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Tree Rings, Climate Change and the Rainy Season

Earth Institute Columbia University

This video shows the potential of dendrochronology (tree ring study) to shed light on climatic conditions of the past. Scientists at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory read the growth rings of ancient trees to understand the history and workings of the monsoon. In addition, historical accounts are correlated with data from tree rings to better understand these events.

Video length: 8:26 min.

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Climate Literacy
About Teaching Climate Literacy

Based on evidence from tree rings, other natural records, and scientific observations made around the world, Earth’s average temperature is now warmer than it has been for at least the past 1,300 years. Average temperatures have increased markedly in the past 50 years, especially in the North Polar Region.
About Teaching Principle 4
Other materials addressing 4e
Environmental observations are the foundation for understanding the climate system. From the bottom of the ocean to the surface of the Sun, instruments on weather stations, buoys, satellites, and other platforms collect climate data. To learn about past climates, scientists use natural records, such as tree rings, ice cores, and sedimentary layers. Historical observations, such as native knowledge and personal journals, also document past climate change.
About Teaching Principle 5
Other materials addressing 5b

Benchmarks for Science Literacy
Learn more about the Benchmarks

Scientific investigations usually involve the collection of relevant data, the use of logical reasoning, and the application of imagination in devising hypotheses and explanations to make sense of the collected data.
Explore the map of concepts related to this benchmark

Notes From Our Reviewers The CLEAN collection is hand-picked and rigorously reviewed for scientific accuracy and classroom effectiveness. Read what our review team had to say about this resource below or learn more about how CLEAN reviews teaching materials
Teaching Tips | Science | Pedagogy | Technical Details

Teaching Tips

  • The video can be used in a variety of ways and contexts, such as Geography, Asian History, Asian Culture, or Environmental Studies, or in a class where research methods for the reconstruction of past climates are taught.
  • CLEAN collection offers good hands-on activities to learn more about the study of tree rings (dendroclimatology/dendrochronology) to examine past climates.
  • The video is somewhat long - 8.5 minutes - so instructors may want to provide questions to follow along with the video to ensure students view the entire segment.

About the Science

  • In order to understand the past history of monsoons, scientists take tree cores to determine when monsoons and dry periods have occurred in Asia from 1300 to present.
  • The process of sampling trees for dendrochronology is shown very well.
  • The explanations of the monsoon and its impact on local weather conditions are summarized in the spoken text.
  • Supporting diagrams shown in the video are not always directly connected to the context of the narration.
  • Passed initial science review - expert science review pending.

About the Pedagogy

  • The video is easy to understand and important science concepts are illustrated in a variety of ways (i.e. pictures, diagrams, and graphs).
  • The video shows how the tree rings suggest that droughts appearing in early Asian history lasted 30 to 50 years.
  • These findings coincide with the decline of some Asian societies. The cause of these declines may now be attributed to these drought conditions, which illustrates how dendrochronology can be used to help us understand the past.
  • Other tree readings indicating climate change were corroborated by local written records.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Video is somewhat grainy when viewed full screen, but in small screen, it looks good.
  • Video can be downloaded or embedded.

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