Trees Show 1,700 Years of Wasatch Precipitation


    By Kami Dalton

    The rings of a tree from the south slope of Cascade Mountain or American Fork Canyon near Alta Ski Resort will tell a BYU graduate student a story about Utah”s last 1,700 years.

    Bryan Tikalsky is reconstructing patterns of precipitation on the Wasatch Front from core samples of tree rings taken from high elevation for his masters thesis in geography.

    “Basically we go to the tops of mountains at a high elevation and look for really old trees, the older the better,” said Ben Bright, an undergraduate assistant helping with the research.

    “Really old” is not an exaggeration by any stretch of the imagination. One of the trees sampled last summer was found to be the oldest known of its species, limber pine, said Tikalsky. The tree is at least 1,700 years old.

    “Our results should give us a better understanding of the precipitation patterns in the region, and help us further understand drought severity,” Tikalsky said.

    More than 80 trees have been sampled. All these core samples, about the width of a pencil, are being painstakingly analyzed for patterns between the widths of the rings.

    The rings of the sampled trees recorded the climate for every year during their lifetimes, Tikalsky”s advisor Matthew Bekker said. They especially illuminate amounts of rainfall and snowpack for a given year.

    Bekker, a geography professor, said most of the Wasatch Front”s water comes from melted snow, which makes understanding the snow levels for a given year significant.

    “That”s pretty important from a management perspective,” Bekker said. “We”re pretty dependent on our water.”

    Because the Wasatch Front has a large population, and because the area is a semidesert, it is vital to plan water usage, Bekker explained.

    The amount of growth possible in a year largely depends on the water available, so it is important to be able to know your limits, Bekker said.

    “There are limits on water; you can only pull so much out of a watershed or out of a river,” Bekker said.

    Agencies at the federal, state, or district levels might be interested in the findings of the research for a number of reasons, Bekker said.

    He said the Central Utah Water Conservancy District, a subdivision of the Utah state government, and the Bureau of Reclamation, which has jurisdiction over Deer Creek, might be able to use the information for projects of their own.

    Tikalsky said the findings may even be of interest to ski resorts in the area.

    “We”ll share with whoever wants to know,” Bekker said.

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