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Ring Profiler Gives Scientists a Luminous Look at Tree Rings

Suppressed growth trees can contain decades of growth rings in a half-inch section of wood.

Suppressed growth trees can contain decades of growth rings in a half-inch section of wood.

The Ring Profiler may sound like the title of fantasy novel but in fact it’s an innovative tool U.S. Forest Service scientists are using to better determine how much a tree grows annually.

Developed by the Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, Wis., the Ring Profiler may have significant implications in forest management and climate-change studies. It allows researchers to accurately determine both the age of a tree and how much mass it has accumulated over time. Studying a tree’s rings in the traditional way can be difficult when its growth has been suppressed due to stand overcrowding or climate-related effects such as a lack of moisture during the growing season.

A bright, high-contrast image of the cellular anatomy of wood produced by the Ring Profiler.

A bright, high-contrast image of the cellular anatomy of wood produced by the Ring Profiler.

The Ring Profiler allows researchers to clearly see the densely packed rings of a suppressed-growth tree. This innovative tool illuminates a wood sample from the sides, allowing the wood cells to act like fiber optic conductors. The light is internally reflected within the cell walls, producing a high-contrast image of the cellular anatomy when viewed under magnification. This technique makes it easier to measure the cellular structure of the wood fibers as they change shape throughout the growing season, making it possible to calculate the rate at which a tree accumulates mass over time.

The Forest Products Laboratory is now working on automating the process and developing an instrument that could be used by forest managers to more accurately assess the growth characteristics and carbon sequestration potential for trees which would improve forest health and aid in restoration efforts. The Ring Profiler has been patented.  Interested industrial cooperators should contact the Forest Products Laboratory for more information on product development.

2 Responses to “Ring Profiler Gives Scientists a Luminous Look at Tree Rings”

  1. Philip Kopper says:

    Assuming that tree samples overlap in dendrochronology “libraries” worldwide, how far back in time can we trace a continuous record? For North America? For the eastern Mediterranean? Where can I find summary information on dendrochronology? Pls advise. Thanx.

  2. Dick Welch says:

    In follow-up to Philip Kopper’s query;

    Well???

    In other words, would you please answer his question? I will broaden it by asking, “how may the ring profiler expand (y)our ability to trace a continuous record?

    Thanks for your answer, and thanks for the development of this great tool.

    Dick Welch, Forester

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