Dendrochronology

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Dendrochronology or tree-ring dating is the scientific method of dating based on the analysis of patterns of tree-rings. Dendrochronology can date the time at which tree rings were formed, in many types of wood, to the exact calendar year. This has three main areas of application: paleoecology, where it is used to determine certain aspects of past ecologies (most prominently climate); archaeology, where it is used to date old buildings, etc.; and radiocarbon dating, where it is used to calibrate radiocarbon ages (see below).

In some areas of the world, it is possible to date wood back a few thousand years, or even many thousands. In most areas, however, wood can only be dated back several hundred years, if at all.

Contents

History

Dendrochronology (word derived from Greek δένδρον, dendron, "tree limb"; χρόνος, khronos, "time"; and -λογία, -logia) was developed during the first half of the 20th century originally by the astronomer A. E. Douglass, the founder of the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research at the University of Arizona. Douglass sought to better understand cycles of sunspot activity and reasoned that changes in solar activity would affect climate patterns on earth which would subsequently be recorded by tree-ring growth patterns (i.e., sunspots → climate → tree rings).

Growth rings

Growth rings, also referred to as tree rings or annual rings, can be seen in a horizontal cross section cut through the trunk of a tree. Growth rings are the result of new growth in the vascular cambium, a lateral meristem, and are synonymous with secondary growth. Visible rings result from the change in growth speed through the seasons of the year, thus one ring usually marks the passage of one year in the life of the tree. The rings are more visible in temperate zones, where the seasons differ more markedly.

The inner portion of a growth ring is formed early in the growing season, when growth is comparatively rapid (hence the wood is less dense) and is known as "early wood" or "spring wood" or "late-spring wood". The outer portion is the "late wood" (and has sometimes been termed "summer wood", often being produced in the summer, though sometimes in the autumn) and is denser. "Early wood" is used in preference to "spring wood", as the latter term may not correspond to that time of year in climates where early wood is formed in the early summer (e.g. Canada) or in autumn, as in some Mediterranean species.

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