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Climate change fueling a growth spurt in California's giant redwood trees


KERNVILLE, CA - JULY 25: A giant sequoia tree dwarfs the surrounding forest along the Trail of the 100 Giants. Sequoia trees are known as the largest living things on earth, many of which are more than 1,000 years old, and occur only in this southern Sierra Nevada region.



It's not often that good news comes out of a report on climate change but California's giant trees are enjoying an unprecedented growth spurt that may be spurred on by global warming.

Two types of the beloved ancient trees — the coast redwood and giant sequoia — have grown more over the past century than they have during any other time in their extremely long lives, according to new research by a team of scientists.

Researchers from UC Berkeley and Humboldt State, along with the Save the Redwoods League, spent $3 million over four years on the most comprehensive study of the giant trees to date.

They climbed, sampled and charted 137 redwoods and giant sequoias to determine how they were reacting to climate change.

Emily Burns, science director at Save the Redwoods said that their adaption to a warming planet was a positive surprise.

"We have found ancient forests where climate conditions are accelerating growth and we predict these places will stay vibrant habitat refuges for other plants and animals in the foreseeable future," Burns said.

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It's unclear what's causing the growth spurt and it could include a variety of factors beyond climate change.

"Our hypothesis is that it’s because it is warmer. That lengthens the growth season," Burns told the San Francisco Chronicle.

Using wood samples taken from the core of the trees, researchers were able to determine their rate of growth.

Stephen Sillett, a professor of forest ecology at Humboldt State, said they found that both redwood species grew at a relatively stable rate for 650 years and then suddenly began to grow faster in the last century.

In the 1970s the rate of growth picked up even more, Sillett told the Chronicle.

"Wood production increased during the last century in both species," wrote Sillett, "and the pace of increase was unprecedented in our tree-ring record."

During their research, scientists also came across what they say is the oldest coast redwood on record.

The shaggy tree clocked in at 2,520 years of age, an extra 300 years older than the previous record-holder.