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Hooray for the Bristlecone Pines

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Hooray for the Bristlecone Pines
October 27, 2012 06:24PM
The vanishing groves

A chronicle of climates past and a portent of climates to come – the telling rings of the bristlecone pine

Ross Andersen 16 October 2012

...In 1953, Edmund Schulman spent his summer doing fieldwork in the Idaho countryside where, the year before, he had found another old tree, a 1,650-year-old pine. On his long drive back to the tree-ring lab in Arizona, he made a stop in the White Mountains to visit the bristlecone pines, to see if there was any substance to the persistent rumors of their antiquity. As it happens, he nearly missed them. Schulman had spent a fair amount of time in Yosemite Valley sampling John Muir’s giant sequoias. In sequoias, height is a decent proxy for age, a correlation that Schulman assumed extended to all alpine conifers. When he went to see the bristlecones, he spent the bulk of his time poking around the younger trees, which were tall and had the majority of their sectors intact. Schulman cored several of these tall bristlecones and found them to be aged, but not ancient. Most were under 1,000 years old.

One afternoon, on a whim, he decided to venture to the high mountainside south of the tall trees, where a small forest of drooping, sickly looking bristlecones could be seen radiating downward from the peak. As sunset neared, he scrambled up the mountain finding thick, gnarled trees along the way, some scarcely five metres tall — less than half the height of the young trees across the valley.

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