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Interrogating Ancient Oak Tree-Rings

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N.J. Loader, G.H.F. Young, D. McCarroll, D. Davies, D. Miles, and C. Bronk Ramsey

Published May 2018 in International Oaks No. 29: 65–76


Oak trees are wonderful things; they help to sustain the planet by cleaning the atmosphere, storing carbon and cycling water; preserve biodiversity within their branches, roots and forests and throughout the Common Era they have made significant contributions to our built heritage, culture and societal wellbeing. In addition to these and myriad other roles, oaks have been used by academic researchers to date old buildings and artefacts, trace past climatic changes, the activity of our sun and tree response to the anthropogenic increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration. In doing so these sentinel oaks allow scientists and policy makers to look towards the environmental challenges of the future within a longer-term perspective. This invited paper presents a non-specialist account of some of the ways in which oak trees have supported scientific research in the United Kingdom and presents results obtained through the UK Oak Project and allied group research. The paper provides an overview of dendrochronology and dendroclimatology, then explores the way in which the chemical analysis of oak tree-rings has helped us to date the past and taught us about past climates, our changing atmosphere and plant physiology.


UK Oak Project, dendrochronology, dendroclimatology, paleoclimate, plant physiology, stable isotope


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