Scientists take to the trees to measure global warming

Tue Sep 15, 2009 12:39pm EDT
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By Sharon Reich

GIFFORD PINCHOT NATIONAL FOREST, Washington State, Sept 15 (Reuters Life!) - Gliding across the treetops in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest in Washington State may sound like the latest trend in eco-tourism.

But the gondola on the massive Wind River crane is not used for recreational sport -- it's a research tool being used by scientists at the University of Washington to measure the effects of global warming on trees.

For years researchers have been studying trees' ability to absorb carbon dioxide, one of the major greenhouse gases responsible for global warming, but from the ground they've only been able to get half the picture.

Matt Schrader, a University of Washington researcher, said tree tops have been the hardest for scientists to access, yet are considered the most important to examine the health of trees.

"It's the crown ... that's where the tree is actively responding to the environment," Schrader told Reuters TV.

"That's where the tree interacts with other plants and animals and so accessing the crown safely and being able to do it often is important."

A US Geological Survey-led study published in January said tree death rates have more than doubled over the past five decades in the western United States.

Scientists said the increase in mortality will have profound affects on the size of trees and the density of forests.   Continued...

<p>Trees are reflected in the still waters along a river near Eugene, Oregon July 1, 2008. REUTERS/Mike Blake</p>