Sunday, October 30, 2016

Sadly, Extreme Weather Just Killed A 600 Year Old Tree In New Jersey

This 600 year old oak tree in Basking Ridge, New Jersey
died this summer, in part because of extreme weather
There's been an ancient oak tree in Basking Ridge, New Jersey for as long as anyone can remember.

Judging from its size, experts estimated it was about 600 years old. George Washington is said to have rested under the then nearly 250 year old or so tree during the Revolutionary War.

The tree, however, finally died this summer amid some pretty bad weather.

A spate of extreme summer weather killed the tree. Like people, older trees are more likely to succumb to extremes and injuries than the spry young fellas and gals.

In Basking Ridge this July, there was two weeks worth of extreme 90 degree heat. It was one of the hottest stretches on record, and was accompanied by very little rain.

As the New York Times notes, trees compensate for such weather. According to The Times:

"(Arborist Rob) Gillies said the tree responded to the initial 'heat stress' by closing off the pores in the rings deep inside, behind the bark. 'These shut down, so it doesn't transpire,' he said. 'Then it was inundated' by almost 12 hours of heavy rain. 'The roots were soaking because it couldn't process the water,' he said."

In other words, if the heat wave weren't quite so intense, and had it ended in light to moderate rains, things might have gone OK. But the weather whiplash - heat and drought to deluge - was too much for this iconic oak.

People in Basking Ridge and in particular the Presbyterian church where the tree is are devastated by the death. When new of the tree's death broke, people who had grown up in Basking Ridge and moved away called the church and town officials, offering condolences.

The church is actually holding a community memorial service for the tree on November 6.

Crews have already removed dead branches from the tree that threaten historic gravestones and nearby old buildings. But the bulk of the tree will come down in the spring. The church will use the wood for an as yet unspecified use.

While some outlets were quick to blame climate change for the tree's death, it probably isn't that simple. True, the odds and frequency of having long torrid hot spells in New Jersey and elsewhere have increased. And extreme rainfall events have also gotten more frequent, and all this is likely due to climate change.

However, the tree was old, and eventually, a inevitable confluence of adverse weather that might have come with or without climate change  killed the tree. The tree had clearly been in decline for several years before it finally succumbed this year.

We'll never know if climate change caused its demise earlier than it would have.

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