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

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."


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

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