Redwoods Growing at Fastest Rate Ever

And we may have climate change to thank

By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff

Posted Aug 14, 2013 7:18 AM CDT

(Newser) – Not a phrase you typically see associated with climate change: "a wonderful, happy surprise." But that's what the science director at the Save the Redwoods League had to say to the Los Angeles Times about the news that coast redwoods and giant sequoias have grown at their fastest rate ever over the last four decades, possibly thanks to climate change. The San Jose Mercury News reports the growth rates over those 40 years are as much as 45% faster than they've been in the last 200 years. (It's the girth, not height, that is increasing at a record pace, notes the Marin Independent Journal.)

The league, along with a number of university scientists, studied tree rings and took corings no wider than a pencil from 78 redwoods in order to create their chronology. That allowed them to calculate historic growth rates, which led to the discovery that things have gotten speedier of late. The researchers aren't sure climate change is the culprit, but one explains a few working theories: that increased temps have elongated the growing season, or that a reduction in fog is providing more sunlight. But reductions in air pollution or wildfire damage could also be at the root of it. Two neat side notes:

  • The oldest redwood tree known was found by the researchers. It's at least 2,520 years old and, as the Mercury News points out, "had already been growing for 400 years when Julius Caesar was born."
  • Researchers found that many redwoods didn't grow at all in 1580, "the year Sir Francis Drake reported having ice on his sails as he sailed the coast of California," says the league's director.

This Oct. 9, 2011, photo provided by Lucy D'Mot shows redwood trees at Del Norte Coast Redwood State Park near Crescent City, Calif.   (AP Photo/Lucy D'Mot)
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