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Tree Rings Can Reveal Our Past, Present, and Future

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Although trees surround us, have you ever taken the time to observe them? Their structure and how each part connects with the other. Even if you have observed trees quite well, here is something that you surely wouldn’t have noticed. 

Trees are considered as timekeepers. You can find out a tree’s age by counting the concentric growth rings circling the heartwood of a chopped log. It is called tree-ring dating, or else technically known as dendrochronology. 

Dendrochronologists direct the distribution of a single calendar year to a single ring, yet various techniques are used to cross date wood specimens to ensure accurate dating.

Dendrochronology helps determine the age of a tree and provides information about climatic conditions. Scientists use dendrochronology to date archeological sites, prevent forest fires, and even document planetary history. It is useful in determining the environmental future. 

The practical purposes of the study of tree rings are numerous. Dendrochronology is an interdisciplinary science and can apply its theory and techniques for many purposes.

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Photo 93072986 © Kitti Kahotong –

Things that affect a tree, such as temperature, precipitation, and injuries, are portrayed through the rings. Every year a new layer is added to the wood. This helps trees to develop strong trunks in order to support all branches and hold them up so that the leaves receive sunlight to undergo photosynthesis. 

If you observe a chopped log, you can see the rings spreading out from the older ones to the newer ones. They are useful in determining a tree’s age, especially in species such as oak that produce an annual ring. 

Dendrochronology is also useful in finding out what time period and location a tree came from. Dendrochronologists first create a master chronology, a database of tree ring patterns going back in time for a given geographic region. 

They drill a pencil-sized core sample from a living tree using an increment borer. Then ring patterns are plotted out year by year, giving an accurate picture of growing conditions over time. 

Dendrochronology also helps in charting climate change. When temperatures rise, it means a longer growing season. Trees are growing rapidly, and their rings are getting bigger. It is somewhat unnatural.

Dendrochronologists extract a rod of wood tissue that contains the tree’s full ring structure. Hannes Grobe/AWI/Wikimedia Commons

It is even useful in uncovering environmental mysteries. According to the data gathered from tree-rings, the year 540 was catastrophic. Trees from all around the world, despite their distinctive environments, grew smaller rings. 

Therefore, it was assumed that a comet broke up in the Earth’s atmosphere, creating dust clouds and forest fires due to fragments raining down. Which apparently slowed the growing season that year.

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According to the University of Arizona, Tree-Ring Lab, ring-counting alone does not always guarantee each ring’s accurate dating. Various studies have illustrated how ring-counting can lead to incorrect conclusions drawn from inaccurate dating.

It helps to understand the current environmental situations better and improve understanding of future environmental issues, and it puts the present in a proper historical context.

There are some limitations to tree rings. As in parts of the world, particularly in the tropics, the available species do not have a sufficiently distinct seasonal pattern that can be used. When the right species are available, the wood must be well preserved so that the rings are readable.

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Aren’t trees just fascinating? 

There was an ancient tree that was found during an excavation of a geothermal power plant in Ngawha North Island, New Zealand. This Tree contains a record of a reversal of Earth’s magnetic field.

Understanding what happened to the Tree during that process would give us insight into what to expect the next time a polar shift happens. Specialists believe that we might experience an increase in cosmic radiation that will take out satellites and probably other communication infrastructure when this happens. 

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