Some of the trees in far north Queensland are very old, perhaps going back hundreds of years. A James Cook University study getting underway on the Atherton Tablelands hopes those trees can tell us more about the weather over the past 400 years and help forecast future extreme weather events.
The study will use the science of dendrochronology – the analysis of patterns of tree rings, which form in trunks during periods of rapid tree growth. Dendrochronology was developed by astronomer A E Douglass in the first half of the 20th century – he was looking to understand cycles of sunspot activity.
It’s long been possible to learn about past climate events from tree rings, but the general view was that reliable information couldn’t be drawn from tropical trees because they grow so much faster than trees in more temperate zones.
But James Cook University’s Dr Nathan English says it’s time to reconsider that view. He believes tropical tree rings may help inform our understanding and forecasting of weather in the tropics.
“Now we are having a second look at tropical trees for dendrochronology because we’re finding more and more tree species with good, annual rings, which are formed during wet-dry seasons, and the tropics are an important part of the global climate system,” Dr English said.
Listen to Nathan English explain his study, and how it could help forecast future floods and droughts.
Dr English works at JCU’s Centre for Tropical Environmental and Sustainability Science – the Atherton Tablelands study is one of many around the world, including Costa Rica, Ethiopia and Indonesia, trying to fill the gaps in our knowledge of tropical climate.
“As a bonus, I hope we’ll learn something about the last 400 years or more of drought and flood history in Queensland and that in turn can guide us in the future,”Dr English said.
The information gathered in this study over the next three years could help us make better decisions about natural disaster mitigation efforts, insurance, and how we live and earn our livings here in tropical north Queensland.
More about Nathan English
A concise explanation & history of dendochronology