Friday, August 04, 2006

Tanja Sanders

Going back in time is not only possible with fossils. As a geographer and dendroecologist I am working with tree rings to gain information about the past. The advantage is that by counting the rings is very precise. Trees (outside the tropics) build one ring each year, although depending on temperature, rainfall, soil type, and a range of other factors the width of the ring varies from year to year. We read these signals and then take a step back in time using wood samples from houses, ships, and even samples buried in moors and ice. Linking them together tree-ring records can be as long as a millennia. We get all sorts of information from these records: climate, growth conditions, insect attacks... depending on the most important factor for these trees.

But we can use the information as well to have a look in the future. Analysing the annual growth for a certain species today and running it through a growth model we get information about the growth under e.g. global warming scenarios. Are certain species going to suffer from drought? Is the timberline going to shift? Which species are the winners? We are working on the answers.


Do we have an upwards trend of the timberline? In other words, are trees growing higher up on mountains? This is another part of my research which i will investigate over the next few years.

7 Comments:

At August 07, 2006, Anonymous stuart said...

If you find and upward trend in the timberline over recent years, this means the climate is getting milder nowadays right? Does this mean global warming is really happening?

 
At August 09, 2006, Blogger Q & A said...

Hi Stuart,
You are right, an upward trend is due to a milder climate; however, the question what to understand under global warming is more difficult to answer. If we look at the big picture the climate on earth has changed quite drastically - just think of Hannibal crossing the alps with elephants in Roman times. We have evidence that it was warmer then, than it is today. Going along with higher reaching forests. About 150 years ago it was very cold - a little ice-age. Climate is therefore changing in intervals and whether we are still on an upward trend after the little ice-age or we have global warming (this expression nowadays indicates the human influence)is difficult to say. We are working hard to seperate the signals we get from the trees to be able to quantify the human and the natural warming.

 
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