Climate change always seems to be about things going wrong - The Arctic is melting faster, sea water levels are rising rapidly . . . and the list goes on. Now finally there is some good news. According to a team of experts led by Emily Burns, Science Director at Calfornia's Save the Redwoods League, it is actually helping the world's tallest trees thrive.
The research on the redwoods and giant sequoias, both native to California that was conducted in conjunction with scientists from University of California, Berkeley, Humboldt State and the Marin Conservation Institute, began in 2009. In order to incorporate the entire spectrum of the ancient trees, the scientists marked off 16 research areas all the way from the western slopes of southern Sierra Nevada, home to the giant sequoias, to the narrow coastal strip spanning from Big Sur to Southwestern Oregon - the areas most favored by the redwoods.
In order to study the growth patterns, they began by shaving off pencil-thin corings from 78 randomly selected ancient trees. Using the tree rings they then began compiling the chronology for each one. For some of the redwoods they were able to trace grown patterns all the way back to the year 328, whilst a similar analysis on the giant sequoias went as far back as the year 474. While this may seem unusual for most trees, it is pretty common for these ancient giants, both of which can live for thousands of years.
The scientists then used this information to create a graph comparing each tree's annual growth to the weather pattern that year. What they discovered, stunned them - During these last few decades of rapid climate change, both trees have been 'putting' on weight, that is, adding girth to their trunks and becoming chunkier. To give you an idea, the fastest growing tree is adding 1.6 cubic meters of wood or the equivalent of 3.2 million pencils each year - And that, is just one tree!
The scientists who unveiled the results of the study on August 14th at a symposium in Berkeley, said that this led them to conclude that California's ancient trees are actually benefiting from global warming. In the case of the giant sequoias they believe it could be because rising temperatures have lengthened the growing season in the Sierra Nevada, whilst the redwoods probably benefited from less fog along the Northern California coast. Having said that are cautious about whether this will continue in the long term. That's because global warming is usually associated with less rain, which is something this area has not suffered from yet. Other factors they believe may be helping the trees thrive, is lack of pollution from wood processing plants and fewer wildfires.
That is not the only good news - Turns out that the trees are also great carbon hoarders and have the capability of absorbing three times as much as their counterparts in other forests - And of course the more wood they hold, the larger the amount of carbon they can absorb, which means that they are also helping curb some of the effects from global warming. An added bonus? Whilst conducting their research the scientists came across what they believe is the oldest coastal redwood tree ever discovered. At the ripe age of 2,520, this majestic tree surpassed the previous record holder by 300 years!
Sequoias and redwoods are often believed to be the same trees, largely because they are both native to California, have the same distinctive cinnamon colored bark and grow to majestic heights. They are however very different trees. For one, the redwoods thrive in the moist humid climate of the Northern California coast while the giant sequoias prefer higher elevation and can be found largely along the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. While the 300 feet tall trees they are no midgets, that's how they appear to be next to the redwoods, that can exceed 350 feet in height. But what the sequoias lack in height, they make up in girth and while the redwoods are the world's tallest trees, the sequoias are the world's largest, in volume - In fact, the world's largest living organism (and tree) is a sequoia by the name of General Sherman which weighs a staggering 2.7 million pounds and stands 275 feet tall from its 100 foot wide base.
Resources: LAtimes.com, kqed.org