Santa Cruz, Calif. – The majestic giant redwoods of California, many of which are centuries old, are dying of thirst as the unrelenting drought continues to decimate the state’s water supply.
“They require enormous amounts of water,” Anthony Ambrose, a tree biologist at the University of California, Berkeley, who has been studying redwoods and giant sequoias for nearly two decades, said. “For the big, old trees, they can use more than 2,000 liters of water per day during the summer.”
With water use being rationed in California, the valuable resource is in seemingly short supply. Evidence of the drought’s effects can be seen in the coastal redwoods, as they are dropping undersized cones, turning brown and shedding leaves. Younger trees, located away from their native forest, in residential areas and parks, are even dying from the lack of water.
In an effort to gauge the effects of the drought on the redwoods, Ambrose and his colleagues Todd Dawson and Wendy Baxter have studied the trees at two sites in Santa Cruz where the trees are showing symptoms of water stress.
“Redwoods are an iconic key species,” Ambrose said. “They’re the tallest, oldest, and largest trees in the world. Everybody around the world knows about them. People love them, even if they’ve never visited them. They’re beautiful forests and beautiful trees.”
Ambrose believes it’s important to gain a better understanding of the potential long-term impacts of the drought going forward, as the current drought has no end in sight and future droughts will continue to affect the region.
“One of our concerns is that temperatures are definitely going up,” Ambrose stated. “Regardless of what happens to the rain and the snow in the mountains, the temperature going up will drive more evaporation from the soil and more transpiration from the trees. That’s going to be a bigger, long-term effect that needs to be considered in terms of the water balance in the forest.”
The resilient giant redwoods have towered over the California landscape for thousands of years, through fires, floods, mudslides, earthquakes, and droughts.
“They’re incredibly resilient and resistant to disturbance,” Ambrose said. “But every species has a limit. They start to suffer. Now that we are in this drought, it’s really important that we get a better idea of how these trees are responding to these conditions so we can understand how they might respond to future drought.”
California’s coast redwood is widely known as the Earth’s tallest tree. However, we know very little about how drought affects redwood trees and forests.
The trio of researchers have launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise the $24,000 necessary to want to evaluate how the drought is impacting southern redwood forests. The scientists believe this to be necessary in order to help understand and predict how this unique ecosystem might respond to a future evolving climate.
When a species that has withstood the test of time, such as the giant coastal redwood, begins to succumb to changing climate and weather, perhaps the human species should take heed.
That being said, Redwoods have been on this planet over 240 million years. Some of these very trees have been alive for the past 2,000 years. By studying the rings of fallen trees, sediment and other natural evidence, scientists know that the geographical region, known today as California, has experienced far worse droughts than this one.
The two most severe megadroughts make the Dust Bowl of the 1930s look like a walk in the park. One such drought lasted 240 years that started in 850. 50 years after that one ended, another drought began that stretched at least 180 years.
Through all of this, the redwoods have survived. So, while some redwoods may succumb to the recent plight, the species who should be worried the most if this drought continues are humans, who aren’t nearly as resilient as the Sequoia sempervirens.
Jay Syrmopoulos is an investigative journalist, free thinker, researcher, and ardent opponent of authoritarianism. He is currently a graduate student at University of Denver pursuing a masters in Global Affairs. Jay’s work has been published on BenSwann’s Truth in Media, Chris Hedges’ truth-out, AlterNet and many other sites. You can follow him on Twitter @sirmetropolis, on Facebook at Sir Metropolis and now on tsu.