Cosmic pattern to UK tree growth

By Matt Walker
Editor, Earth News

The growth of British trees appears to follow a cosmic pattern, with trees growing faster when high levels of cosmic radiation arrive from space.

Researchers made the discovery studying how growth rings of spruce trees have varied over the past half a century. As yet, they cannot explain the pattern, but variation in cosmic rays impacted tree growth more than changes in temperature or precipitation.

The study is published in the scientific journal New Phytologist.

"We were originally interested in a different topic, the climatological factors influencing forest growth," says Ms Sigrid Dengel a postgraduate researcher at the Institute of Atmospheric and Environmental Science at the University of Edinburgh. The relation of the rings to the solar cycle was much stronger than to any climatological factors.

To do this, Ms Dengel and University of Edinburgh colleagues Mr Dominik Aeby and Professor John Grace obtained slices of spruce tree trunks. These had been freshly-felled from the Forest of Ae in Dumfriesshire, Scotland, by Forest Research, the research branch of the UK's Forestry Commission.

The trees had been planted in 1953 and felled in 2006.

The researchers froze the trunk slices, to prevent the wood shrinking, then scanned them on to a computer and used software to count the number and width of the growth rings. As the trees aged, they showed a usual decline in growth.

However, during a number of years, the trees' growth also particularly slowed. These years correlated with periods when a relatively low level of cosmic rays reached the Earth's surface.


Reaching for the stars
When the intensity of cosmic rays reaching the Earth's surface was higher, the rate of tree growth was faster.

The effect is not large, but it is statistically significant.

The intensity of cosmic rays also correlates better with the changes in tree growth than any other climatological factor, such as varying levels of temperature or precipitation over the years.

"The correlation between growth and cosmic rays was moderately high, but the correlation with the climatological variables was barely visible," Ms Dengel told the BBC.
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BBC