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Earth Science

Flowers' Smell Not Traveling As Far 113

Ant writes in to note a study indicating that, because of air pollution, the smell of flowers is not wafting as far as it once did. Pollutants from power plants and automobiles destroy flowers' aromas, the study suggests: "The scent molecules produced by flowers in a less polluted environment, such as in the 1800s, could travel for roughly 1,000 to 1,200 meters; but in today's polluted environment downwind of major cities, they may travel only 200 to 300 meters." The finding could help explain why some pollinators, particularly bees, are declining in certain parts of the world.
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Flowers' Smell Not Traveling As Far

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  • Brilliant (Score:5, Funny)

    by kramulous ( 977841 ) * on Sunday April 13, 2008 @08:10AM (#23053424)
    Does this mean I don't have to wear deodorant anymore?
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      filthy nerd
    • by TheLink ( 130905 ) on Sunday April 13, 2008 @09:38AM (#23053788) Journal
      Uh in this case you're probably the pollutant not the flower :).
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Prysorra ( 1040518 )
      Well..... If you walk into a major grocery store and look for carnation, you'll often find they have a faint scent almost like the roses next to them. Decades and decades ago, carnations - those flowers you bought in highschool when too cheap for roses - were known to have a *powerful* clove-like fragrance. In fact, they were planted around monasteries in France *because* of that fragrance. Turns out, the scented oil that gives off the smell we recognize accelerates the deterioration of cut flowers. Es
  • by Anonymous Coward
    And yet I can still smell my brother's farts from across the room.

    I'd better get that SUV after all.
  • by alen ( 225700 ) on Sunday April 13, 2008 @08:13AM (#23053434)
    try flowers from one of the organic stores or Whole Foods. they smell a lot better and stronger than pretty much all other flowers i've ever bought
    • by T-Bone-T ( 1048702 ) on Sunday April 13, 2008 @12:51PM (#23054826)
      Is that because you overpaid for them?
      • Fruit and flowers have long been selected for shape and size, often at the expense of smell and taste. As a rule, old varieties of roses don't look as nice but they have more smell. Organic growers often go for older varieties. Old varieties grown non-organically are just the same though.

        Organic growers don't force-grow their turnips and tomatoes that much either , which makes for a more concentrated taste.
  • by Nyckname ( 240456 ) on Sunday April 13, 2008 @08:19AM (#23053460)
    I still can't help but think that insecticides are having more to do with it. Bee keepers carry hives around to the farms. It's not like they have to fly too far to find the flowers, but hives are collapsing at farms.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by gad_zuki! ( 70830 )
      There's a lot of conspiracy theories about these collapses but the IAPV virus was found in over 95% of collapsed hives. I know its much more hip to blame humans, pollutants, wifi radiation, lack of bee tin foil hats, etc but this is just nature vs nature.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by afidel ( 530433 )
        Yes but IAPV is also very common in non-collapsed hives so it is believed that it has to be a combination of factors with IAPV being but one (possibly major) factor.
    • Single plant types bloom together and only provide a brief window for bee food. In between, the bees get fed syrups etc, but those are really empty carbs.

      The loss of plant diversity must be a huge factor too.

      As for the loss of scent. Well duh! selective flower breeding is tending away from scent and more towards what the plants look like.

  • by aleph42 ( 1082389 ) *
    When you hear something as poetically moralising, there is only one thing you can do: get out of the theater room in disgust.
    • Re: (Score:1, Offtopic)

      by aleph42 ( 1082389 ) *
      I don't get it; how could I be modded overrated, troll and then insightful ? (in that order!)

      Can no one see a funny (or trying to be funny) post anymore??
  • hmmm... (Score:5, Funny)

    by theheadlessrabbit ( 1022587 ) on Sunday April 13, 2008 @08:31AM (#23053522) Homepage Journal
    can't they just genetically engineer flowers with more potent aromas?

    then we will inevitably have a /. story about long delays getting the product developed, and the whole idea of new smelly flowers will get tagged as vaporware, which would be an entirely inappropriate tag.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      then we will inevitably have a /. story about long delays getting the product developed, and the whole idea of new smelly flowers will get tagged as vaporware, which would be an entirely inappropriate tag.
      Okay, we'll just tag it dukesmellemforever
  • No sense of smell (Score:5, Interesting)

    by digitalchinky ( 650880 ) on Sunday April 13, 2008 @08:32AM (#23053526)
    I have no sense of smell. Prior to about 16 years of age I honestly thought people were making it up. I thought the sense of smell was all some big elaborate joke, a conspiracy against me personally.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by ByteSlicer ( 735276 )
      If it's any consolation: neither do my sister and my father (though my sister can still smell extremely strong aromas). Especially troublesome is the lack to smell natural gas or smoke.
      • Re:No sense of smell (Score:4, Informative)

        by lattyware ( 934246 ) <> on Sunday April 13, 2008 @09:06AM (#23053652) Homepage Journal
        Ironically, Natural Gas has no smell, it's added, but we all got what you meant, I'm sure.
        • Yes, you're correct. I meant the household variety where they add sulfur based odorants (mostly mercaptams). For what it's worth, some natural gas contains H2S and therefore does have an odor (rotten eggs), but this is normally removed since H2S is highly toxic.
          • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

            by justthinkit ( 954982 )
            By the time (i.e. concentration level) you can smell H2S, you are in big trouble. Then your sense of smell goes [] and you think you are alright again, I guess. In short, not the greatest stench compound.
            • what? the dangerous concentrations are 500 times higher than the levels at which we can smell it, where in lies the problem?
            • Once I egged someone's house on Halloween and killed four people. Another time, I farted at a family reunion and, well, I'm an orphan now.

              Try reading articles before you cite them, mmkay?
      • I can't really smell much either. Food, smoke, the odorant in natural gas, the odorants in the *other* sort of natural gas, all nothing. Stuff like stong acids (HCl, H2NO4) burn my nose though, and bizarrely enough I can smell *people* pretty strongly.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      I'm the opposite. I have a very acute (for a human) sense of smell. I can tell by smell alone if someone had been in a room. In college I took a survey and was one of only two people (among 50) who could determine food/fragrance on a test card.

      At work I once knew that a power supply was burning up because I could smell something odd. It wasn't exactly smoke, more like honey and oil. When it burned about ten minutes later and blew real smoke, it was almost overwhelming to me.

      Someone once left a jacket in cla
    • Interesting. If you don't mind the public prodding, what foods taste best to you? It's well noted that, for most people, good-tasting food is actually a combination of taste and smell. For you, the smell bias is eliminated.
      • Without the distraction of taste, your mind is free to touch the Zen of pure flavor!
        • Once you drop both taste and smell, you've just got texture. I used to work with a guy who didn't have a sense of taste, most interesting thing was that he didn't like peanut butter, said it reminded him of oily sand.
    • by afabbro ( 33948 )
      I have an exceptionally keen sense of smell. And on top of that, I take a medication that has a side effect of heightening the sense of smell. Trust me, you are better off with no smell than one that picks up every hint of human funk, bad breath, or barely-expired meat product.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by bar-agent ( 698856 )
        It makes me wonder how dogs deal. I suppose since they sniff ass on a regular basis, it mustn't bother them much.
        • by mpeskett ( 1221084 ) on Sunday April 13, 2008 @04:03PM (#23055838)
          Dogs' noses are so good that they can't afford to find certain smells distasteful in the way we do - if they did it'd soon be absolutely unbearable for them anywhere near something icky.

          Our noses kinda make the decision about whether something is good/bad, for a dog any smell is just information. Like how our eyes just give us info about colours/shapes - we wouldn't recoil from a blue triangle in the way we do from sour milk.

          I suspect the smells dogs like are just the strongest smells or the ones with the most useful information to impart, which would explain the ass-sniffing and rolling in fox crap.
          • You know, that makes a lot of sense. I bet you're right.
          • by douji ( 959987 )
            that is brilliant! i wish i had mod points.
          • From what I've read dogs ass-sniff to tell if doggies of the opposite sex were in heat, and they roll in fox crap to mask their distinctive odor.
          • Like how our eyes just give us info about colours/shapes - we wouldn't recoil from a blue triangle in the way we do from sour milk.
            Blue triangle's never caused me to recoil, but I can't say the same thing about goatse.
          • Actually, it's not the nose which makes the decision of a scent being good or bad, it's your brain/consciousness. The nose merely does exactly what a dog's nose does: Collect the information of the particles and such and send that information to the brain to be processed accordingly. It's at that point that one imputes good/bad onto that scent.
    • by wik ( 10258 )
      My sense of smell is extremely poor. I just assumed it would be a skill I'd develop as I got older. (I didn't, of course). I also never understood why people said they loved the smell of flowers. If I put my nose directly up to flowers, they smell unpleasant--somewhat sour--pardon the term, I really don't know how to describe it.

      A few odors really do bug me, however. The smell of cooking bacon makes me feel sick. The smell of certain seafood also bothers me immensely. There were a few particularly mem
    • Re:No sense of smell (Score:5, Interesting)

      by scorp1us ( 235526 ) on Sunday April 13, 2008 @12:36PM (#23054736) Journal
      I have a super sense of smell. I can smell and identify an open can of V-8 in another room. But it's not all rosey at this extreme either (pun shamefully indulged in). As a result, some of our more volatile chemicals (like tar, household cleaners, etc) cause immediate headaches at just a wiff. Today there are tons of smells that just shouldn't be there. I'm not going to equate it to a mine field, but it's not great. But on occasion it is rewarding.

      My father lost his sense of smell after a car accident. I never realized how important it is. One day his van smelled like gas, but he didn't know. He had a leaky gas line. He can't smell my mom's perfume or what's for dinner. What he does taste is a combination of the four basic flavors.

      Smell is probably our most underrated sense.
      • by Velocir ( 851555 )
        Agreed. Most of taste is actually smell. Also, smell is the only sense that taps directly into the hindbrain, which is why people react so instinctually with it...
      • by sjames ( 1099 )

        My sense of smell seems to simply be "different", not stronger or weaker, but I percieve smells somewhat differently.

        The main manifestation is that artificial scents smell NOTHING like what they're supposed to even though others swear they do.

        Some smells others find objectionable are more neutral to me. Unfortunately, many perfumes and colognes smell absolutely horrific to me. We're talking eyes watering, burn some sulphur to cover the stench kind of bad.

        Fortunatly, flowers and most foods smell about

      • Smell is probably our most underrated sense.

        I'd like to take this moment to bring to your attention a delightful piece of science fiction - "The Lotus Caves" by John Christopher. It's set on the moon, where two boys go for an illegal trip in a moon buggy and crash into some caves where a massive intelligent plant lives.

        It is mentioned once by one of the main characters that they might have the technology to bring smells to teleconferencing. His father instantly dismisses the idea, because he regards the

  • by TropicalCoder ( 898500 ) on Sunday April 13, 2008 @08:36AM (#23053542) Homepage Journal

    The finding could help explain why some pollinators, particularly bees, are declining in certain parts of the world.

    I don't need to RTFA to point out how this conclusion does not bare up to even superficial examination. We have two types of bees in this world - domestic and wild. Bees in the wild are likely far from sources of pollution - by definition of "in the wild". Domestic bees are well known to be currently suffering a crises due a disease (or is it bee mites - or both?). What bees remain that are both not "in the wild" and not domestic are the only ones to potentially fit to the above conclusion. I would suggest that this is a very small group. I suppose other pollinators - like butterflies, etc, may find it a bit more difficult to find their flowers these days, but on the other hand, one would logically find these insects near flowers in the first place - their place of birth. Same goes for domestic bees, which are cultivated near flowering crops.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by polar red ( 215081 )

      We have two types of bees in this world - domestic and wild.
      No, we have 1 species of domestic bee, and thousands of species of wild bee.

      • He said TYPES, not SPIECES.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Tony Hoyle ( 11698 )
        And both are declining dramatically (there's an area in china that apparently has no bees left at all - the farmers there who grow pears for a living have to hand-pollinate otherwise there would be no more crops).
    • Far from sources of pollution and far from pollution are not equivalent statements.
    • I suppose other pollinators ... may find it a bit more difficult to find their flowers these days, ...

      I must be tired, since I read "pollinators" as "politicians."


    • by jensend ( 71114 ) on Sunday April 13, 2008 @11:03AM (#23054212)
      Nonsense. They're suggesting that the relevant effects from pollution aren't just local in the area of the polluters. Furthermore, colony collapse disorder [], which is the crisis you refer to, affects both wild and domestic bees and is very poorly understood - it's certainly not been proven to be due to disease or mites, and there's no good reason to immediately jump to the conclusion that the problem mentioned in the study isn't a major or even dominant factor in colony collapse disorder.
      • Nonsense...there's no good reason to immediately jump to the conclusion that the problem mentioned in the study isn't a major or even dominant factor in colony collapse disorder.

        I don't see how you so easily can say "nonsense". I see it differently - that there is no good reason to immediately jump to the conclusion that the problem of Colony Collapse Disorder is caused by pollution. Colony Collapse Disorder seems to happen in sporadic bursts, whereas I believe pollution can be graphed with long graceful curves.

        Wikipedia says "...late in the year 2006 and in early 2007 the rate of attrition was alleged to have reached new proportions, and the term "Colony Collapse Disorder" was proposed to describe this sudden rash of disappearances." To me, that implies that there is no correlation between Colony Collapse Disorder and pollution, since I don't think there was a sudden spike in pollution that corresponds with declines in bee populations.

        Interestingly, I was just reading Boeing 787 Dreamliner Delayed Again [], which links to a Wired Science article [], which points to a Dan Rather video, which has a segment at the end that states that the cause of Colony Collapse Disorder has been determined to be caused by some Israeli bee virus. First time I heard that. I am certainly no expert, nor do I pretend to be. I was merely stating that for me, on the surface, the conclusion does not bear up to close scrutiny. In fact, I was implying that one doesn't need to be an expert, or even to RTFA to formulate a plausible critique.

        • CCD could be a chaotic event with increasing stress before a complete breakdown.

          Sort of like this...
          p= pollution level/stress

          p4 sudden collapse may or may not happen from here on. (it's random so hard to prove scientifically)
          p5 s.c. zone
          p6 s.c. zone
          p7 bees always die at this level ( so it is repeatable- so science can easily detect it)

          We have a lot of problem with random/chaotic events.... then you add in politics (tree huggers, developers, industrialists, religious wack jobs) and it gets really me
        • "there is no good reason to immediately jump to the conclusion that the problem of Colony Collapse Disorder is caused by pollution"


          See, I see it differently. I think it is completely logical to start with the premise that all these chemicals in the atmosphere are fucking shit up. The fact is that we are living in a horrible experiment whereby we try to see how far we can push biological systems before they collapse and we are conditioned to accept this as normal. I for one am tired of breathing benzen
  • Horse shit. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Seumas ( 6865 ) on Sunday April 13, 2008 @08:39AM (#23053552)
    The perceptible scent of flowers drifted well over half a mile back in the day when the thick scent of horse shit and outhouses drowned the streets.

    • Re:Horse shit. (Score:5, Informative)

      by ByteSlicer ( 735276 ) on Sunday April 13, 2008 @08:47AM (#23053588)
      The problem seems to be not drowning the scent in other scents, but the destruction of scent molecules by pollutants. Insects have a very low scent threshold and can detect a scent trail of just a few specific molecules, so drowning wouldn't be a problem.
      • by Seumas ( 6865 )
        The article is rather vague and answers absolutely no questions, so I don't know how they acquired measurements, under what conditions and what variables were measured. I doubt the effect of pollution on reduction of "scent molecules" is as likely (or at least as destructive) as reducing the output of these molecules by the plants in the first place or the direct damaging of the plants themselves.

        And relating vanishing bees to it is just a random guess. Last I heard, the news reports were stating that bees
    • by Mex ( 191941 )
      Please read the article before making comments like this.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 13, 2008 @08:44AM (#23053566)
    My wife has terrible allergies to anything like flowers, pets, perfumes, etc. When we lived in Atlanta, she didn't have nearly as many problems since the smog clobbered all those things.
    • by 3seas ( 184403 )
      It's likely to have been the pollen clogging up her sinuses while desensitizing her allergies.

      Where pollen counts in the rest of the country are considered very high at 200, in Atlanta we commonly get to 2000 + and worse case year was 6000 +.

      And I have hear that people who have lived in teh Atlanta area all their life but move out for 6 months and back now suffer from sinus problem they did not have before.

      What I learned from this article is that bees have a sense of smell???
      • I lived in Marietta for two years--I have never seen so much pollen in my entire life. There were literally mounds of nothing but pollen that accumulated against street curbs. When it rained, you'd get big green-yellow pollen slicks, and your car would be covered in green-yellow dust as if someone took a 5 pound bag of the stuff and shook it all over your driveway. Insane.
      • I'm really curious, not (just) being a smartass: how did you think bees found flowers?
  • With the glut of environmental decline stories, I'm left to wonder if there's anything left that's NOT wrong with the environment!
    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      My environment is screwy too. For some reason LD_LIBRARY_PATH and JAVA_HOME are getting unset.
  • How does this study stand up to any scrutiny? (he asks while not RTFA.)

    I'm sure the pollen is still traveling the same distance that it used to unless pollution has also made it less windy (sure...). I bet what they meant to say is the scent is less noticeable at greater distance due to being overpowered by scents caused by pollution. I could believe that statement, but to say that pollution is preventing the smell from traveling is just goofy.

    • by vidarh ( 309115 )
      If you had RTFA'd you'd have seen that what they claim is that the pollutants bond with the molecules causing the scents and that as a result neutralize the scents much closer to the source. It is not about the scent being overpowered, but removed. Hence the smell would not travel further, because it wouldn't exist anymore - the molecules causing them will be a part of a different chemical compound.

      The article doesn't give enough details to judge the quality of the research.

      • by cremes ( 16553 )
        In order for the RTFA joke to have any currency, some of us must continue to *not* RTFA. I'm just trying to help you all out here...

        Thanks for the explanation. Now I don't need to RTFA.

  • I'm not sure I agree with their postulation that somehow, because they, as human cannot receive smell as well as they theoretically could in a pollution free environment, that others in the cycle of existence for whom smell is more necessary,have lost enough of the smell to matter. (I said that in one breath,honest!)
    I suspect perhaps there is some environmental alarmist bias in a subject that requires some scientific detachment. So, feel free to send me a slice o'
    • This "study" is a computer simulation. Computer simulations have a place in science, but before they are the basis for policy, they need to be tested in the real world.
      These scientists have tested a postulate in a computer simulation, that scents are diminished by the scent chemicals reacting with pollutants (especially ozone). Now they have to test that in the real world.
  • by gregor-e ( 136142 ) on Sunday April 13, 2008 @10:51AM (#23054120) Homepage
    If pollution is degrading aroma molecules before pollinators can pick up on them, this is a selective pressure for plants to produce more scent or at least more durable scents. Given that peppered moths have been able to change from light to dark and back to light coloring in less than a century, I'd expect we'd already be seeing (or smelling) stronger-scented flowers.
    • by dodobh ( 65811 ) on Sunday April 13, 2008 @01:37PM (#23055130) Homepage
      They would need to produce molecules which are not destroyed by pollutants. Being able to generate those in a really short time is tough. Even for as big a laboratory as the earth.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Wildflowers probably will develop stronger scents. I doubt that cultivated flowers will though, unless there is a radical change of attitude among breeders. I like gardening, and I especially like gardening with fragrant flowers. I can tell you that planting for scent is a lot harder than it was when I gardened with my grandmother as a kid; the vast majority of breeders just don't care about fragrance. Many, many types of tea roses have had no scent at all or just a very faint scent for decades. They breed

  • colors (Score:4, Informative)

    by slashkitty ( 21637 ) on Sunday April 13, 2008 @12:06PM (#23054572) Homepage
    That's real interesting, but bees and many other pollinators find the flowers through the color. Granted, pollution may be diminishing the color, but I'm sure they can still find them. Once found, the bees give directions to the hive.
  • It makes no practical difference whether the radius of detection is 1300 meters or 300 meters if the bees have a large flight path. (and flowers are not bordering on extinction) The premise of this argument is that bees are unable to find flowers with a 300m radar system, which I believe to be intuitively absurd. What we may be more concerned about is flowers that have been disproportionately diminished in their scent trails. These may wind up not being pollenated.
  • "Flower's Smell Not Traveling As Far"

    Look , I know we're not exactly the New Your Times here (and I'm NOT a grammar troll) but flowers don't "smell" primarily because they don't have noses. Flowers can "smell bad" or WE can smell flowers but flowers can't "smell" anything. The headline should have read "Flowers Fragrance not traveling as ..." or "Flowers Odor not traveling as ..." , whatever.

    Frankly I read the title three times and couldn't make any sense of it until I read the text beneath it. I'm not e
    • Well, the head line isn't "Flowers smell ...", but "Flowers' smell ..." i.e. "The smell of the flowers ..."

      And yes, "smell" indeed is a noun as well as a verb, and Webster's New Encyclopedic Dictionary gives as one meaning of that noun: "2: the property of a thing that affects the olfactory organs: odor"

      Oh, and the same source gives as one meaning of the verb: "4a: to give off an odor" - therefore flowers indeed do smell, although that's irrelevant to the interpretation of the title.
    • I think you got this from the old joke. You don't smell, I SMELL, and you stink.
  • Please please please no one tell Al Gore or we'll all have to sit through another Keynote presentation, and all the hype that surrounds it.
  • Here's my theory: Whenever I drive through agricultural areas, I see all the hives set up in orchards, vineyards and other similar areas. One thing I've noticed about them is that the bee-keepers set their hives up where its easy to get trucks in. Inevitably, this turns out to be on access roads at the perimeter of the crops, adjacent to a public road or highway. If the bees search for flowers in all directions from the hives, probability states that half of them will head across the road ..... and end up o
  • I say bio-engineer flowers with pollutant resistant scents. All in the name of Science.
    • by RobinH ( 124750 )
      I would think that if new strains of plants evolved that had pollution resistant scents, they would immediately flourish down-wind of large cities, and they would be the ones getting pollinated, thus solving the problem. The question is whether or not plants will evolve fast enough. I think that in time they probably would, if necessary.
  • A flower, by any name, would smell just as sweet, but it would effect its distance!

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