A Story About Once and Future California, Written in the Rings of Redwoods

The core sample from the oldest coast redwood tree ever found is a thin rod of wood the width of a pencil, a couple feet long, and densely scored at irregular intervals by dark brown stripes. In this compact package, exposed to the air and sitting on a table in front of me at the Humboldt State University Institute for Redwood Ecology, lies 1,500 years of history from a tree dating back to 328 CE.

Dendrochronologist Allyson Carroll hand-counted each of the 1,498 minuscule rings in this core. And not just this sample, but hundreds more; in all, Carroll has counted more than a quarter of a million coast redwood tree rings.

She does it because these little rings have immense power. In the labs of scientists, cores like this will have another life. Rings will be counted, measured, and combusted into vapor, and their elemental origins will be tallied, all in an effort to peer into the deep history of the earth.

Coast redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens) are famous for being the tallest trees in the world. Redwoods shoot up hundreds of feet into the air and hail from another age, their ancestors arriving in the fossil record over 200 million years ago. Yet the tiny spaces between the rings – spaces so small scientists peer at them with microscopes – tell big stories about the past that no human alive has seen, and a future we have yet to understand.

Read the full story at Bay Nature.