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(Boing Boing)   "In 1964, a geologist in the Nevada wilderness discovered the oldest living thing on earth, after he killed it"   ( boingboing.net) divider line
    More: Sad, oldest living, living thing on earth, Nevada, Nevada wilderness, living things, wilderness discovered, core sample, geologists  
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12724 clicks; posted to Geek » on 15 Nov 2012 at 10:04 PM (5 years ago)   |   Favorite    |   share:  Share on Twitter share via Email Share on Facebook   more»

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2012-11-16 02:18:41 AM  
6 votes:

2) Who cares if it's the oldest living thing? It's a tree. (A) It's not like it's going to tell us secrets. (B) And if scientists can learn things about the distant past from it, can't they learn the same things or more from a dead tree that they can do more tests on in a lab than they can in the field while being ever-so-careful not to harm... a tree?

The trolling aspect of your post aside.

A. You would be surprised. They have been used in a couple murder cases, to date when bodies have been buried. Best example with trees and murders is Ted Bundy. They have been used to settle boundary disputes between states. They provide a rather accurate assessment of atmospheric phenomena such as the Tunguska Event. They have been used to confirm whether instruments are made by who people claim they are (example the Messiah violin (violin made by Stradivari, worth $20 million). They have been to date and verify structures that we have long since lost track of, like say Lincoln's childhood cabin.

More commonly they are used to tell us about the past that we have no record of.
-They can be used to track and reconstruct insect outbreaks and invasions of invasive species (Forest managers like these).

-They can be used to for drought reconstructions for stream and hydrologic purposes (Water managers like these, best example remains the Colorado River compact, which is based on 16-20 years of stream flow data (all that they had at the time), they set the legal amount each state (and Mexico) would receive, turns out after 80 or so years (now) there have been water issues related to it because the Colorado River water shed has consistently received less water, as it turns out using tree rings you can get an idea of the historical flow record of rivers and streams, and the period they measured was one of the wettest on record.

-They can be used again for stream flow but rather than drought, but instead for floods (insurance companies love these). Trees that are flooded during the year when they are not usually have different ring anatomy. This has been more commonly done in the Upper Midwest. The Red River is a good example, we have a record of about 100 years for flooding. Recent flooding has caused the river to reach points where it is several miles across, flooding neighborhoods that people "never knew flooding was an issue" because they had never flooded in recorded history. Reality is it is more common than is thought.

-Hurricane Sandy is recent news. Trees can tell us of hurricane history in locations where you can still find old trees (we did a pretty damn good job of cutting them down out east, but you can still find 400-600 year old trees, and in the case of yellow pines in the south east their stumps stick around for a long time, so you can get pretty far back. They give you storm frequency and intensity, even the months that they occur. Through isotope analysis.

-Climate, in the case of bristlecone pines, when you can build a 6000 year tree-ring chronology from a species that grows at high altitudes, you are able to reconstruct climate (temperature specifically at high elevations, although at the lower forest margins for bristlecone pines you can build drought/precipitation reconstructions).

-You can reconstruct fire (again forest managers like this, that affect productivity and regeneration, often time fire is a good thing for both depending on the species).

B. A dead tree is nice, you can take a cross section with out harming a tree, however on its own it is worthless because you cannot date it. You can try radio carbon dating, but that will give you +/- 50 to 100 years, in the event that you lack either pith or bark that uncertainty expands. This completely eliminates the worth of a tree which is capable of telling you what happened on an annual basis, if you do not know the year it can't tell you nearly enough to be worth collecting. So you need a living tree to connect the dead tree to the present. Dead trees can be pretty well preserved in a lot of places. In areas like where the birstlecone pines are dead wood on the ground can be +1000 years old and just laying there perfectly intact. In the bogs of Ireland and anerobic lakes of Sweden there are continuous records going back +5000 years. Archeological records in areas such the SW U.S. extend back a couple thousand years, same thing in central Europe.

A cross section is always nice initially but the cores are actually far easier to work with and provide you with far more than what you actually need, if you take 2 or 3 from a tree you don't even need a cross section, and there is no reason to cut down the tree. Chemical and isotope work requires tiny fragments of wood. The other reason to leave the tree is because of the weakness in our instrumental record. For instance we only have decent climate records that go back to about the 1900's. When you use trees to reconstruct climate you use the instrumental record to calibrate the tree rings, however 50-60 years is not a very large window for calibration. Now there is a continual push to update these, because in the case of some Bristlecone pine chronologies you have another 40-50 years of climate data to compare it to increasing the accuracy of the reconstructions.

It also takes multiple trees to get ensure accuracy (statistics is a dick like that), often times the trees you want to sample are not in the most convenient places and it involves back packing in and multiple. Meaning you have to carry anything you sample out. A tree core is like a pencil, you can easily carry +1000 pencils, each is a tree sampled, can you carry 1000 tree cross sections? I don't think so. Plus cross sections take up a lot of room compared to a core when you get it back to wherever you work.

Long but hey I am a tree dork, you are not forced to read it.
2012-11-15 10:45:49 PM  
2 votes:
The "Radiolab" episode "Oops!" does a fantastic job telling the story: Podcast on NPR It's the best damned show on radio.
2012-11-15 09:48:35 PM  
2 votes:
2012-11-16 09:34:00 PM  
1 vote:

I_Hate_Iowa: Lligeret: I_Hate_Iowa: [Lots of words]

I'm 100% positive you know way more than me, but I'm still confused, and I might be too simple-minded about trees for you. Seriously.

What I meant by (A) was it's not like you're killing an old man before you get his life story on tape if you kill a tree. How much data that you can collect from a live tree is lost by killing it? It seems like a lot of the scenarios you mention would be possible either way.

As far as (B) goes, I'm saying that if you were planning on using Tree X for study and you accidentally kill it, it can't be that bad right? You'll still be able to get stuff from it. When you say

A dead tree is nice, you can take a cross section with out harming a tree, however on its own it is worthless because you cannot date it.

you make it sound like a dead tree you've found. If you don't know when it died you can't date it. But in the case of the tree from this link, they know when it died, so they can date it exactly, no? Do you lose data by having a dead tree? Do you potentially gain data by being able to do more if you're no longer worried about harming it?

Seriously wasn't trying to be trolly, but realize I was being sort of glib. Might have been slightly (read: completely) high last time. Might be slightly more sober but still confused this time.

Yeah a lot of it comes from different perspectives really. From a data perspective it doesn't matter if the tree dies, from a personal perspective when you have something that you can put a label on like "oldest (known) non-colonal organism" it sucks though. The best description of this work is, "We are tree huggers that use a chainsaw."

Trees are an interesting thing the trees people most commonly think of are the big ones, like in this thread the Senator (the tree burned down by the meth addict). It was very old and it was huge. People in the area recognized it and it made a lot of news as a result because people feel connected to it. The same thing goes for big old trees else where that occasionally pop up in the news because they died or lightning hit it, or wind blew it down.

It is a pretty fair assessment to say that certain trees are valued more than other trees. However these trees are "normal" it is when you can assign a label like "Worlds oldest" or "worlds biggest" or "biggest in this area" or whatever that you start really running into problems.

When you end up with a tree that is hundreds or thousands of years old, it gives you a lot of time to think about that tree, in the case of a bristlecone pine like this, if you start counting from the outside your entire life is boiled down to fractions of an inch. The history of the U.S. is in maybe a couple inches. You would have something that spans the entirety of human written history in front of you, and that can give you a sense of insignificance, and that is before you realize that you just killed it and have now opened yourself up for mockery for the rest of your career.

People like old things, it is why we preserve old buildings, old artifacts, old people, and old trees. Let's face it the majority of people if they found out they had just killed the oldest (known) living thing on the planet they would probably not exactly be jumping up and down with excitement.

So the answer is yes if you kill Tree X in the process, from a data perspective no it is not bad, from a personal perspective it may not be as fun. Just usually Tree X doesn't turn out to be the oldest known individual.

About finding a dead tree, finding a dead tree is perfectly fine and usable as long as you can link it to the present. Using the bristlecone pines as an example, the oldest known individuals are approaching 5000 years old, but the chronology built from individuals in the area goes back 8000 years, due to dead trees that were just laying around. Generally speaking trees growing in the same location will grow similarly (in a drought they will have narrow rings, wet years they have wide rings, so you can match up these patterns giving you a date of a tree that has been dead thousands of years).

As far as gaining more data from a tree if you are not worried about harming it. Yes and no. A lot of the time the answer is no, most the time a core (usually 2 from a tree) is enough to get everything you want. It is more than enough to run the chemical/isotope tests on, and you can still get ring counts and measurements on it. The two paths will give you enough to track missing rings in a sample often times, if not other trees around it likely will have caught the missing ring (missing ring indicates growing conditions were farked for a year so the tree simply did not grow, this could be lack of water, too cold, too hot, insects ate off all of your leaves, etc.) Some times a core will not give you everything you want.

For instance sometimes killing the tree is the only option when you are attempting to attain the data. It is extremely hard to take a core from a small tree, the data can still be useful though so sometimes you just cut down the tree (usually a lot of them in this case), it is often times surprising how old some of these small trees can be (200-300 years old for spruce trees that are 2-5" in diameter that grew in some arctic and sub-arctic environments is not uncommon).

Another instance for these spruce trees is where ring growth is not consistent around a tree, if you GIS "drunken trees" you will get a bunch of trees growing at crazy angles because they grow on permafrost (or glaciers, and the ground thaws below them causing them to lean in some direction. Trees like growing straight up, so they alter their growth for a couple years (Conifers try to "push" the tree back straight, hardwoods try to pull the tree back straight), they straighten out and the ground thaws and they fall a different way. In this case you would need a cross section if you wan to get all of the data possible from the tree.

For the most part though you do not usually gain or lose anything by worry about the tree health. Coring a tree the vast majority of the time gives you as much data and it is just easier in almost every aspect. It is easier carry an increment bore (or multiple, because they can break or get stuck) than a hand saw (and both of those are far easier than a chainsaw/oil/gas), and it is far easier to take an increment core than to cut a cross section with a hand saw. It is far easier to carry out/transport/work with/store a core from a tree compared to a cross section. So no loss of data in the majority of instances, it is easier to do, and you don't kill the tree. It is why for already dead trees you will often times just core them rather than cut them, because it is easier and you get most of the data you would anyways (again with some exceptions).

I was not trying to attack you either, a lot of people just look at a tree and don't think about what they are capable of telling us, but I find it enjoyable to talk about. LIKE WHAT I LIKE DAMN IT!.
2012-11-16 06:41:21 AM  
1 vote:
teachingchildrenphilosophy.orgView Full Size

I always hated that entitled little snot.
2012-11-16 03:28:20 AM  
1 vote:
intelligence does not eliminate stupidity
2012-11-16 02:25:52 AM  
1 vote:

AspectRatio: BoingBoing is useless and its editors are insufferable twatbombs.

2012-11-15 11:42:41 PM  
1 vote:
BoingBoing is useless and its editors are insufferable twatbombs.
2012-11-15 11:35:19 PM  
1 vote:
Can we just start horsewhipping people who submit links to links? I mean, the actual story is linked right there in the BoingBoing blurb. Is there some kind of ad agreement? Am I going insane?

Is it a lot of effort for one person (eg. me) to click one link deeper? No, of course not. Is it sensible and not quite so asinine to just copy and paste the correct link and save 2000+ people from having to click? I should think so.
2012-11-15 11:31:13 PM  
1 vote:
It's a pretty apt metaphor for man's relationship with nature.
2012-11-15 10:49:44 PM  
1 vote:
There is solace though. It's not like we'll ever run out of "oldest living things", even if we keep killing the current one.
2012-11-15 10:49:16 PM  
1 vote:

violentsalvation: The real article is better.

Thank you.

Found this interesting:
But Tom Harlan knows of a tree somewhere in the White Mountains that might be even older. "There is one that Schulman cored, but he died before he could count the rings," says Harlan. "It's the oldest thing he ever collected, older than Methuselah and probably older than Prometheus. But I won't show anybody which one it is."

Good for him not to show it to the public, but he ought to at least tell us how many rings it had. I also hope someone else knows where it is and checks on it from time to time to see if it is still alive.
2012-11-15 10:46:36 PM  
1 vote:
Do we now passively link to articles here? Here's a snippet, find the rest of it for your goddamned self.
2012-11-15 10:14:26 PM  
1 vote:

violentsalvation: The real article is better.

Yeah, it even tells you how old the tree was.
2012-11-15 09:26:52 PM  
1 vote:
Talk about a monumental f*ck up

/those are really interesting trees. It's amazing they survive at all in the environment they inhabit
//if you ever get the chance, check them out
2012-11-15 09:09:43 PM  
1 vote:
Join the army, travel the world, meet interesting people, and kill them.
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