Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Redwood trees reveal history of West Coast rain, fog, ocean conditions

30.10.2013
Many people use tree ring records to see into the past. But redwoods – the iconic trees that are the world’s tallest living things – have so far proven too erratic in their growth patterns to help with reconstructing historic climate.

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 jajstone@gmail.com.

Hannah Hickey | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.uw.edu

Further reports about: Ocean Conditions Redwood carbon atom coastal conditions redwood trees

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Glacial engineering could limit sea-level rise, if we get our emissions under control
20.09.2018 | European Geosciences Union

nachricht Warning against hubris in CO2 removal
20.09.2018 | Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change (MCC) gGmbH

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Scientists present new observations to understand the phase transition in quantum chromodynamics

The building blocks of matter in our universe were formed in the first 10 microseconds of its existence, according to the currently accepted scientific picture. After the Big Bang about 13.7 billion years ago, matter consisted mainly of quarks and gluons, two types of elementary particles whose interactions are governed by quantum chromodynamics (QCD), the theory of strong interaction. In the early universe, these particles moved (nearly) freely in a quark-gluon plasma.

This is a joint press release of University Muenster and Heidelberg as well as the GSI Helmholtzzentrum für Schwerionenforschung in Darmstadt.

Then, in a phase transition, they combined and formed hadrons, among them the building blocks of atomic nuclei, protons and neutrons. In the current issue of...

Im Focus: Patented nanostructure for solar cells: Rough optics, smooth surface

Thin-film solar cells made of crystalline silicon are inexpensive and achieve efficiencies of a good 14 percent. However, they could do even better if their shiny surfaces reflected less light. A team led by Prof. Christiane Becker from the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (HZB) has now patented a sophisticated new solution to this problem.

"It is not enough simply to bring more light into the cell," says Christiane Becker. Such surface structures can even ultimately reduce the efficiency by...

Im Focus: New soft coral species discovered in Panama

A study in the journal Bulletin of Marine Science describes a new, blood-red species of octocoral found in Panama. The species in the genus Thesea was discovered in the threatened low-light reef environment on Hannibal Bank, 60 kilometers off mainland Pacific Panama, by researchers at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama (STRI) and the Centro de Investigación en Ciencias del Mar y Limnología (CIMAR) at the University of Costa Rica.

Scientists established the new species, Thesea dalioi, by comparing its physical traits, such as branch thickness and the bright red colony color, with the...

Im Focus: New devices based on rust could reduce excess heat in computers

Physicists explore long-distance information transmission in antiferromagnetic iron oxide

Scientists have succeeded in observing the first long-distance transfer of information in a magnetic group of materials known as antiferromagnets.

Im Focus: Finding Nemo's genes

An international team of researchers has mapped Nemo's genome

An international team of researchers has mapped Nemo's genome, providing the research community with an invaluable resource to decode the response of fish to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

One of the world’s most prominent strategic forums for global health held in Berlin in October 2018

03.09.2018 | Event News

4th Intelligent Materials - European Symposium on Intelligent Materials

27.08.2018 | Event News

LaserForum 2018 deals with 3D production of components

17.08.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Glacial engineering could limit sea-level rise, if we get our emissions under control

20.09.2018 | Earth Sciences

Warning against hubris in CO2 removal

20.09.2018 | Earth Sciences

Halfway mark for NOEMA, the super-telescope under construction

20.09.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>