Learning With: ‘Chronicles of the Rings: What Trees Tell Us’

Learning With: ‘Chronicles of the Rings: What Trees Tell Us’

Before reading the article:

Trees can live without us, but we really cannot live without trees. They produce oxygen. They provide wood for our furniture and for the buildings in which we live. They bear fruit that we eat. And they are great to sit under and read. (Just to name a few things.)

Did you know that trees can also tell us about our past?

Let’s give it a try: Look closely at the photo of a cut tree below.

• What do you notice about the rings?

• What do you wonder about them?

• What story do you think they tell about the tree?

• How old do you think this tree was when it was cut?

Now, look at these two diagrams explaining how to read and analyze tree rings.

Return to the photo of the cut tree above: What new things can you discover about the tree and its history? Do you want to revise your guess on the age of the tree?

Now, read the article, “Chronicles of the Rings: What Trees Tell Us,” and answer the following questions:

1. What causes the appearance of rings on trees? What secrets about the past can be found in them?

2. How do the rings of a tree provide a far more complete historical picture of climate variations than instrument data alone, according to the article? What climate change findings that have been discovered from tree rings do you think are most significant?

3. What does the author mean by “Trees, it seems, are giant organic recording devices that contain information about past climate, civilizations, ecosystems and even galactic events, much of it many thousands of years old”? Give three examples the author provides to support this statement.

4. Why has the growing field of dendrochronology become so important? What new technologies and techniques have recently emerged? What are some of the practical uses of the study of tree rings?

5. What other types of valuable information do trees hold? Give one example from the article.

6. How can the study of tree rings help us understand the history of human civilizations? What have tree rings revealed to help explain historical events such as the declines in the Ming dynasty, the Ottoman Empire and the Jamestown colony in Virginia?

Finally, tell us more about what you think:

— What did you learn about trees and tree rings? What was most interesting, surprising or fascinating in the article? Does the article change how you think about trees and their importance to the world?

— Look at photos featured in the article. What story do they tell us about how dendrochronologists work? What do you find most interesting about this field of study? Would you want to study trees and tree rings?

— In “More Trees, Happier People,” Margaret Renkl writes:

When trees die, people invariably mourn. And when trees are planted, people become demonstrably happier. Rhitu Chatterjee of National Public Radio recently reported on a randomized study designed to discover the effect of urban green space on mental health. The study found that cleaning up vacant lots and planting grass and trees was associated with a significant improvement in the mental health of nearby residents: According to the report, “feelings of depression and worthlessness were significantly decreased.”

Do you agree that trees make people happier? What are your experiences with trees? How have they affected your life? Do you think we take trees for granted?

— Did you know that teeth, seashells and coral reef have layers or rings like a tree? Imagine if the human body had layers or rings; how might they record the events in your life and reveal the history of the natural world around you? Draw and label a picture to illustrate your life in rings. Be creative!

Further Resources:

The Secret Life and Value of Trees

Celebrating Trees, Wood and Making Stuff

Can Humans Help Trees Outrun Climate Change?