‘It’s a miracle’: Chile’s Gran Abuelo may be the world’s oldest living tree | trees and forests

In a secluded valley in the south ChileA lone iris tree standing over an old forest canopy.

Green shoots sprout from the crevices of their thick, dark trunks, clustered like tubes of a large cathedral organ, and water flows through its mossy-streaked bark to the forest floor from bulging nodes in the wood.

Climatologist Jonathan Baryshevich, 41, remembers the first time he encountered Gran Abueloor “great-grandfather”, a tree as a child.

Barichivich grew up in Alerce Costero National Park, 500 miles (800 kilometers) south of the capital, Santiago. It is home to hundreds of alarms, Fitzroia Coppersidesa slow-growing conifer native to the cool, moist valleys of the southern Andes.

“I never thought how old I was Gran Abuelo It could be,” he said. “The records don’t really matter to me.” However, Barichivich’s groundbreaking study showed that the 100-foot (30 m) giant could be the world’s oldest living tree.

In January 2020, he visited Gran Abuelo With his mentor and friend, Antonio Lara, a neurologist, to take a core sample of the stump.

They only manage to get as much as 40% in the tree where its center is likely to be moldy, making the whole core out of reach. However, this specimen has yielded a discovery that is approximately 2,400 years old.

Baryshevich did not shy away from creating a model that could estimate Gran Abuelo‘sage. Taking the known ages of other alarms in the forest and taking into account the climate and natural diversity, he calibrated a model that simulates a range of possible ages, resulting in a staggering estimate of 5,484 years.

This would make it more than Six centuries older than Methuselah, the bristlecon pine of eastern California is recognized as the world’s oldest non-clonal tree – a plant that does not share a common root system. Some cloned trees live much longer, such as Old Tjikko in Norway, and are believed to be 9,558 years old.

Barichivich takes a basic sample from a tree trunk.
Barichivich takes a basic sample from a tree trunk. Photography: Salomon Henriquez

Baryshevich believes there is an 80% chance that the tree has lived more than 5,000 years – but some colleagues scoff at the findings. They assert that complete and countable tree-ring nuclei are the only true way to determine age.

The climate scientist hopes to publish his research early next year. He will continue to improve his model but is moving away from the “colonialism” that exists in the field.

“Some colleagues are skeptical and cannot understand why we disclosed the result before it is officially published,” he said. But this is a science beyond the ordinary. We have so little time to work – we can’t wait a year or two, it may already be too late.”

Baryshevich thinks ancient trees may help experts understand how forests interact with climate.

“The Gran Abuelo Not just old, it’s a time capsule with a message about the future. “We have a 5,000-year record of life in this tree alone, and we can see an ancient organism’s response to the changes we’ve made to the planet.”

In January Baryshevich, who works at the Laboratory of Climate, Environmental and Environmental Sciences in Paris, won a €1.5 million start-up grant from the European Research Council that he describes as the “holy grail” of a scientist.

He has embarked on a five-year project to assess the future ability of forests to capture carbon, hoping to add tree ring data from thousands of locations around the world to climate simulations for the first time.

Forests cover more than a third of the planet’s vegetative surface, capturing carbon dioxide during photosynthesis, but current models are only able to make estimates for 20 or 30 years in the future.

By adding data on the composition of wood, and the composition of wood, Baryshevich believes it can provide 100-year predictions of climate change — and revolutionize our ability to understand and mitigate its effects.

“If tree rings were a book,” he said, “then for 40 years everyone has been looking at the cover.”

Little by little, the tree dies.

Barichivich, a climate scientist, with Gran Abuelo in Alerce Costero National Park, Chile.
Barichevich poses with Gran Abuelo. A climate scientist has embarked on a five-year project to assess the future capacity of forests to capture carbon. Photograph: Salomon Henriquez/The Guardian

In an office surrounded by painted specimens, brittle cores, and sawdust, Baryshevich’s teacher, Antonio Lara, 66, has spent his career working to reconstruct temperature levels, precipitation, and watersheds throughout history.

Lara, a professor in the School of Forest Sciences and Natural Resources at Chile’s University of Austral in the southern city of Valdivia, has been able to demonstrate that alerts can suck carbon from the atmosphere and lock it for 1,500 to 2,000 years in dead trees. . Buried hay stumps can retain carbon for more than 4,000 years.

He also identified precise weather events by translating tree rings into numbers, which could then be read like a barcode. Lara said, “The great-grandfather tree is a miracle for three reasons – it grew and survived and then Jonathan’s grandfather found it.”

In the mid-1940s, Baryshevich’s grandfather, Aníbal Henriquez, arrived from the southern city of Laotaro to work for forestry companies that cut Lahoanas warnings are known in the indigenous language of Mapudungun, his mother tongue.

He went on to become the park’s first superintendent, but several giant ulna trees had already fallen victim to logging before Chile made their logging illegal in 1976.

The Alerce board was used as currency by locals throughout the 18th and 19th centuries and wood was commonly used in construction. The famous UNESCO-protected wooden churches on Chiloe Island are built from alerce logs.

Henriquez happened to him Gran Abuelo While he was on patrol in the early seventies. Although he was reluctant to reveal the discovery at first, word quickly spread and people started arriving: Now, more than 10,000 tourists descend on the small wooden viewing platform by the tree each summer.

Tree Alerce
The Alerce board was used as currency by locals throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. Photography: Kristina Szolica Photography/Alamy

Other alarms in the valley fell victim to logging or wildfires, leaving the occasional tree standing alone. “Little by little, the tree is dying,” said Marcelo Delgado, a cousin of Baryshevic who works in the park as one of five full-time rangers. “People jump off the platform to peel off the bark to take as a souvenir.”

Falling feet around the base of the tree also damage the thin layer of bark on its roots, affecting nutrient absorption. After 29 more trees were vandalized by tourists, the National Forest Foundation of Chile, which manages the country’s national parks, closed the trail indefinitely.

Baryshevich hopes so by showing it Gran Abuelo The oldest tree in the world, it can sound the alarm about the urgency with which we must protect the natural world. While the scope of his research is much broader, Baryshevich insists that the national park he grew up in is where he belongs.

When he was eight, his grandfather disappeared on a routine patrol in the snow. His body was found two days later. Another uncle, also a park ranger, died later in the park.

“It seems to be a family tradition,” Baryshevich said. “Maybe the same fate awaits me, I die with my boots in the woods. But first I want to reveal its secrets.”

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