Park Williams studies trees and climate, in particular the causes of drought and the effects of climate change on forests. In this latest in a series of Earth Institute videos, we spoke to him about what he does, what’s important about it, and how his interest in history and environmental science blended into a career.
Tree Ring Lab
“If climate change is having an impact and is making droughts worse, then we should see this in the record over several centuries—and we do,” said the study’s author, Benjamin Cook.
A new international consortium of scientists is bringing the history of temperature fluctuations across the entire Northern Hemisphere to life.
In its first 40 years, the Lamont Tree Ring Lab tracked changing climates around the world, building an international reputation as a global leader in research, training and technology.
Annual tree rings are a rare find in the tropical islands of the eastern Pacific. The new discovery of trees with annual rings on a Hawaiian volcano could provide new climate data from a part of the world where much of the variability of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation originates.
Four years ago this month, archeologists monitoring the excavation of the former World Trade Center site uncovered a ghostly surprise: the bones of an ancient sailing ship. In a new study, scientists at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory say that an old growth forest in the Philadelphia area supplied the white oak used in the ship’s frame, and that the trees were probably cut in 1773 or so—a few years before the bloody war that established America’s independence from Britain.
Daily comparisons on TV or other media sources are typically based upon recent climate and ignore the past. Dased upon paleo records, the full picture indicates that we are sitting in one of the more unusually wet periods of the last 500 years.
When we walked into the Sheraton in Springfield, Massachusetts we were greeted by none other than a wall full of cross sections from trees perfectly sanded to reveal the rings. “No way” I say. “I forgot the camera!” says Neil. We were just walking into the Northeast Natural History Conference, along with Dario and Jackie from the Tree Ring Lab. When I pictured my freshman year of college last summer, I pictured a lot of things. I did not picture getting to go to a conference to present a poster on my own research.
“You can do math on excel?” I ask. I immediately imagine a face-palm response, but Dario, one of my advisors, is nice enough to hide it. I’ve collected tree core samples, I’ve prepared them and cross-dated them. Now what? Oh, right. The Science.
Ever since I’ve started learning to cross-date tree core samples, I’ve learned I have a type. I prefer my tree cores to be black oaks, middle-aged, with some nice big rings to show me. Alright, fine, I can deal with some smaller rings every now and then. As long as they’re some nice marker rings. Unfortunately, the trees don’t seem to be trying to impress me.