A journal of science, thought, and action.

Published on Thursday, October 31, 2013

Reading Trees

Plants speak to us if we're paying close attention. They wilt if not watered; turn yellow if not fed; and burn if in to much sun. Plants can be books if you learn how to read them, and trees are some of the best record keepers. New investigations by researchers at the University of Washington's  Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and the Ocean  show they can now inform us about climate change as well.

According to a report in  Geophysical Research/Bio-geosciences , Jim Johnstone of the Institute has developed a way to use redwoods as a window into past climate conditions. Using oxygen isotopes in the tree's wood to detect fog and rainfall in previous seasons, the new method has proved correct in a 50 year time-line test. The researcher comment in a UW announcement : “This is really the first time that climate reconstruction has ever been done with redwoods.”

Redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens)                 Redwoods Range (credit: Save the Redwoods)
(credit: Wiki-commons)                                

The research used cores from California coastal redwoods tracing climate over the test period. Weather records gathered over from the same time showed that Johnstone's measure was accurate, suggesting it could be used to track conditions through the thousand or more years of a redwoods’ lifetime.

The lead researcher and his collaborators used a difficult approach more similar to reading ice cores and bores from trees to measure oxygen isotope ratios in the wood.
Rain and fog carry different ratios of the molecules so fog---the prime natural characteristic of redwood environments---absorbed by the wood retained a record of past chemistry of the thick moisture-laden atmosphere.

Related research has showed that the amount of West Coast fog is tied to ocean surface temperatures, so redwoods may provide information about long-term patterns of ocean change. Johnstone said: “It is possible that redwoods could give us a direct indication of how that’s worked over longer periods."

A recent TED presentation details more about these remarkable trees and the people who study them:

While the researchers have learned to read these tall "books" well the fate of the fogs that bath them is being affected by a changing climate and a new history is being written in their wood.


Comments (0)Number of views (11407)

Please login or register to post comments.

Gene Editing with CRISPR




Gene Editing with CRISPR

CRISPR has been adopted by laboratories worldwide.

Read more
The Conservation Alliance

Archive Highlights

With the Stoke of a Pen, an update

With the Stoke of a Pen, an update

In 2014, major marine preserves were created.

5 Dec 2017

Video Highlights

Recent Archive Highlights

Environmental Art

Environmental Art 15 January 2018

Environmental Art

Creating paintings with natue connections.

Patagonia and Sustainability

Patagonia and Sustainability 31 December 2017

Patagonia and Sustainability

Patagonia shows how to apply sustainability in business practice.

Where Good Ideas Come From

Where Good Ideas Come From 22 December 2017

Where Good Ideas Come From

A clever storyteller suggests an answer.

Bottled Arctic Notes

Bottled Arctic Notes 15 December 2017

Bottled Arctic Notes

A bottled note tossed to the waves recovered years later.

Bloody Falls, Dry Valleys, & Mars

Bloody Falls, Dry Valleys, & Mars 7 December 2017

Bloody Falls, Dry Valleys, & Mars

The Dry Valleys are one of the strangest environments on Earth.

With the Stoke of a Pen, an update

With the Stoke of a Pen, an update 5 December 2017

With the Stoke of a Pen, an update

In 2014, major marine preserves were created.

Chasing Ice

In the vein of full disclosure, it must be admitted that I am super-biased about the subject matter of a yet-to-be released movie, Chasing Ice, the film’s subject James Balog, a friend of 40 years, and the Sundance Film Festival where I was an original long-time volunteer. It is hard not to celebrate this fantastic documentary film, the dedicated explorer-photographer, and a festival that has come to represent all that is important in independent filmmaking. Chasing Ice chronicles the ...
  • 3141

Rust Belt

The idea of a rust belt conjures images of derelict steel mills or long abandoned auto plants covered, well, in red rust of industrial strength. It isn’t a pretty sight. Far less well known are rusts that impact the natural world, particularly plants. Plant rusts are diseases caused by pathogenic fungi of which nearly 7800 species are known. Rusts can affect all plants from their leaves, stems, and roots, to their fruits and seeds. An outbreak of Myrtle Rust has been spreading like a ...
  • 2236

11 Alien Solar Systems and Counting

Kepler is at it again. The clever space telescope has now discovered 11 entirely new planetary systems circling alien suns. The total of confirmed planets now stands at 26 and counting. According to NASA, the Kepler findings nearly double the number of identified worlds found outside our solar system. The alien worlds range from 1.5 times the size Earth to larger than Jupiter. All of the newly  discovered planets circle very close to their parent stars making it highly unlikely that any ...
  • 3267

Spaceman Newt

You gotta like Newt, the giant-headed Republican candidate for president who's going to take us back to the moon. There are two ways to love him. First, as the real-life incarnation of Steve Austin, the congressional candidate from 30 Rock who wanted casinos on the moon: Second, as a legitimate person with actual ideas knocking around in that giant globe on his shoulders. He wants to have a permanent moon base by the end of his second term. So we can mine them for rare ...
  • 2177

Earth HD

Spectacular new high-definition photo of Earth.  Hey, I can see my house!
  • 2266

Strung along

They say string theory is the only game in town, and so we'd better all get working on trying to understand what it means. Most of us are still working on wrapping our heads around relativity.  So my cutting edge is about a hundred years behind. (And, honestly, I never really grasped calculus.) String theory includes a lot of strange components, including the idea -- which scientists say is more likely than not -- that our universe has many more dimensions than the four we're used to. Here's ...
  • 2017

Auroras Galore

  The eruptions from the Sun’s surface plasma produce visual displays when the energized particles hit the Earth's upper atmosphere. This short video sequence, captured in northern Norway, resulted from a January 19th solar flare. These auroras are particularly amazing. Norway Auroras (credit: Helge Mortensen) WHB
  • 2150

The Aquatic Ape

Humans evolved … in water.You’ve probably already heard this fascinating/bizarre/hilarious pseudo-theory before, but I hadn’t. When I stumbled onto it yesterday, I spent hours clicking through all the links about it. Most fun you can have outside the NFL Playoffs. Basically, one respected biologist … and apparently only one … once proposed that humans didn’t evolve on the grasslands of Africa but in the shallow water nearby. That idea … which he never really followed up on, because there’s ...
  • 2107

Song of the Spindle

Spindle cells are specialized neurons. They are found buried in restricted regions in the brains of humans, bonobos, and other great apes but also within the brains of whales, dolphins and elephants. Spindle neurons have been implicated as having an important role in many high level brain functions and cognitive abilities. Much is still unknown about these cells but their presence in such diverse large mammals suggests they occur only in highly intelligent species. Spindle cells are also ...
  • 2458

Another great one

A solar system being born, brought to you by Robert Krulwich and the amazing Hubble telescope.
  • 2037

Beauty in subtlety

Here's a beautiful video from NPR and Robert Krulwich, who has the potential to be a successor to Sagan, at least in his ability to make us wonder. 
  • 2081

Citizen Science

Here at Riled Up we celebrate environmental science, new technologies, and engaged explorations. Discovery and inspiration can happen anywhere, to anyone, at any time of life. This is one reason why the growth of citizen science is so exciting. Citizen science is defined as “the systematic collection and analysis of data, development of new technology, testing of natural phenomena, and the dissemination of these activities on primarily avocational basis.” Individuals or volunteer networks, ...
  • 2109

Chevy Volt’s battery OK

Just to follow up on my story about electric cars, the government closed its investigation into the Chevy Volt’s battery, saying “a defect has not been identified at this time.” Another reason not to abandon battery technology just yet. 
  • 2685

Death of a Giant

In the Biblical fable, Methuselah lived in the year 1656 after the Creation and died at the age of nearly 1000 years old, seven days before Noah’s flood. The phrase "old as Methuselah," often refers to any living thing reaching great age. That would certainly be true for a giant Bald Cypress that was more than 3500 years old and just burned to the ground in a puzzling fire. The cypress was a sapling before the ancient Egyptians or Greeks built their temples and civilizations. It had been ...
  • 3539

Antiquarian Skylight

Exposing a piece of film over a long period of time, from a specific location, compresses the exposure, and creates a solargraph. The photographic technique requires a pinhole camera to capture the diffuse and thin light onto photo-sensitive paper or film. Pinhole photography is an early light capturing approach now being used to create modern art photos. The images look like they might have been discovered in an old trunk filled 19th Century daguerreotypes of  soldiers or cold winter ...
  • 3909

Monkey seen

Chill out everybody.  The Grizzled Langur has been found. 
  • 2133

Penguins Aren't People

by Conrad Anker Humans have a tendency to anthropomorphize animals. Penguins, with their tuxedo like plumage and waddle, are a fine example of how we extend characteristics and behavior of humans to animals. The physical similarity makes the connection to animals is logical--- they are born, they die, and they share a brief time span on this planet. Obviously penguins, cute and adorable as they are, would not be granted personhood in the Bill of Rights. Less obvious are corporations and ...
  • 2028

Another run at the Olympics

Forget the Olympics, I used to think. Sure, they look pretty, done up in rainbow colors with classiest necklaces this side of the British Crown Jewels, but the 1980 Olympics practically brought down the Soviet Empire, and the 1984 games left Los Angeles deeply in debt.  And so I was always perversely proud, as a fourth generation Coloradan, that my wise ancestors rejected the 1976 Olympic games' invitation to dance, the only time that's ever happened. We rejected it as too expensive and too ...
  • 2158

Good News for Warblers

The voice of the Seychelles Warbler is often described as rich, melodious, and similar to a person whistling. An endemic bird found only in the Seychelles Islands, it is endangered, and was once close to extinction. At one point the entire population of warblers was down to 26 individuals all confined to a small rocky outcrop in the Indian Ocean, Cousin Island. So it is exciting to learn that captive breeding efforts between conservationists in the Seychelles and researchers in the United ...
  • 4646

Carnivorous Plants Get Creative

Carnivorous plants are true curiosities of the vegetable world. They exist in all environments but typically are found in waterlogged bogs or soils poor in essential nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus. To compensate for these mineral deficiencies, carnivorous plants evolved sticky leaves, pitcher-like structures, and snap-traps to capture unsuspecting insects and bugs get stuck in the plant which then provides with the missing environmental nutrients. Some carnivorous plants are able to ...
  • 2306

On Deniers

From way back in 2007, here's an oldie but a goodie, as climate scientist Richard C.J. Somerville drops some genius during a debate with exceptional novelist and noted climate blowhard Michael Crichton. The end is great, when he dismisses wing nuts like Crichton by summarizing: "it tends to be the rare exception rather than the rule when a lone genius eventually prevails over conventional mainstream scientific thought." Here's the whole excerpt:  The science community today has ...
  • 1541

Electric Shocks

Check out the Chevy Volt. It's not stylish. Based on looks alone, it probably ups your cool factor by about ... point five percent. If that.  The New York Post calls the Chevy Volt "one part lemon, one part government albatross."  In the article, the Cato Institute's Patrick Michaels offers a litany of facts and half-facts about the car's problems, and a list of the problems other eco cars are facing.  True, they're expensive -- about $40,000. True, the battery only powers ...
  • 1545