Teach the Earth > Sedimentary Geology > Sedimentology, Geomorphology, and Paleontology 2014 > Teaching Activities > Tree Ring Data and Environmental Variables

Tree Ring Data and Environmental Variables

Erica Bigio, The University of Arizona
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This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Reviewed Teaching Collection

This activity has received positive reviews in a peer review process involving five review categories. The five categories included in the process are

  • Scientific Accuracy
  • Alignment of Learning Goals, Activities, and Assessments
  • Pedagogic Effectiveness
  • Robustness (usability and dependability of all components)
  • Completeness of the ActivitySheet web page

For more information about the peer review process itself, please see http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/review.html.

This page first made public: Jun 3, 2014


This activity uses Bristlecone pine tree-ring data to understand how tree growth is related to environmental variables. It can be used to test hypotheses about how tree growth has been increasing with increasing northern hemisphere temperature in the past 100 years. This activity was originally developed by Christine Hallman and Katie Hirschboeck at the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research at the University of Arizona. This activity is used in a Global Change course for first year non-science majors.



Intro to Global Change Course. First year non-science majors, fills a gen ed requirement

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

The students should be able to read time-series plots and understand the basics of how tree-rings can be used as a proxy of environmental information in the past. This is taught in earlier lectures and activities in this course.

How the activity is situated in the course

This activity is in the middle of the course as a stand-alone exercise. Can be performed in one or two series of exercises. The version I present here consists of a take-home assignment followed by a group activity in class.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

linking tree-ring growth with environmental factors. understanding how elevation and geographic area influence tree-growth characteristics.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

observing trends in time-series data. Completing data tables. formulation of hypotheses

Other skills goals for this activity

working in groups

Description and Teaching Materials

This is an activity where students complete a take-home assignment, where they refer to lecture material and websites to understand the basics of dendrochronology and Bristlecone pines. They answer questions and complete a data table, which they bring to class. Students then work in groups to analyze tree-ring data (skeleton plots and ring-width plots) and discuss hypotheses about testing tree growth with environmental variables/influences.
Bristlecone pine assignment (at home) (Acrobat (PDF) 203kB Jun3 14)
Bristlecone pine group activity (in class) (Acrobat (PDF) 173kB Jun3 14)
Bristlecone pine powerpoint (Acrobat (PDF) 1.9MB Jun3 14)

Teaching Notes and Tips

If you are interested in this activity, I can provide additional teaching materials and explanation.


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