The models that predict rising temperatures are “very iffy” about precipitation patterns, says Edward Cook, director of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO) Tree- Ring Laboratory. That puts a premium on figuring out how much it rains from year to year in Asia’s densely populated river deltas. Tree rings help scientists understand past climate variations.
Nam spent a week in the forest searching for big trees. Now he is guiding the group back to a promising site.
“A tree that is beautiful to me is probably ugly to most people, says Buckley. “Mine are twisted and have been through hell on a weathered ridge or dry slope. Those are the trees I’m interested in.”
Buckley is considered the foremost tree-ring scientist (dendrochronologist) working in Southeast Asia and is a research scientist at LDEO’s Tree-Ring Laboratory. Nam consults his map, a global positioning system, and a compass, and relies on an intuitive sense of direction developed through years in the forest.
Close on Nam’s heels, Buckley twists his lanky body to avoid low-hanging limbs. Tucked safely inside his pack are two hollow corers used to extract narrow dowels of wood showing a tree’s growth rings. The air is heavy with humidity, and the climb is unrelenting.
Then Nam breaks through a clump of brush and stops, looks to his left, and says simply, “.”
It is a massive evergreen tree. Lichens hang from the 6-foot-wide trunk and thick vines climb 120 feet to limbs hosting orchids, ferns, and mosses. It is exactly the kind of ancient tree that the researchers had hoped to find and whose climate history can now begin to be unlocked.