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Trees recount the history of natural hazards

© J. Lopez / C. Corona


A practical guide on dendrogeomorphology, the study of tree rings to piece together the history of natural hazards, has just been published under Irstea's supervision.

Just like we can read the lines in our palms to predict the future, scientists are focusing on the lines of life in our trees - tree rings - to better understand the history of natural hazards. These tree rings, which we count to estimate the trees' age, are like "recording devices of past events," says Frédéric Berger, researcher in forest management at the Irstea Grenoble center. The rings print variations in tree growth: stress linked to disturbances or changes in its growth environment (human actions, climate change and natural hazards - lava flows, mudslides, rockfalls, avalanches, floods, etc.). Scientists are now scanning this information.

A dendrogeomorphological approach © Irstea / CNRS

Tree rings: our precious allies

We can use dendrogeomorphology to understand the past in order to better prepare for the future, particularly with regard to natural hazard research and prevention. A practical guide [1] has just been published under Irstea's supervision in order to provide managers, scientists and students working in the field of natural hazard research and prevention with methods and tools for carrying out a dendrogeomorphological study. The guide takes a very practical approach, covering everything from basic principles (dendrochronology, dendrogeomorphology) to fields of application.

Good to know

  • Dendrochronology: the science that deals with the study of tree ring, or growth ring, dating.
  • Dendrogeomorphology: the subdiscipline of dendrochronology that studies the growth rings of woody plants to identify the processes behind the damage observed in forest stands.

Dendroecology has grown significantly over the past few decades due to the emergence of new environmental issues related to global warming. Used mainly in archeology until recently, it has since diversified, branching out into the environmental sciences.

For more information

[1] By Jérôme Lopez-Saez (Irstea) and Christophe Corona (CNRS), under the supervision of Frédéric Berger (Irstea). 2014.