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Redwood trees reveal history of West Coast rain, fog, ocean conditions
Date:10/29/2013

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.

"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
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Contact: Hannah Hickey
hickeyh@uw.edu
206-543-2580
University of Washington
Source:Eurekalert

Page: 1 2

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