Initial Publication Date: April 28, 2017

Lab 1 - Launching an Expedition

Download a Student Activity Worksheet here. (Acrobat (PDF) 216kB Mar13 19)


Dendrochronologists often travel to remote regions across the world in search of old, slow growing, trees that capture the environmental conditions where they live in their annual growth rings. By studying these trees, scientists learn about environments and climates, hundreds-to-thousands of years in the past. For example, scientists have used trees from such sites to reconstruct temperature variability of the past two thousand years in the Northern Hemisphere, to place exact calendar dates on ancestral pueblos in the U.S. Southwest and to reconstruct streamflow estimates for the U.S. Colorado River.

What will I learn?

In this virtual lab, you will be introduced to the science of dendrochronology and learn how tree-ring science is conducted. You will see how tree-core samples are obtained and processed, and take a virtual tour of a tree-ring laboratory. You will hear two accomplished dendrochronologists describe their career paths and you will explore the workplace of dendrochronologists by examining the nature of four tree-ring research sites around the world. Then you will consider what kinds of research sites scientists seek to help them answer questions about how our climate has changed in the past.

To complete the lab, you will explore publicly available tree-ring datasets from The International Tree-Ring Databank (ITRDB) and you will focus on the work of one science investigator to help you understand how a scientist works, and how the scientific community works together to push knowledge forward.

Learning Objectives

After completing this lab, you should be able to:

  • describe what the science of dendrochronology is and what dendrochronologists typically do in terms of fieldwork
  • explain what types of trees give dendrochronologists the best chance to reconstruct past climate change
  • locate and describe data from the International Tree-Ring Databank, and find an associated peer review publication
  • explain how the peer-reviewed work of scientists shared collaboratively advances the body of scientific knowledge in dendrochronology.

References and Additional Resources

For more information about the science in this lab, consult the following websites, articles and books.