Skip to content

Sequoias Accelerating

August 24, 2013

It may seem anomalous to think of a 3000+ year-old tree accelerating. But that’s what’s happening to the redwoods (sequoias) growing along the California coast.

Scientists study tree rings from cores deep into the trees. I sure hope they know what they’re doing–I’d hate to think of inadvertent damage, or allowing pests into a three thousand-year tree. On the other hand, I suppose a tree that old has seen anything that could happen. Some of these trees are so large they even have giant Douglas firs growing out of them, up in the canopy.

So why are these trees growing faster? About a 100 years ago, their tree rings showed greater growth of wood each year. Then more recently, the acceleration has increased even more. The growth appears to correlate with increasing temperature and CO2 due to global climate change. It’s just a “correlation” yet–but is consistent with other findings that plant growth accelerates with temperature and CO2, providing they get enough water and other nutrients.

So is this a good thing? Maybe, for these trees, for now. But higher temperatures  lead to drought and pest infestations. Alaska is dealing with pest infestations in a tragic way, and Africa is losing trees to drought.

  1. August 24, 2013 6:06 pm

    It’s true, for me at least–some of the global climate changes have a very attractive side-effect in Somers–the winters seem shorter and less snowy lately. Of course, if I were still in school, I’d be upset about the lack of snowdays…

    I won’t notice much else until the food prices start climbing due to flood and/or drought-related crop failures all over the globe this year.

  2. August 25, 2013 4:52 pm

    ” won’t notice much else until the food prices start climbing due to flood and/or drought-related crop failures all over the globe this year.”

    You have to take the long view. Think of the available food when we can double-crop in Canada and Siberia. An awful lot of the planet’s land area is now uncomfortably cold for intensive farming — the Earth is pretty top-heavy toward the North! And an awful lot of the fresh water is up there, too. Just as an example, the Mackenzie is the 4th largest river in the world, and it is zero per cent utilized. Ditto all the north-flowing rivers in Siberia.

    Anyway, I don’t see a long-term food problem because I have faith that our microbiologists will, sooner or later, tweak human gut bacteria to break down cellulose into its component starch/sugar. Then we can EAT those redwoods, not to mention the leaves I have to rake up (twice a year in Central Texas) and the grass that grows in my back yard. I have seen the comment, in connection with biomass fuel plants, that in a sunny climate with enough rain, bermuda grass produces more tons per acre than any other plant. (I think the slash pine was number two.) Even if Joan and her colleagues disappoint me, a warmer Earth will have MORE rainfall and support more food crops. Higher temp = higher evaporation from the oceans, and what goes up must come down. Won’t necessarily come down in the places it now rains, of course, but ON AVERAGE a warmer, wetter world with more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere should be heaven for vegetation, just like the Cretaceous was. And that, of course, was the point of the original article about the Coast Redwoods.

    PS — Has any botanist spent his or her working life down in a coal mine getting estimates of biomass production in Ye Good Olde Days?

    • August 25, 2013 5:07 pm

      In the short term, yes, there will be wetter places, along with bigger storms.
      The long-term problem is the hockey-stick shape of the curve. The Cretaceous stayed at an elevated temperature and CO2 at a stable level for quite a while. Our current CO2 is going up so fast it’s actually faster than exponential. It will keep going up–no stabilization in sight. After all the ice melts, if the temperature keeps rising, there’s only one thing water can do. The Venus effect.

  3. August 25, 2013 5:18 pm

    A large increase in biomass in a Cretaceous-like future would tend to lock up a lot of that CO2. Dunno whether future humams can produce it faster than the plants can sequester it — I have no idea where an equilibrium point might be, or what future energy production technology will be.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: