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DRBC Engages Ewing HS Students in Tree-Dating Project

When DRBC staff give presentations on water resources management, particularly the commission's drought management program, we include mention that a tree's growth rings not only can tell their age, but that the width of these rings can indicate local drought conditions. A wet year may result in a wide ring, while a drought year may result in a narrow one.

Staff noticed that a neighbor was having a large red oak cut down on their property, and we asked if we could have a slice of it to see if a local tree's rings would show the Delaware River Basin's drought of record, which occurred in the 1960s.

After obtaining the tree slice, we reached out to Laurie Ruffenach, who advises Ewing High School's Environmental Club, to see if they would be interested in helping us with this project. They were interested and asked us to drop off the slice and also give a short presentation on the Delaware River and DRBC.

DRBC External Affairs and Communications Director Peter Eschbach met the club members, introduced them to the basin and the commission, and gave them their assignment. The students counted the rings and also determined periods of less growth vs. more growth.

Their data show that the tree was about 100 years old, counting its rings back to ~1914, and that there were periods of time of little growth and also periods of noticeable growth. The rings that were dated to the 1960s were indicative of less growth, as they were narrower compared to other years.

Outreach and education is an important strategic goal of DRBC; while this experiment will not be featured in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, it was a great way to engage these local students with a hands-on project that teaches about trees, water resources, and hydrologic conditions.