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Exploring Climate Change
Through Dendroclimatology
Power of
Svea Anderson, Agua Caliente Elementary School, Tucson Earth Camp Educator 2013
Artist’s view of a U.S. Landsat satellite. Credits: NASA.
Dendroclimatology is the study of tree
growth rings to reconstruct climates of the
past. Thickness and density variations of
annual growth rings offer valuable
information about climate change.
In the Southwest US, climate researchers are
particularly interested in what tree rings can
teach us about past droughts, dating back
hundreds of years.
Trees need water, sunlight and various nutrients to grow. In a wet year,
trees grow more and their annual rings will be thicker. Scientists can study
the size variation of tree rings to reconstruct the history of wet and dry
years in a region. With that data, scientists can then analyze patterns of
precipitation change over time.
Arizona has been in drought conditions for the
last twelve to fifteen years. Researchers at the
Laboratory of Tree Ring Research at the
University of Arizona studied tree rings from the
Salt and Verde watersheds and determined that
1996 and 2002 had so little precipitation that
there were no growth rings for those years.
Landsat 1989
Landsat 1996
Middle School Earth Camper
extracting tree core on Mount
Landsat 2002
These Landsat images include data overlays on a background map of Arizona. The green false-color represents healthy vegetation, as
determined from annual composites of satellite images. More green indicates years with more precipitation. Landsat imagery accessed via
Google Earth Engine’s Trusted Tester program.
This exhibit is based upon work supported by NASA under award #NNX10AK14G. Any
opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of
the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Aeronautics and Space