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Understanding Tremors Through Tree Rings

Researchers of the Institute of Environmental Science and Geography look to carbon isotopes and cell-level wood anatomy of radiate pines to understand how seismic-induced changes in water availability impact tree growth.

Researchers typically turn to the geological record to understand past earthquakes, but there may be clues to understand old quakes in the biological record as well, including tree rings.

As earthquakes shake the earth’s surface, they increase the permeability of soils, potentially shifting the flow of water underground. Previous observations suggest that after a quake, water may gather in valleys and drop along ridges, which could impact tree growth and transpiration—particularly in water stressed environments. To test this, Mohr et al. looked at pine forest plantations on the Chilean Coast Range after the Maule earthquake in 2010.

The study shows how a dendrohydrological analysis over the short-term (i.e., on the scale of weeks) can pick up on impacts that annual-scale analyses might miss.

Text (shortened): Kate Wheeling, EOS Science Writer

Mohr, C. H., Manga, M., Helle, G., Heinrich, I., Giese, L., & Korup, O. (2021). Trees talk tremor – Wood anatomy and content reveal contrasting tree-growth responses to earthquakes. Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences, 126, e2021JG006385.


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Stefanie Mikulla