A hands on view of tree growth and tree rings – one explanation for Briffa's YAD061 lone tree core

Siberian_larch_trees

Siberian Larch - Larix sibirica - Kotuykan River Area, near Yamal - Source: NASA

One of the great things about WUWT is that people from all walks of life frequent here. We have PhD’s right down to Average Joe  that read and post comments here. Everyone has something to contribute.

A general truism that I’ve noticed through life is that the people that actually work “hands on” with the things they study often know far more about them than the people that study them from afar. As in the case of the surface stations project, top scientists missed the fact that many of the climate monitoring stations are poorly sited because they never bothered to visit them to check the measurement environment. Yet the people in the field knew. Some scientists simply accepted the data the stations produced at face value and study its patterns, coaxing out details statistically. Such is the case with Briffa and Yamal tree rings apparently, since the tree ring data was gathered by others, field researchers Hantemirov and Shiyatov.

Briffa_single_tree_YAD061

American Indians have been said to be far more in tune with the patterns of the earth than modern man. They had to be, survival depended on it. They weren’t insulated by technology as we are. Likewise somebody who works in the forest whose daily livelihood is connected to trees might know a bit more about their growth than somebody sitting behind a desk.

WUWT commenter “Caleb”, who has worked with trees for 50 years, wrote this extraordinary essay on Briffa’s lone tree core known as YAD061, which has a pronounced 8 sigma effect on the set of 10 tree cores Briffa used in his study. Caleb’s essay is  in comments here, which I’m elevating to a full post. While we may never know the true growth driver for YAD06, this is one possible explanation.

Guest comment by Caleb Shaw:

I’ve worked outside since I was a small boy in the 1950’s, and have cut down hundreds of trees. I always check out the rings, for every tree has its own story.

I’ve seen some rather neat tricks pulled off by trees, especially concerning how far they can reach with their roots to find fertilizer or moisture. For example, sugar maple roots will reach, in some cases, well over a hundred feet, and grow a swift net of roots in the peat moss surrounding a lady’s azalea’s root ball, so that the azalea withers, for the maple steals all its water.

I’ve also seen tired old maples perk right up, when a pile of manure is heaped out in a pasture a hundred feet away, and later have seen the tree’s rings, when it was cut down, show its growth surged while that manure was available.

After fifty years you learn a thing or two, even if you don’t take any science classes or major in climatology, and I’ve had a hunch many of the tree-ring theories were bunkum, right from the start.

The bristlecone records seemed a lousy proxy, because at the altitude where they grow it is below freezing nearly every night, and daytime temperatures are only above freezing for something like 10% of the year. They live on the borderline of existence, for trees, because trees go dormant when water freezes. (As soon as it drops below freezing the sap stops dripping into the sugar maple buckets.) Therefore the bristlecone pines were dormant 90% of all days and 99% of all nights, in a sense failing to collect temperature data all that time, yet they were supposedly a very important proxy for the entire planet. To that I just muttered “bunkum.”

But there were other trees in other places. I was skeptical about the data, but until I saw so much was based on a single tree, YAD061, I couldn’t be sure I could just say “bunkum.”

YAD061 looks very much like a tree that grew up in the shade of its elders, and therefore grew slowly, until age or ice-storms or insects removed the elders and the shade. Then, with sunshine and the rotting remains of its elders to feed it, the tree could take off.

I have seen growth patterns much like YAD061 in the rings of many stumps in New Hampshire, and not once have I thought it showed a sign of global warming, or of increased levels of CO2 in the air. Rather the cause is far more simple: A childhood in the under-story, followed by a tree’s “day in the sun.”

Dr. Briffa should spend less time gazing at computer screens, and actually get out and associate with trees more. At the very least, it might be good for his health.

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Yup, that was my assessment of the situation on the other YAD061 thread. It seems rather intuitive to me.
.
ralph (14:55:35) :
All this proves, is that when a tree gets tall enough to get its head above the tree-canopy, it grows quicker. Axiomatic, one would have thought. And this has been interpreted as Global Warming????
Oh, dear. Its back to the Dark Ages of science.

Patrik

Stunning. I see an analogy in fishery scientists and fishermen.
The science there seems disconnected from reality also.

Or in fewer words:
I’ll see your PhD and published papers and raise you with first hand knowledge and wisdom.

Harold Vance

That was awesome.

Robinson

Please, don’t take this guy seriously. His post, although demonstrating a way with words, was not peer reviewed by experts in the field ;).

Beyond awesome in fact.

Richie

You know this is just piss in the wind
he has no phd and no Goverment funding, no-one will believe this sh*t 😀

michael

Great post.

Alan S. Blue

“Therefore the bristlecone pines were dormant 90% of all days and 99% of all nights, in a sense failing to collect temperature data all that time,”
That’s actually why they’re useful. In a ‘hot year’, those same numbers would be, say, 85% and 99%. Versus the cold year of 95% and 99%.
A three-fold change in the time spent growing is a dramatic effect.
On the other hand, picture the tree outside my house in Seattle. In a cold year, it might freeze solid enough to stop growth for, say, 21 nights. That is:
You’d be trying to measure the difference in growth based on 365 days of growth versus 355 days of growth. And the ‘hot’ years would be identical to a normal year. So there is very little “swing” in the size of the rings (based on temperature alone) if the trees are unstressed.

Andrew

Ditto!
Awesome! 🙂
Andrew

JohnM

Consciousness vs. intelligence, actual reality vs. virtual reality, facts vs. wishful thinking.

BrianMcL

I’d have thought that if protecting developing countries from global warming was going to cost $100bn per year and that so much rests on one tree someone might have gone to check by now.

Dodgy Geezer

“Please, don’t take this guy seriously. His post, although demonstrating a way with words, was not peer reviewed by experts in the field ;).”
Robinson
I don’t know. Maybe he showed it to the forester in the next field….?

TomLama

Excellent….just excellent.
It is about time we felled the tree that AGW was built upon. Way to go Caleb!

Brent Matich

Average Joe Rocks!
Brent in Calgary

wsbriggs

quote “His post, although demonstrating a way with words, was not peer reviewed by experts in the field ;).”
Let’s make sure to correct that deficiency.
Does anyone know any loggers? Australian, Austrian, Swiss, maybe some Indonesians, that should get enough knowledgeable people to review his comments. Certainly, it would get enough folks with common sense enough to shed light on the “other” experts.
Trees with 90% down time – sheesh! Sounds like some Government employees I’ve seen.
Excellent post! Thanks for elevating it Anthony!

Jeremy

This is actually a huge mistake of our time, taking PhD’s at their word. I went through two degrees of physics and let me tell you, even very smart people from very good schools who took very difficult paths to professorship can indeed be very very ignorant.
People will attack me for saying this, but it’s the truth.

Miles

If I could quote Leonardo da Vinci – “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” – excellent post.

Tim S.

My ad hominem attack on Caleb:
1. He is not using his real name, therefore the reasonable information he presents is invalid.
2. He is not a climatologist, so he is not qualified to speak.
3. My tree growth computer model, which includes the impact of manure, supports the Hockey Stick and the Team.
4. Caleb is no doubt funded by Big Oil.
5. Maple trees and/or maple syrup are not proxies for bristlecone pines or computer climate models.
6. His comment did not come in the form of a Hadley CRU peer-reviewed scientific paper.
7. The science is in, so Caleb’s point is moot anyway. The debate is over.
8. He posted on WUWT, and is therefore discredited.

Bill Hunter

“YAD061 looks very much like a tree that grew up in the shade of its elders, and therefore grew slowly, until age or ice-storms or insects removed the elders and the shade. Then, with sunshine and the rotting remains of its elders to feed it, the tree could take off.”
In a temperate forest often all that needs to give way is a few trees whose boughs may overhang the young tree to see a surge.
Above the Arctic Circle you probably see the greatest surges when an acre or more of competition, including other young competitors to give way as the sunbeams shine at so low of an angle.

MattN

Here’s a question: Has Briffa actually been to the Yamal peninsula?

Doug in Seattle

Great story Caleb, and one that brings a little of perspective to the issue. One thing you might consider however is that the canopy of the broadleaf hardwood forest of the NE is quite different than that of the boreal larch forest of the Yamal.
The photo that Anthony provided above looks like the boreal forest I spent many years working in up in northern Canada. These’s not a lot of shade there and its really a single rather than multi-canopy environment. The amount of root space is also quite different due to the presence of permafrost.
I do agree though with the general point you make though. Too many folks in climate science seem to do all their work in front of computers and do not consider field conditions when they make their analyses or conclusion. This may not be related to why Briffa’s data archive was missing the metadata, but I have to wonder.

Don Keiller

Tree rings may be missinterpreted. Tree LINES cannot.
Rashit M. Hantemirov* and Stepan G. Shiyatov (2002) A continuous multimillennial ring-width chronology in Yamal, northwestern Siberia. The Holocene 12,6 pp. 717–726
http://www.nosams.whoi.edu/PDFs/papers/Holocene_v12a.pdf
This is the paper that provided the (unused) Yamal data.
Look at page 720. It shows how tree lines have moved SOUTH over the last 700 years. Tree line reflect minimum growth temperatures.
It has been getting progressively COLDER.

jeez

Dr. Keiller:
This is your field of expertise not mine, but wouldn’t a simple tree line reconstruction of temperatures be complicated by forest succession and species changes?

Richard Wright

Alan S. Blue wrote:

“Therefore the bristlecone pines were dormant 90% of all days and 99% of all nights, in a sense failing to collect temperature data all that time,”
That’s actually why they’re useful. In a ‘hot year’, those same numbers would be, say, 85% and 99%. Versus the cold year of 95% and 99%.
A three-fold change in the time spent growing is a dramatic effect.
On the other hand, picture the tree outside my house in Seattle. In a cold year, it might freeze solid enough to stop growth for, say, 21 nights. That is:
You’d be trying to measure the difference in growth based on 365 days of growth versus 355 days of growth. And the ‘hot’ years would be identical to a normal year. So there is very little “swing” in the size of the rings (based on temperature alone) if the trees are unstressed.

If you want your trees to validate global warming, then I agree. If, however, you want your trees to measure average temperature throughout the year, then having them be dormant over 90% of the time is not going to tell you anything.
Say the same thing happened with a thermometer used to measure air temperature: the liquid in the thermometer is water. Totally useless if put in an area where the temperature drops below freezing 90% of the time. You will never be able to determine the average temperature throughout the year.

Michael J. Bentley

I think this is better than “Fanfare For Common Man” (Copeland) in that, as “The Plumber” in a previous thread did, asked a basic question – devoid of complex wording, stripped of all but very plain meaning. Caleb and “The Plumber” both say “Tell me why (this) is so?” seeing knowledge and understanding.
As in a previous post, I say this (and other blogs) provide an opportunity for excellent scientists (You know who you are) to rub shoulders with (sarc on) the great unwashed (sarc off) who ask those questions you didn’t think to consider. This is true peer review – human to human – how do we use well and wisely this wonderful planet we live on?
Thank you all, and thank you Anthony and the moderators for your hard work.
Mike Bentley

Ray

This is my take on YAD061:
YAD061 was a young tree, not as big as those around it, living in the shades and just making it. Here comes a nomad tribe. They set camp nearby and cut that big ol’ tree that blocked the light from YAD061. Not only that, but the immediate area around YAD061 became their common toilets. The combined effect of more light and fertilizer made YAD061 very big in no time.
Many years after, when all trace of the nomad tribe has been erased from time, two Russian guys come along with saws and see that big ol’ YAD061 and tell themselves that this tree looks perfect and old for a tree ring study.
OH MY GOD! YAD061 MUST BE MORE IMPORTANT THAN ALL OTHER TREES SINCE HAS GROWN MORE THAN ANY OTHER RECENTLY… and this is how a future scientific myth started.

Michael J. Bentley

All,
Sub seeking to seeing – although the meaning is close…Damn fingers anyway!
MJB

S.E.Hendriksen
Steve in SC

As just a dumb ol country boy I can say authoritatively that Caleb is spot on.
Many times some otherwise very smart people are not blessed with an over abundance of walking around sense.
We all know what PhD means. Yeah, piled higher and deeper.

geoffchambers

I posted recently suggesting (tongue in cheek of course) a Nobel for Anthony and Steve. Sorry Anthony. My vote for a Nobel now goes to Caleb

vigilantfish

Caleb and Anthony:
Very refreshing to read the common sense of experience; interesting to see Bill Hunter’s comment about how the circumstances for faster growth might be different in boreal forests. I’m learning a lot and appreciating it.

DR

Who was it again that knew about the PDO long before it was published in science journals? 🙂

Ray

If we wanted to see how the temperature changed in the last 150 years based on tree growth, there are billions of trees on earth older than 150 years that would tell us how things changed or did not change since then.
The idea of using a large enough number of samples is exactly to avoid giving too much weight to a single tree. In fact, in a much bigger sampling YAD061 would have been rejected for those same reasons Caleb told us. If it is warm or the soil has changed, it should affect the whole forest in the same way. If other factors impact the growth of single trees, those samples will be rejected after statistical analysis (i.e. like more local sun and local fertilization).

Tex

Alan S Blue,
The problem with usine trees in that environment for “climate” estimations is that you are then measuring how many years have a 1-2 week hot spell that is warmer than usual. As we are all frequently scolded, one to two week hot (or cold) spells are weather, not climate. So measuring a tree that had a 1-2 week hot spell during a year and assigning a warmer climate for that year as a whole is a false and misleading assumption to make. Trees that are active for a larger portion of a year are more likely to show a cumulative effect reflective of the annual climate than trees that are only active for a few weeks. Unfortunately for scientists, the changes between warm and cold become much smaller and harder to measure in such trees (and less likely to make a hockey stick).

Tex

usine=using…

Doug in Seattle,
I agree with your general assessment, but the fact is that we don’t know what the local environment was for the tree in question. It may have been part of a sparse grove, or it may have been a young tree inside of an older cluster.
It also may be that shade / sunlight was not the issue for this tree. It could very well have been an issue of water or nutrients. One could formulate several scenarios under which inadequate water existed for much of the tree’s life, then abundance was supplied – a rock uphill of the tree gave way, allowing water to reach the tree, for example. It could have been a root-binding issue, also, with some event near the end of the tree’s life eliminating the root-binding so that nutrients could be accessed and accelerate the tree’s growth. Or reindeer chose that tree to huddle around, giving the tree the benefit of their excreta. Who knows.

BrianMcL – The whole point of the problem is that the data hasn’t been available until just now. It’s sort of like the Polanski affair, the clock stopped on Briffa the day he ran away from giving out data.

Pops

[bridge too far. ~ ctm]

Espen

Suppose for a moment that trees in the artic did actually start to grow faster as co2 levels went up – wouldn’t the direct effect of co2 on growth be a better and simpler explanation than an indirect effect through temperature?

Tim

“A general truism that I’ve noticed through life is that the people that actually work “hands on” with the things they study often know far more about them than the people that study them from afar.”
Wiser words have not been spoken. One wonders about the outcome of our healthcare system re-design, masterminded from afar by the clowns in DC.

Don @ 14:10:39
“This is the paper that provided the (unused) Yamal data.
Look at page 720. It shows how tree lines have moved SOUTH over the last 700 years. Tree line reflect minimum growth temperatures.
It has been getting progressively COLDER.”
That seems like an incredibly obvious and important thing for anyone arguing about AGW to have missed. Is there some abmiguity in the tree line progression?

Skeptic Tank

Now, that’s something all the “Average Joes” who frequent this site can appreciate as an indictment tree-ring proxies. Each tree in the same location leads a different life.
Outstanding post.

Dr A Burns

Fantastic. Nothing beats simple observation.

Robin

While we are in more philosophical mode, does anyone know of “Meditation in a Toolshed” by Prof C.S.Lewis? He was in a dark old shed and saw a beam of sunlight shining through a space over the door. The beam was bright and striking with its specks of floating dust while everything else was dark. He was seeing the beam, not seeing by it. “Then I moved”, he says, “so that the beam fell on my eyes. Instantly the whole previous picture vanished. I saw no toolshed and (above all) no beam. Instead I saw, through the cranny over the door, green leaves moving on the branches of a tree outside and beyond that, ninety million miles away, the sun. Looking along the beam and looking at the beam are very different experiences.
“But this is only a very simple example of the difference between looking ‘at’ and looking ‘along’. A young man meets a girl. The whole world looks different when he sees her”. Chatting to her is very precious and he is as they say ‘in love’. Now comes along a scientist and describes his experience from outside. For him it is all about genes and chemicals in the brain and a recognised biological stimulous… That is the difference between looking along and looking at and you can see lots of examples of this all day long. You get one experience when you look ‘along’ and another when you look ‘at’. Which is the ‘true’ or ‘valid’ experience? Which tells you most about a thing?
In our time it is generally assumed that if you want to know about sexual love go to a psychologist, not lovers. if you want to undersand a mathematician at work go to a brain scientist, and if you want to understand tree rings where do you go? A Caleb out in the woods, or a Briffa siiting at his computer. One looking along and one looking at. The analogy nearly works, I think, and even if it doesn’t quite hold up it is nevertheless illuminating. The truth is that we need to look both ‘at’ and ‘along’. We need both Caleb and Briffa, but Briffa needs some integrity and humility, and both (all of us) need to understand what the other brings to understanding the phenomena of the world. End of philosophical musing. I hope it helps a little.

Ray

That reminds me of the typical presentation of results in front of an audience…
When the presenter says: “This is a typical result”, he really means “this is my best result”.
When the presenter says:”This representative sample”, really means “this is my only good result, two were wiped when I spilled my coffee on them and the other two were chewed up by my dog”.

Ray

Espen (14:32:04) :
In order for the trees to absorb CO2 and grow, they have to be above zero and water and nutrients must flow through their root systems. Trees that are in a frozen environment for 90% of the time won’t grow much.

Espen (14:32:04) :
Suppose for a moment that trees in the artic did actually start to grow faster as co2 levels went up – wouldn’t the direct effect of co2 on growth be a better and simpler explanation than an indirect effect through temperature?

A tree isn’t a CO2 sink — it will only take in the amount necessary to metabolize the nutrients it’s absorbing through its roots. If the amount of nutrients increases, the tree will grow additional foliage to increase its CO2 intake, but an increase in atmospheric CO2 will not affect its growth.

Nice common sense post, but as the information is anecdotal rather than produced by a computer model surely it is disqualified?
Anyone here able to pass any comment on the veracity of ice cores, which I look at with as jaundiced an eye as I do tree rings?
tonyb

40 Shades of Green

Do you think we could get the guys who cut down the tree on the beach in the Maldives (that was showing no increase in sea level) to take out YAD061.
Also, this post illustrates very well the difference between knowledge and wisdom. Another illustration is that knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit, but wisdom is knowing not to put it in a fruit salad.
Anyone for dessert at Keith’s?

Henry chance

Common sense. did Briffa even visit the area?
Many people admire charles darwin,. I don’t. He had a theology degree and was carefull note taker. No one discredits his education because they like him.
People don’t question Algore.
Great article and great points he makes. we need more “calebs” so that we don’t waste a difficult experiment by forgetting something.