Tree Rings Provide Hurricane Record
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Tree Rings Provide Hurricane Record

July 27, 2010
The shallow roots of the longleaf pine absorb surface water, which is affected by precipitation. Hurricanes produce large amounts of precipitation with a distinctly lower oxygen isotope composition than that in dew or smaller storms. Tracing tree-rings that contain these lower isotope compositions unveils a record of hurricanes that both supports and surpasses the present historical record. The current study looks at a 220-year-old record and suggests data up to 400 years can be accessed in future studies.

By measuring different chemical forms of oxygen present in the rings, researchers identified periods when hurricanes hit areas of the southeast more than 100 years before modern records were kept. The technique allows scientists to extend from decades to centuries the timeframes of intense hurricane cycles and may help determine if the increase in the number of hurricanes hitting the southeast since the mid-1990s is part of a regularly occurring cycle or due to causes such as global climate change.

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