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Every ring counts

Every annual ring in every single tree and wooden object that exists in the whole world has a story to tell, you just must come up with the correct question. The number of research questions that can be answered with the help of dendrochronology thus never ends. In fact, it seems that the ideas in the dendro community never run out, and at every conference or meeting I attend, there is always someone who has come up with something amazing that no one has done before. I guess that's why I keep going, but how did I get here?


The path to becoming a dendrochronologist is seldom straight, and it really was not for me. It was not a childhood dream come true because I simply did not know what dendrochronology was as a child. After spending a decade in all sorts of rehearsal rooms, getting incurable tinnitus, and spending an average of $ 100 for every dollar my music generated, I decided to start studying. But to succeed in your studies, it must be fun, and finally I found the subject of geology. The years went by, the studies kept going, and one day during a palaeoecology course in 2005 I got to learn about dendrochronology and measured my first pine sample. I immediately felt that this was something for me, at the same time I was amazed by the many uses of dendrochronology. I started working as an hourly employee in the dendro lab in Lund in parallel with my studies, and when it was time to write a master's degree, the subject was given to a dendro-geologist, palaeoclimatology with subfossil trees. This was something I continued with as a doctoral student, and I think that everyone who has started to put the big puzzle of, where tree-ring series will have space to run throughout the whole Holocene, will be stuck for life. The challenge to find the exact sample that can bridge a gap between two floating chronologies is huge, and each individual ring really counts if it is to work. I don’t know if it’s for good or bad, but the oak and pine chronologies that are to cover 8000 years I’m working on are probably never-ending projects.

Sampling subfossil pine trees at Åbuamossen in Sweden. The tree-ring chronology from this site covers the period 2667-1108 BCE.


But it is not only the long-time scales and the high precision of the time series that fascinate, but it is also the many uses in dendrochronology that make it so fun. Like when for a couple of years, I left peat bogs and chainsaws to travel around to many of the world's foremost art collections to analyse panel paintings. With camera equipment, I travelled to museums and auction houses in England, Belgium, France, Germany, Austria, Italy, Sweden, Slovenia, Miami, and Puerto Rico to document annual rings in works of art related to Rubens, Rembrandt, Brugel, Van Dyck, and Jordaens among others. Of course, it's just as exciting to analyse something exclusive as something extremely old, and it's always possible to entertain an audience with stories about how I carved with razor blades in a work of art insured for € 16 million.


Analysing the panel painting Satyr Playing a Flute related to the artist Jacques Jordaens (1593 - 1678). The painting belongs to The Royal Łazienki Museum, Warsaw, Poland. The panel is made of two oak planks. It is Baltic oak, and since sapwood is missing, the felling year of the two trees are dated to after AD 1606 and after AD 1618 (terminus post quem), respectively.


Something I think is necessary as a researcher is curiosity. I currently work on diverse topics such as tree colonization on peatlands, dendrochemistry, and cultural heritage. I do not know if anything I am working on will change the world, although I hope that the study of my peatland trees will help us to better restore ditched and destroyed peatlands, which is an utter must if we are to meet the climate goals. But I still want to learn new things, and it is certainly fascinating that after measuring hundreds of thousands of annual rings, I still spot something new and ask myself questions every time a new sample is under the stereo microscope. I guess that’s the power of dendrochronology and why I continue.


3Rings4Life,

Johannes



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