Teaching at Princeton University, October 2015

Drilling down: Trees offer clues to past climate

by Leda Kopach, Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies

Instructors Ulf Büntgen of the Swiss Federal Research Institute (left) and Jürg Luterbacher of Justus Liebig University in Germany (center) work with Georgetown University Ph.D. student Jackson Perry to remove and examine a tree core on the Princeton campus. (Photos by Denise Applewhite, Office of Communications)“There are more clues to the past lurking beneath a tree’s bark than just rings to count. Hunting down that evidence starts with a simple boring device, as demonstrated recently along Washington Road on the Princeton University campus as 15 graduate students, researchers and junior faculty, guided by instructors, extracted a long, thin piece of a conifer’s core during a workshop on dendroclimatology — the science of determining past climates from trees.After boring the sample, which doesn’t harm the tree, the workshop participants took turns examining the wood and its telling characteristics, gaining insights into the tree’s history, including its environment and the surrounding climate. Through quick observation and ring counting, participants estimated that the conifer was approximately 40 years old. The workshop was part of the new Climate Change and History Research Initiative, launched this fall at the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies, which looks broadly at a variety of factors that shed light on climate and history.” …

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