Using Tree Rings to Understand Climate Change and Pollution

Research Issue

An extensive database of tree ring cross-sections helps Northern Research Station scientists understand how trees respond to environmental stressorsThe study of tree rings, also known as dendrochronology, provides insights into climate and weather events, pollution, land use and environmental stressors.

Our Research

Northern Research Station scientists are studying tree rings from New England’s Northern Forest, which stretches from the Adirondack Mountains in New York to Maine’s northern woods. In one study, we found that high sulfur and nitrogen pollution levels over the past 60 years occurred at the same time as reduced growth in red spruce trees. However, these trees are now growing at a faster rate than ever before in their lifetimes. In another research project, studies of five tree species on Vermont’s Mount Mansfield indicate that increased growth generally correlates with higher temperatures.

Expected Outcomes

As the world’s climate gradually warms and pollution levels change, ongoing research and the Northern Research Station’s growing tree-ring database will help scientists see how recent and current stressors compare to events from decades and centuries ago. This research will help scientists promote forest health, species restoration and sustainable forest management.

Research Results

Kosiba, A.M., P.G. Schaberg, S.A. Rayback, G.J. Hawley. 2018. The surprising recovery of red spruce growth shows links to decreased acid deposition and elevated temperature. Science of the Total Environment 637:1480-1491.

Kosiba, A.M.; Schaberg, P.G.; Rayback, S.A.; Hawley, G. J. 2017. Comparative growth trends of five northern hardwood and montane tree species reveal divergent growth trajectories and response to climate. Canadian Journal of Forest Research. 47:743–754.

Engel, B.J.; Schaberg, P.G.; Hawley, G.J.; Rayback, S.A. Pontius, J.; Kosiba, A.M.; Miller, E.K. 2016. Assessing relationships between red spruce woody growth and high-resolution pollution exceedance values. Forest Ecology and Management 359:83-91.

Halman, J.M.; Schaberg, P.G.; Hawley, G.J.; Hansen, C.F.; Fahey, T.J. 2015. Differential impacts of calcium and aluminum treatments on sugar maple and American beech growth dynamics. Canadian Journal of Forest Research 45:52-59. 

Research Participants

Principal Investigator

  • Paul Schaberg, US Forest Service – Northern Research Station, Research Plant Physiologist

Research Partners

  • Last modified: March 11, 2020