“A Tree Older Than Christ”

3082789230_8f2a35d7a5_b

Meet the bristlecone pine:

The oldest of the living bristlecones were just saplings when the pyramids were raised. The most ancient, called Methuselah, is estimated to be more than 4,800 years old; with luck, it will soon enter its sixth millennium as a living, reproducing organism. Because we conceive of time in terms of experience, a life spanning millennia can seem alien or even eternal to the human mind. It is hard to grasp what it would be like to see hundreds of generations flow out from under you in the stream of time, hard to imagine how rich and varied the mind might become if seasoned by five thousand years of experience and culture.

But, as Ross Andersen discovers, global warming is threatening the world's oldest trees:

In 2005, a researcher from Arizona’s tree-ring lab named Matthew Salzer noticed an unusual trend in the most recent stretch of bristlecone tree rings. Over the past half century, bristlecones near the tree line have grown faster than in any 50-year period of the past 3,700 years, a shift that portends ‘an environmental change unprecedented in millennia,’ according to Salzer. As temperatures along the peaks warm, the bristlecones are fattening up, adding thick rings in every spring season. … This might sound like good news for the trees, but it most assuredly is not. Indeed, the thick new rings might be a prophecy of sorts, a foretelling of the trees’ extinction.

(Photo by Rick Goldwasser)