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Signs of Change: Studying Tree Rings

Nancy Colberg, Northern Climate Change

In this hands-on activity, students will learn about dendrochronology (the study of tree rings to understand ecological conditions in the recent past) and come up with conclusions as to what possible climatic conditions might affect tree growth in their region. Students determine the average age of the trees in their schoolyard, investigate any years of poor growth, and draw conclusions about the reasons for those years.

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  • If the suggested path of obtaining the tree samples is too complicated â go to a saw mill and ask them to cut tree disks or cut some of your own from a tree trunk. Educators should assign the extension on solutions to the students at the end of the lesson. If a coring borer is used - measure the diameter of the tree to determine how deep to core the tree. Obtaining local weather records for seasonal average rainfall and temperatures would provide a basis of comparing the influence of these factors on tree growth. Additional resource to consult: Esper, J., E. R. Cook, and F. H. Schweingruber (2002) Low-frequency signals in long tree-ring chronologies for reconstructing past temperature variability. Science 295:2250-2253 and []. There are also paper versions of tree-ring/dendrochronology activities that could be linked to this since, indeed, obtaining core or cross section may be hard for some. Not all trees can necessarily be used for coring.