music; ambience: rope creaking, birds singing, walkie-talkie
“So we’re in Redwood National Park, about to climb the tallest tree on earth to re-measure its total height.”
What’s life like at the top of the world’s tallest trees? Well, ask Steve Sillett, an ecologist at Humboldt State University in Northern California. He’s tracking the growth of giant redwoods, along with grad student, Anthony Ambrose.
“Okay, Anthony, go ahead and untie the anchor So we are at the top of the tallest known living tree. And it appears to have not grown at all in height since last year this time. Total height is still 115.55. Down at 112 meters, it grew about .1 centimeters, or 1 millimeter in diameter. So the thing’s just eking along here, it’s not doing much. Which isn’t, I guess, too surprising. I expected a few centimeters of growth. But none is evident.
Ambrose: It appears to be reaching the limits of its potential height.
Sillett: I think it might be. The other thing I’m noticing up here is that, more of that woodpecker damage. At about 114.3 meters there’s some peck marks on the trunk. And there’s fresh pitch oozing out of the wounds. So that can’t be helping. But it’s nice to see that the top is still alive. It’s just so improbable to me that this tree even exists. The landscape has been logged pretty extensively, and those clearcut edges came within a couple hundred feet of the tree. Why this particular tree is so darn tall, I just still can’t get over it. There’s no way we could have predicted it. And yet
Ambrose: Here it is.
Sillett: Here it is, and it’s got a live top, despite the woodpeckers.
We’ll here more about Steve Sillett’s research on redwoods in future programs.
Please visit pulseplanet.com. Pulse of the Planet’s Science Diaries are made possible by the National Science Foundation. I’m Jim Metzner.