Harz National Park indeed wants to replace part of the forest and let these trees die.  They want to grow a healthier forest with different kind of trees instead of the spruce monoculture.

It doesn’t need much fantasy to imagine that a big political controversy followed that kind of forest management. But there are a lot of examples that the National Park Management is on the right track. Some years ago there was a similar dispute in the Bavarian Forest. There are examples that the forest recovers even it takes many years before visitors can experience its natural beauty again. And it seems again that we don’t know exactly what’s going on.

Climate change is the new big player in the game. Unlike acid rain and the bark beetle, the outcome is much more unpredictable. The forest is suffering due to heat and drought during the summer months. The Harz Mountains receive usually a lot of rain. They are situated in the far North of Germany and the low-pressure systems coming from the Atlantic deliver rain. The climate in the Harz region is more like in Scandinavia. But that changed over the last years. 2016 was too dry and 2018 was dramatic. The heat provided perfect conditions for the bark beetle and the trees were already weakened because they didn’t get enough water. But there is more.

Over the last years, there had been devastating storms as “Sebastian” and “Friederike” adding to the damage. They felled a huge amount of trees. It is definitely the best strategy to replace the monocultures. But we can’t be sure what is happening – as it was 30 years ago. The National Park Managers do certainly their best but we are in a situation where there are global changes. We begin to live in a different world. More research should be done to develop the right answers. The dying forest syndrome is again a real threat. We don’t know if we really are in control.  We learned that some assumptions about the decline of the forest 30 years ago were in some way wrong and nevertheless there was a real threat. And it is again.  The most important thing is to stay open-minded and push stronger measures for the protection of our forests and further research forward.

Stock photography by Peter Engelmann at Alamy


Photo Tip: Showers and Thunderstorms shortly before sunset

What is the best time to catch the most dramatic sceneries in the sky? It is, of course, the early morning light or when it is getting dark. In Europe, it is often in May or in August when there are opportunities to catch dramatic thunderstorm clouds in the late daylight. Particularly in August, the days are getting shorter and there isn’t so much dust in the air.

Taking pictures around sunset with fast moving clouds however are always a challenge. The light conditions change quickly. If possible choose raw mode since there are more opportunities to improve material later. A tripod or putting the camera in a stable position is also important. Furthermore a remote Release/timer can be a very useful tool in these situations.

A couple of lightning storms in August

Early August 2018 offered some possibilities to capture thunderstorm and shower clouds in the early evening. The strange summer with the headline provoking heatwave and the drought continued in many parts of Europe. There was still no longer lasting rain. In Bavaria, there were showers and thunderstorms happening close to the Alps as before.

Mountain Warehouse

Intense Thunderstorm Bavarian Alps, August 9, 2018

August 9 there was severe weather in Germany. The storm cell above arrived around sunset and this is the backside of the storm. There was little time left to take pictures since the daylight faded away.

Stock photography by Peter Engelmann at Alamy

A few days later huge clouds could be seen before sunset. In the west, the sun illuminated the clouds in red and yellow. This was only visible for a short time. The tops of the clouds were shining in bright yellow for some time. As the lower parts of the clouds were in shadow and appeared in dark colours there was dramatic contrast.

Since conditions how the clouds are illuminated are changing sometimes quickly it is important to act very fast. Therefore it is good to wait at a view-point which is already familiar before sunset and not wasting time with looking for the right position.

For one evening there was already an autumn air. It was a bit colder and the scenery with the low hanging dark clouds created that impression. This is not unusual in Middle Europe in Mid-August. But this year’s extreme weather conditions led to a quick return to typical hot summer weather. The drought meanwhile is causing dramatic damage. More and more researchers say that 2018 is an extreme never seen before. 

Filming clouds and thunderstorms during sunset: There is a particular challenge when doing videos. If possible shut down all automatic functions and set speed, aperture, ISO manually, since the camera will automatically adjust to changing light conditions and causing unwelcomed “jumps”(video getting suddenly brighter). Videos are a lot of try and error since no weather situation repeats itself exactly in the same way. Every shot needs different adjustments.

Thunderstorm In August After Sunset. Interesting cloud movement in the lower half of the picture.

RED MOON JULY 27, 2018

A mostly clear sky in Upper Bavaria offered really good opportunities to watch the epochal astronomy event of the year: the total eclipse of the moon announced as the “Blood-Moon”. The eclipse would last longer than any other in this century. Furthermore, a bright planet Mars was close to the eclipsed moon. In the evening hours also Venus and Jupiter were visible. Around 10.30pm the International Space Station happened to fly over Germany.

I chose a meadow with a good view of the Eastern and Southern horizon as a viewpoint. It proved to be a good choice and I got company by several other watchers coming from the Ammersee-Lake-region.

It was a hot day and there were some higher clouds in the South-East. There was also a layer of dust close to the horizon. Therefore the moon could not be seen when it rose. It was around 09.20pm when a small sickle appeared between the clouds. This was because the moon wasn’t totally eclipsed.

Shortly before the total eclipse of the moon. A sickle appears between a layer of clouds.

Stock photography by Peter Engelmann at AlamyStock photography by Peter Engelmann at Alamy

Soon later it became an orange-red disk, the so-called “Blood Moon”. For some time it wasn’t really dark and the moon wasn’t as prominent as it would be normally. It was more like a barely visible shape in the blue sky.

But then it became more and more impressive minute by minute as night was falling.

I detected some thunderstorm clouds in the distance before and later thunderstorms in the far distance added to the upcoming spectacle.

Finally, Mars appeared above the dust in the South. It was a tremendous sight: Mars was much brighter as the eclipsed moon but both objects shared these orange-red shining light. It was a strange sky.

Red Moon And Mars. The Mars in direct opposition to the sun from our view from Earth.

Around 10.00 pm I regretted not having brought a jacket since it became distinctively colder. This is normally a big advantage during the heat-wave this year that it is cooling down in the countryside close to the mountains and it is not like the tropical nights in the big cities. The fantastic event made me forget the colder temperatures during the later evening. The appearance of the ISS was also a great sight.

As the sky became really dark the spectacle unfolded completely as a big unforgettable experience: It was after the passage of the ISS which was flying over us very high above the horizon when the Milky-Way became visible.

Normally the Milky-Way can’t be seen when there is bright moonshine. This night it was a fantastic sight.

Obviously, there were longer lasting thunderstorms somewhere in the Alps, since there was sheet-lightning in the South.

Red Moon, Mars And Sheet Lighting Over The Alps

A lot of people had gathered and looked into the sky with awe. It indeed was an awesome event. As long as the moon was fully eclipsed there was a palpable otherworldliness. After 11.00 pm the total eclipse ended and the moon became soon brighter and brighter. The milky way couldn’t be seen any longer but the extraordinary sight will always last in my memory.

Red Moon, Mars, Milky Way

Photography can capture the atmosphere only in parts. It is also a bit challenging due to constantly changing conditions of light. Using longer exposure times lead of course to visible movement of the moon in the picture and the object is not any longer sharp.

But even with an equipment which is normally not supposed to do astrophotography, it is possible to get some impressive shots when using a tripod and a timer. The best idea is to take a lot of pictures with different exposure times.

I used ISO 400 when the eclipse began, then 640, 1000 and some shots with ISO 3200. Noise then can become a problem, therefore I did some noise-reduction with photoshop.

A Very Strange Year In Weather History, July 22, 2018

Today is July 22, 2018, and this morning was the first time for months that light rain has fallen for a longer time. In my place and in middle Europe this is usually a most common weather pattern. Or it has been for a long time. Probably 2018 will be seen in history with a record of new weather anomalies.

A normal rainy day is nearly an extraordinary event this year. When it comes to rain it is often extreme and short lived.

The most impressing phenomenon is that weather anomalies seem to happen not only in Europe but on a global scale. There are heatwaves, droughts, bushfires in many unusual places like Northern Europe. In Sweden, a huge bushfire couldn’t be kept any longer under control.

In Germany, there was very little rainfall since April. This is the most unusual part. There weren’t so far any extreme heatwaves but a strong aberration from the usual. Sun was shining most of the time. Temperatures are continually too hot.

It seems that the climate is really changing now at a higher level. In some areas in Germany but also in England there are dramatic consequences. The lack of rain is destroying the harvest. The sunny summer has become a nightmare.

Probably there are many aspects of modern life affected and authorities are well advised to be concerned and to be aware of these changes in nature. Even if things turn back to normal for a while the overall tendency shows a huge change in our seasons and the meteorological conditions.

German newspaper “Tagesspiegel” published recently an excellently researched article about the earth becoming too hot everywhere and the article informs about the meteorological explanation responsible for these anomalies.

Basically, currents in the atmosphere have been slowing down and there isn’t enough movement. High-pressure systems keep their position over months. Therefore the air can heat up. In Europe, the usual low-pressure systems coming from the Atlantic are failing to reach the continent.

The scary thing about this phenomenon is that we see this happen for some time. A lack of movement in the atmosphere was also identified as the reason for extreme weather in the UK when monster-waves hit the shores for a longer time.

This is something which seems to be related to the predicted climate change but my impression is that physics of the atmosphere is not understood so far. We don’t really know why this is happening (I do not know if the scientists would agree, but we had a couple of surprises over the last years).

These anomalies in the weather need adaption strategies. In Southern-Germany, Berlin, Mecklenburg Vorpommern there had been flashflood-events (very strong rain with flooding). This is the other side of the long lasting dry periods. They were caused by showers and thunderstorms.

Shower Clouds in Bavaria. For some day there was at least rain for some minutes in Southern Germany
Shower Clouds In Bavaria. During some days it rained always for some time in the afternoon.

Showers and thunderstorms can’t outweigh the effects of the drought. Except in areas close to the alps, there were many showers over several days. Here it was much better but also not anywhere. There are also areas in Southern-Germany where it is too dry.

The alpine region benefited from the special conditions in the mountains with some rain

The anomaly could also be experienced in areas where thunderstorms and showers were more often. It was kind of a timelapse-spring and things seemed growing too fast. It is also for many people a problem if the weather is far from the inner rhythm and own experience.

This is certainly an area which needs attention from researchers and authorities: we know definitely that high temperatures cause much more traffic accidents. Also, criminal behavior is affected by weather. But we know very little how our working capabilities suffer from disturbing experiences. One effect seems to be that people getting tired and easily exhausted. There might be also health risks not only related to sudden heatwaves but also with longer periods of weather which is not normal compared to the usual weather pattern in a given season or a certain month.

Many weather forecasters are already aware of the situation that this is not a great summer and that “rain and clouds are not a bad thing” but it is strange that some public voices still seem to have no idea what’s going on.

A higher awareness of the situation could not only save lives if we see further extreme weather but create a preparedness which is needed in the given situation: farmers need our help in restructuring, many institutions like nursery homes urgently need conditioners. A situation like 2003 – the first year with a long lasting extreme heatwave – when in Europe thousands of elderly or sick people died is not acceptable for a civilized society. Thus we need understanding and a better sense of the seriousness of the situation.

Do we really know what’s going on in our atmosphere?