The California Drought is Killing Giant Sequoias

The years of Californian drought have begun to take their toll on the trees within Sequoia National Park. Despite being the oldest living things on Earth, many mature Giant Sequoias show signs of browning leaves.

With this in mind, biologist Amber Ambrose and his team travel to the Sequoia National Park to study the Sequoias. They hope to find out exactly how the massive trees use water. Since the trees are thousands of years old, they have probably lived through their share of droughts.

“We’re focused on the biggest, oldest ones in the forest, which could be anywhere between 600 to 3000 years old,” says Ambrose. While the saplings at ground level are holding up, the tallest trees are suffering.

With greater size comes greater need. The largest Sequoias can drink up to 800 gallons of water per day. Researchers still aren’t sure if the water is used immediately or preserved for droughts. As the water columns within the trunk dry up, the Sequoias’ pores close, starving them of carbon dioxide. In the most recent year of the California drought, 490 Sequoias have died.

The team of biologists use crossbows to shoot bolts into the canopy over 200 feet up, each one trailing a fishing wire. The wire flies over a branch before returning to the ground, allowing the researchers to secure a climbing rope. The team then climbs up and takes numerous leaf clippings to analyze later. Hanging in the canopy, the researchers attach temperature and humidity sensors. The fifty trees analyzed will give the Park Service an idea of which trees need the most help.

sequoia leaves

In the sky, other researchers survey the forest, noting leaf colors and water concentration. With data pouring in, they will be able to create a map showing which areas are most affected by drought. The National Park Service can then use prescribed burnings to reduce competition, allowing the forest to survive.

This drought is just the beginning of a bigger trend. As global temperatures rise, other species will experience similar problems. Despite their former resilience, Giant Sequoias are not invincible as once thought. Researchers are scrambling to find solutions. As Ambrose says, “We’re hoping we can use our combined data to help national parks solve this issue.”

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1 Comment

    Janice Hsu
    September 8, 2015 at 1:52 am — Reply

    This is my favorite one so far, very powerful. Amber Ambrose has the same last name as Simon Ambrose from Johnny English 2. Well done team Nova. Looking forward to the next article(maybe from Carter).

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