MSU Undergraduate Intern Researches History Via Tree Cores

My name is Aden Norris, and the project I’ve joined this summer has been a well-rounded exposure to the science of dendrochronology or the dating of environmental changes and events by observing patterns in annual tree rings.  The project aims to reconstruct a past wildfire history of the land in Flathead Indian Reservation by observing patterns in tree cores taken from the area.  My help with project began in the lab where I was trained to process the tree cores collected from the previous summer.  Each tree core must go through a series of steps before meaningful data can be collected.  This involved mounting the cores onto wood mounts for structural support as well as to transcribe core information (species, size, etc.) onto these mounts.  Mounted cores were then sanded through a series of four different grits in order to produce a clean cross section of the tree rings.  Once sanded, information from each core was gathered such as whether bark remained on the core, if the center of the tree (called pith) was present, the age of each tree, etc.  This information was then entered into an excel spreadsheet for later analyzing.

From July 10th through July 20th I got to experience the fieldwork aspect of this project.  We camped for two weeks near a site called Black Lake, just West of Flathead Lake.  For these two weeks we collected tree cores from 16 plots around the lake, each plot consisting of 40 trees.  Along with taking cores, we recorded information such as dominant plant species, information on each tree cored, and geographic information for each plot.  These two weeks were hard work but it was great to be outside in such a beautiful area! 

For the remainder of my project, I will begin processing the data collected from the Black Lake site as well as begin constructing results from the sites cored in previous summers.  Since all the cores from last year’s sites have been processed and recorded, informative results can be gathered from these areas.  Species distribution provides information about the ecology of the different sites and stand age allows for inferences regarding when destructive events occurred in the area.  Species chronologies, or average ring widths taken from the best quality cores, will provide information on how specific tree species were affected during years of possible fires.  This project has allowed me to get a robust understanding of the techniques used in dendrochronology both in the field and in the lab.

The pictures show a completely processed tree core, the process of mounting the cores, as well as me collecting a core from a Douglas Fir near Black Lake!




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