Drilling Down: Trees Offer Clues to Past Climate

Igor Heifetz ・ High Meadows Environmental Institute

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.