A University of Washington researcher has developed a way to use the trees as a window into coastal conditions, using oxygen and carbon atoms in the wood to detect fog and rainfall in previous seasons.
Michael Schweppe / Flickr
Coastal redwoods in Northern California use fog as a water source, incorporating the molecules in their trunks.
“This is really the first time that climate reconstruction has ever been done with redwoods,” said Jim Johnstone, who recently completed a postdoctoral position at the UW-based Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and the Ocean. He is corresponding author of a study published online Oct. 24 in the Journal of Geophysical Research-Biogeosciences.
While coastal redwoods are not the longest-lived trees on the West Coast, they do contain unique information about their foggy surroundings.
“Redwoods are restricted to a very narrow strip along the coastline,” Johnstone said. “They’re tied to the coastline, and they’re sensitive to marine conditions, so they actually may tell you more about what’s happening over the ocean than they do about what’s happening over land.”
The new study used cores from Northern California coastal redwoods to trace climate back 50 years. Weather records from that period prove the method is accurate, suggesting it could be used to track conditions through the thousand or more years of the redwoods’ lifetime.
Tree-ring research, or dendrochronology, typically involves a detailed look at a cross-section of a tree trunk. But the rings of a redwood are uneven and don’t always fully encircle the tree, making it a poor candidate for anything except detecting historic fires.
The new paper uses a painstaking approach that’s more like processing ice cores. It uses the molecules captured in the wood to sample the atmosphere of the past.
Most oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere has an atomic mass of 16, making it O-16, but a small percentage of oxygen is the heavier O-18 isotope. When seawater evaporates off the ocean to form clouds, some drops fall as rain over the ocean, and more of the heavier O-18 molecules rain out. The remaining drops that fall on land thus have a higher proportion of the lighter O-16 molecules.
Fog, on the other hand, forms near shore and blows on land where it drips down through the branches until the trees use it like rainwater.
By looking at the proportion of O-16 and O-18 in the wood from each season, the team was able to measure the contribution of fog and rain. They looked at the spring growth, from April to June, as well as the fall growth, from August to October. Researchers also analyzed carbon atoms to measure the total amount of moisture in the air.
“We actually have two indicators that we can use in combination to determine if a particular summer was foggy with a little rain, foggy with a lot of rain, and various combinations of the two,” Johnstone said.
Related research by Johnstone shows that the amount of West Coast fog is closely tied to the surface temperature of the ocean, so redwoods may be able to tell us something about the long-term patterns of ocean change, such as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation. Understanding of the natural variability cycles could also help to better distinguish natural and human-caused climate change.
“It’s possible that the redwoods could give us direct indication of how that’s worked over longer periods,” Johnstone said. “This is just a piece that contributes to that understanding in a pretty unique place.”
Johnstone conducted the research as part of his doctoral work at the University of California, Berkeley, where he was advised by co-author Todd Dawson. The other co-author is John Roden at Southern Oregon University. The research was funded by the National Science Foundation.
For more information, contact Johnstone at email@example.com.
Hannah Hickey | EurekAlert!
Research sheds new light on forces that threaten sensitive coastlines
24.04.2017 | Indiana University
NASA sees the end of ex-Tropical Cyclone 02W
21.04.2017 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.
Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...
Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.
"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...
The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.
Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...
The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...
Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.
Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...
20.04.2017 | Event News
18.04.2017 | Event News
03.04.2017 | Event News
24.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
24.04.2017 | Materials Sciences
24.04.2017 | Life Sciences