Researcher turns to ancient bristlecone pines for clues on climate change

Andy Blunn will walk through a starkly beautiful landscape in September, where twisted and ancient bristlecone pines grow from a dry, rocky land scoured by high winds and blanketed in snow much of the year.

The Bellingham scientist's aim during those 10 days in Great Basin National Park in Nevada will be to extract small core samplings from as many as 100 trees. The diameter of a pencil, the cores will be taken to his lab at Western Washington University's Huxley College of the Environment.

At Huxley, the pieces of trees with a lifespan of thousands of years will be examined under a microscope, their rings studied and counted to gain a sense of how the climate has changed in the past - before people had an impact - in the hopes of understanding what climate change could mean for the future.

Bunn is working with undergraduate students from WWU and paleoclimatologists from the University of Arizona, home of The Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research. His research is funded by a $50,000 grant from the National Science Foundation.

The work focuses on bristlecone pines perched about 11,000 feet up in three remote areas - the White Mountains near the California-Nevada border, Great Basin National Park, and the Ruby Mountains in Nevada.

Why bristlecone pines? Because they are considered to be the world's longest-lived organisms and, as such, they could be a bridge into the past.

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