04 April, 2012

A-Z Blogging Challenge: Dendrochronology + IWSG

Public domain image. SOURCE.
Dendrochronology is the study of tree rings to determine the dates of past events. Dendros refers to trees, and chronos to events and processes.

To get accurate dates, samples are taken from living trees, old timbers in buildings, archaeological sites, and/or peat bogs, and they are graphed by a computer. Samples with unknown dates are brought up against reference chronologies and their ring patterns compared. The age of some trees (Bristlecone pines can live up to 9,000 years) allow scientists to create records of the region from which they originated; the International Tree-Ring Data Bank (headed by the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration, or NOAA) has collected a database of such samples and the Sheffield Dendrochronology Lab has a tree ring record that stretches as far back as 5,000 BCE, with over 200 reference chronologies.

Bristlecone pines. Public domain image. SOURCE.
Many things can affect the growth of tree rings, and several other fields influence dendrochronology; a few are botany, biology, climatology, and entomology. One current area of research in dendrochronology involves changes during the Holocene Epoch (11,700 years ago to the present) and how those might indicate future shifts in climate.

That use of the past to possibly predict the future ties in with the Uniformitarian Principle, which says physical and biological processes that are linked to current environmental processes and tree growth must have occurred in the past as well. There are six other principles: The Principle of Limiting Factors, the Principle of Aggregate Tree Growth, the Principle of Ecological Amplitude, the Principle of Site Selection, the Principle of Crossdating, and the Principle of Replication (for detailed definitions, go HERE).

Another way dendrochronology is used is in the dating of paintings.

Notable Dendrochronologist:

Michael Stambaugh

Michael Stambaugh is a Research Assistant Professor at the University of Missouri. His research focuses on forest ecosystems, including tree growth responses to climate change, reconstruction of paleoclimates and paleoenvironments, and changes in vegetation and fire regimes (fire regimes are the frequencies that bushfires occur).

Video with Michael Staumbaugh:

Plant a Wish Moment: Dr. Mike Stambaugh of Missouri Tree Ring Lab Talks about his Research from Noni Films on Vimeo.




And now for the Insecure Writer's Support Group part of my post.

Since I've been writing about science this month, I've been thinking.

Personally, I love technicality in fiction. I love Hard Science Fiction because it often provides explanations of how stuff works and the theories the technology is based on; and I suppose that's another reason why Steampunk appeals me so much, with all those gears and machines and blend between society and science.

But since I know a lot of people don't like that kind of thing, I gather a balance must be struck between explaining how a technical world works and not pushing the reader away. I try to treat such information like backstory and world-building--explain it as dynamically as possible, through dialogue and only when necessary. Boring the reader to death with ruminations on faster-than-light (FTL) travel or other such elements is not the goal, great as my urge may be to yammer away about it.

How much technicality do you put into your writing, and how do you handle it? How much do you tolerate when you read fiction, and do detailed explanations make you skim or put down a story?

-----The Golden Eagle


Elaine AM Smith said...

Sci-fi is stronger when there are a few factual details sprinkled in with the fiction.
Your tree information ties in well with my theory that life is like wood but dead is a diamond ;)

Gail said...

I'm really not a technical person, maybe that why I'm not a author, no attention to details.

I remember Dad showing the rings on each tree cut. We would count the rings and pick out the good growing years and the bad. It was interesting, I'm sure Dad knew what the science was called. I just called it reading tree rings.

Bish Denham said...

Some technology in SciFi is fine, but my eyes do glaze over when it begins to sound like the writer is showing off what he/she knows.

As a funny aside. (True story) There was once a Park Ranger who used to tell the tourists that the trees in the tropics didn't have rings because there were no seasons!

DWei said...

I always found it interesting how various bumps and shapes in the rings could reveal events in the tree's life.

Old Kitty said...

Tree trunks are like books really - they tell epic stories!!

I must admit to trying very hard not to skim through technical details in sf novels! LOL! Take care

Kimberlee Turley said...

I think if you write sci-fi, then other people will enjoy that sort of thing and will not mind it as much.

I tend to go heavier than most because I find such things fascinating, but I'm really just barely scratching the surface of what's out there.

My betas are the ones who really help me figure out how much is too much.

Li said...

That was a cool link to the dating of paintings using dendrochronology! I'm a science geek, so I enjoy books that have a lot of science in them - it makes me feel like I'm learning something painlessly :-)

farawayeyes said...

Not personally big on technology, it tends to escape me. Enjoying learning from your posts. Knew about tree rings had no idea what the study was called.

I have walked up among the Bristlecone Pines.

Cherie Reich said...

I think dendrochronology is fascinating.

And there is a fine line between being too technical in science fiction realms and not enough. If it starts sounding like a science book and less like a story, then the author has done too much for most readers. Personally, I like to escape into fiction. I do enjoy learning things, but to me it's more about plots, characters, etc. than scientific facts.

Pat Hatt said...

I knew about Denrochronology, score a point for me..haha...yeah I don't mind a liitle bit of tech, but when I write I generally give a more easy to understand explantion and move on, using too much of it just bogs it down.

Erin M. Hartshorn said...

Great discussion of the technical aspects of tree rings! I'm going to have to go back and check your previous posts, too.

I read across the range of science fiction and fantasy. I enjoy technical explanations when they are subservient to the story (Neal Stephenson lost me when he started to talk about the organization of the world in Anathem), but I enjoy any story with an internally self-consistent world, even if it is contrary to the way our world works.

Thanks for stopping by my blog and commenting.

mshatch said...

I am sadly ignorant and seldom include technological descriptions. Yours are very interesting. 9,000 is a long time.

Michael Di Gesu said...

Fascinating D word today. I never knew trees could live THAT long.

As for as technology in writing, I use some, but only enough for the setting.

I don't mind reading some of it, but I don't like overkill. Just like anything in writing a story or reading for that matter, balance is the key.

S. L. Hennessy said...

I had NO idea there was a word for the study of tree rings, let along any notable dendrochronologists, but now I sure wish I knew more about the field since trees have long fascinated me (I blame Lord of the Rings for that).

Clarissa Draper said...

You're one of the bloggers I'm coming back to study the posts more carefully. There is just so much to learn.

Mark Noce said...

Dendrochronology! Greta word and fascinating subject. Also a killer on the Scrabble board:)

L.G.Smith said...

Love this stuff. I agree that it should be included in the story as organically as possible so as to not lose the reader.

Emily Rose said...

I remember learning about dendrochronology earlier in the year and I was so fascinated by it. Great post!

Heather said...

Though I can't spell this without looking back at the post, it fascinates me!

Charles Gramlich said...

I'm always fascinated with tree rings, especially how when a tree has died and begun to rot, the rings come apart as you pull on them.

the writing pad said...

I've heard that people used to think dating a tree (and who'd want to really?!) was as simple as counting the rings - evidently there's more to it - interesting that the same science is applied to dating other things ... Re your SCi-Fi post - I'm not big on this type of fiction, but it sounds dead right that technical explanations should be part of the story telling :-)

Carol Riggs said...

Fascinating! The trees as well as the paintings dating. And I like including a little technology in my sci-fi...a little goes a long way, though. Hard-core sci-fi fans like more, but I stick with the light sci-fi. A lot of people don't have the stomach for it, so I keep that stuff minimal. ;o) When I read, if something explains too much, I do skim! Or at least roll my eyes...

Humpty Dumpty said...

I enjoyed your information on Dendrochronology. I don't think I ever knew the actual name of the study of tree rings before, so thanks for sharing this. I learned something new! My grandmother would be pleased. She always said you should learn something new every day! I also found the video fascinating, especially the fact about the trees trying to grow back around a burned area. Very cool stuff!

Claire Hennessy said...

I always learn something interesting when I visit your blog - thanks :)

Leon Kennedy said...

i like some tech jargon in my scifi, but not to the point that it seems like i'm reading a textbook/manual. keeping it readable for the layman

The Golden Eagle said...

Elaine: I like your theory!

Gail: I didn't know there was a science to it, either, until I noticed the word "dendrochronology" in a list of scientific fields. :)

Bish: Actually, that's true, to an extent! I remember reading while I was looking up this post that in places where there aren't clearly defined seasons, the rings aren't as clear cut. Or something to that tune.

DWei: Me, too. :)

Old Kitty: I agree.

I'm that way if the explanations get really long. Then I start to wonder if the author could have explained things more concisely and/or clearly.

Kimberlee: Let me know when you publish . . . because that sounds like it's right up my alley. :)

Li: Glad you liked the link!

Same here. :)

Farawayeyes: I want to see Bristlecones sometime. They're amazing trees.

Cherie: I do, too!

A story can certainly stand on its own without technical details.

Pat: Good for you! :)

That's what I try to do . . .

Erin: Thank you! Hope you like my archives as well.

Definitely. If the world isn't consistent, it's much less believable.

I enjoyed visiting! :)

Mshatch: Thank you!

It's amazing to me that something could remain standing for so long.

Michael: Me, neither!

Everything in moderation. :)

S. L.: I hope you liked the video of the dendrochronologist! Had to do a bit of hunting (it's not the most common field) but I finally found someone.

Clarissa: I'm glad you find them interesting enough to return to! :)

Mark: Imagine adding that to "chronology" on a triple word score. ;)

L.G.: That certainly wouldn't be good, losing the reader.

Emily: Thank you!

Heather: Glad it does. :)

Charles: They're quite interesting.

The writing pad: I was surprised by finding the link to the paintings research. I'd never heard of such a thing before!

Carol: I'm a Hard SF fan, LOL. Though I've felt a bit exasperated with some explanations, too . . .

Humpty Dumpty: You're quite welcome! :)

I love that idea of learning something new every day.

Claire: Anytime!

Leon: I agree. If I'm looking for a textbook, I'll check the non-fiction.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

But there is a market for high tech type of science fiction. Some people really do eat it up.
Mine is on the low tech end of the scale I'm afraid.

Susan Kane said...

I enjoy technical/scientific writing, to a point. When the writer starts off on what seems to be a tangent, I turn the page.

Science is exciting! The writing has to take the audience into consideration. Less is more, when using big words.

Susan Roebuck said...

I think you can get away with technical details in your novels because you make it sound interesting! I've always been fascinated by the rings in trees. I wonder how they analyzed them before computers?

Donna K. Weaver said...

One of my favorite places to go is Calaveras Big Tree in California where they have those huge, old Sequoia redwoods. It's amazing to stand on a tree that was 1300 years old when the cut it down to use as dance floor.

It's just sad the idiots cut it down.

Josh Hoyt said...

I love to get those tree ring samples and count them. It was always fun to do. I like the balance when it comes to sci-fi. I don't necessarily need to know why it works just as long as it fits in and is realistic.

Connie Keller said...

I don't write sci-fi, but I do enjoy reading it now and then. I love it when the technical stuff becomes an integral part of the text. I think Ender's Game and Dune did a great job of world-building while advancing the plot.

Laura Eno said...

That is a fascinating subject to me. It's hard to believe how old trees can be and still live.

A to Z of Immortals, Myths & Legends

Heather Murphy said...

Fascinating! I knew about tree rings but never knew what it was called or all that is involved.

Rusty Webb said...

I think we share the same problem. I either make my stories a textbook, or it becomes incomprehensible because I left too much out.

I always think I must be the only person in the world that gets excited when I get to an infodump in a science fiction story.

Deniz Bevan said...

I missed insecure writers day! But I like your question - I have the related problem of always hoping I'm striking the right balance between historical information and storytelling.
I've tried counting tree rings - it's hard!

Ciara said...

I wish I was more technical, but I just enjoy the fantasy side of things. Yes, I want it to work within the laws of the story, but I want a great adventure more than anything.

Nate Wilson said...

That's far more than I ever thought I'd know about dendrochronology... but oh so interesting. Normally, when I think of tree rings my mind goes straight to the Far Side cartoon where a father and son have chopped down a giant redwood: "And here's yet another time this old fellow survived a massive forest fire..." (or something like that, you get the idea) Thanks for such an informative post!

Shay said...

Interesting and informative post!

Re: Your technology in Scifi, I think some is cool if it is pertinent to the story. If it goes on for too long, everything blurs together and I lose interest. I don't like when something reads like a manual. That's when it stops being entertaining to me.

anthony stemke said...

This was vastly interesting, I certainly enjoyed reading it.
Thanks for the education.

Christine Rains said...

Fascinating D post. As for tech in writing, I put only a little. I'm not a tech-based person myself. Too much tech detail and I get bored with it.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I write fantasy but I do let my health education background sneak into my stories.
I'm really enjoying your A to Z theme.

Tyrean Martinson said...

How much technicality? Probably not enough. I have a sailing ship in my WIP and I need to work on the details. I've sailed, been around boats . . . but I still need to work on my "old" boat details

Anonymous said...

Who would have thought tree rings can tell us so much about our past? I saw on TV they looked at trees used in old Indian pueblos in the U.S. Southwest and were able to determine when the Indians lived there. Fascinating!

Simon Kewin said...

Fascinating post. I almost picked this word myself!

Jamie Gibbs said...

I'm not a hard sci-fi fan, but I like technicality in my magic systems and world building. A fantasy world is every bit as complex as the one that we live in, so why shouldn't there be technicalities rather than waving them away with a "oh yeah, that's just magic"

Jamie Gibbs
Fellow A-Z Buddy
Mithril Wisdom

Melissa Bradley said...

Great post and thank you so much for the linkage. I love science and hard science fiction. I have this need to know how things work.

Masquerade Crew said...

If you're writing mainstream fiction, I agree that technical things should be kept to a minimum. If you're writing a specific genre, you might be able to get away with more.

Another way to convey a technical aspect would be to have an appendix for those that want to know.

Stuart Nager said...

Sorry for not commenting before GE. I'm learning a lot from your posts.
Never knew the name for reading the tree rings. Thanks.

I enjoy hard SciFi. It can be a bit much at times, but that's why we "invented" skimming. ;)

The Golden Eagle said...

Alex: Readers like me. LOL.

Which appeals to more people, and that's a positive. :)

Susan: Yup; the writer just has to make sure the excitement of it remains.

Susan: Thanks! :)

I guess they just counted them and compared the relative sizes.

Donna: Wow. Old wood--it is sad they cut it down, though.

Josh: I agree! When I was little, if I spotted a tree trunk I'd race over and start counting the rings.

Connie: I loved the way the technology was handled in Ender's Game. :) Must get around to read that copy of Dune one of these days . . .

Laura: It is!

Heather: Now you know. :)

Rusty: Nope, you're not the only one! Great minds think alike, after all.

Deniz: I almost did, then read the reminder on Alex's blog! That saved me from missing IWSG . . .

It is! They merge or blend with each other, and the lines can be so tiny. :P

Ciara: Adventure gets priority over technicality with me, too. :)

Nate: You're very welcome!

Shay: Thank you.

I agree. I don't think manuals belong in the fiction section, either.

Anthony: I'm so glad you enjoyed it. :)

Christine: Thanks!

I have a fascination with tech, so it's those details that I get hung up on.

Susan: Cool! Fantasy and health education are not something I'd put together automatically; it must make for interesting/unique stories.

Thank you!

Tyrean: Sailing ships are so complicated. I know what the mainmast is and the rigging, but that's about it. :P

Stephen: Not me! :)

Simon: Thank you. And what a coincidence!

Jamie: I really don't like it when writers dismiss something as "magic" when there should be a logical explanation. It's frustrating!

Melissa: You're very welcome. :)

Masquerade Crew: I like that idea! I've come across appendices for other stories, but you know, I never thought of doing it myself . . . thanks!

Stuart: No apologies necessary. I'm an occasional lurker myself.

You're welcome!

LOL. Indeed.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Golden Eagle .. I love your series - and this one on Dendichronology in particular ..

I include facts that interest me and therefore I think might be of interest to my readers (blog) .. but I try not to overdose/include too much .. as it's the way I learn and thus I guess others will too - also if they ask a question I always give an answer and occasionally enter into an email conversation about it ..

Cheers - Hilary

Paul Tobin said...

I have a rough version of a poem I can't finish at the moment the first verse is:
He was a dendochronologist with a jumper to match,
She was a plasma physicist, considered herself a hot catch,
They met on a tv show-science so dumbed down,
"And is the sun boiling hot?" Why is tree bark brown?

I haven't resolved their relationship yet. But good post.

The Golden Eagle said...

Hilary: I'm glad you're enjoying my science series! :)

I think you strike a great balance on your blog. Just enough information, wonderful pictures, and a welcoming atmosphere.

Paul: I love the first verse of your poem!

I do hope they stop dumbing themselves down and work out a relationship. :)

Thank you!

Craig Edwards said...

Yeah, I got nothing on dendrochronology...but I always liked that you learn a tree's age by killing it and counting the rings.

The Golden Eagle said...

Craig: Me, too. Though these days they have drills that take samples without having to cut down the tree.

Angelina C. Hansen said...

Loving these post of yours! You're reminding me of things I learned in some of my favorite college classes. Thank you!

The Golden Eagle said...

Angelina: You're welcome!