Environmental Record Found In Old Houses
Over the last few summers EGS professor John Rayburn has been poking around in old houses trying to uncover the environmental information preserved in the wood. Together with Dr. David Barclay (SUNY Cortland), Dr. Rayburn has been searching out some of the oldest houses in the Lake Champlain Valley and taking samples of wood from the best preserved beams. These samples are taken back to the lab and the tree rings in the wood are counted and measured very accurately under a microscope. In years when a tree is stressed by its environment it makes small rings, and in years when the environment is optimal it makes large rings. A comparison study on living trees done by New Paltz student Kira Baca last year demonstrated that Oaks in the Champlain Valley are stressed by drought conditions.
Tree rings measured from the old houses go back as far as 1655. Besides indicating meteorological conditions in the region it appears that the trees may also have responded to human settlement. The old rings match rings from trees in an undisturbed area of the Adirondacks up until about 1790, after which they appear to be responding differently. 1790 was about the time that settlement in this area greatly expanded and other factors such as livestock browsing, land drainage, and harvesting of fuel and building wood may have altered the trees’ growth patterns. Professor Rayburn will be presenting these findings in a session on Reconstructing Interactions between Humans and the Natural Environment during the Holocene at the Geological Association of America National Meeting in Denver Colorado in November.