Cedar trees providing insight on weather and climate from centuries ago
Water is abundant in Tennessee, thanks to the Tennessee River. However, that's not the case everywhere in the U.S.. TVA and UT-Knoxville are currently conducting research that could lead to more companies moving to the Tennessee Valley for water.
An instrument called an increment borer is used to drill into the trunk of the cedar tree. It takes a sample of the tree trunk about the size of a pencil. No trees are being harmed, or cut down.
Laura Smith is a geology PhD student at UT-Knoxville. She's sampled hundreds of Eastern Red Cedars for her research.
"You look at the rings you'll see, patterns of wide and narrow rings, and those correlate to environmental factors," says Smith.
Narrower rings indicate drought within a growth year, while wider rings indicate years with above normal rain or flooding. The National Weather Service provides years of data, but not before the 1850s. The Eastern Red Cedar, allows scientists to go back further, much further.
TVA tells Channel 3, finding a pattern can help them make decisions in the future.
"In many regions of the country, the water is much more uncertain, especially into the long-term future," says the Lead Hydrologist with TVA, Curt Jawdy.
Economically, consistent water access would be attractive to companies that are out west. In the Tennessee Valley, Little Cedar Mountain near Jasper provides an area of hundreds of Eastern Red Cedars for sampling. TVA says they hope citizen scientists will step up.
"You can find them along agricultural fields and fence lines, and in bluffs," adds Senior Program Manager of Natural Resources with TVA, Suzanne Fisher.
TVA is asking scouts, hikers, campers, as they're out this summer to help them identify more Eastern Red Cedars using the I-Naturalist App. Research is in the beginning stage, and will take another 6-8 months before results are completed. If you spot a red cedar and want to help, you can find information on how to report it, inside the WRCB App.
Have a weather related story idea? Feel free to email Meteorologist Brittany Beggs.