Anchor Project: Tree Sitting
Project Description: We walk along Market Street passing daily underneath the workman London Plane trees. Dotting a diagonal path across the City, they are nondescript, anonymous, and arguably one the loneliest tree-lines you’ll ever come across. Tree Sitting strips away the audio and visual clutter of Market Street with buffering layers of hanging white string. Those venturing into the strings leave some senses behind as sounds become disconnected, sight limited, touch a sudden and unexpected navigator. A ten foot circular void awaits at the base of the tree surrounded by five reclining chairs facing inward and upwards towards the trunk and the sky above.
The sky view features sections of tree ring data dating back over 1,200 years. Backlit by the sunlight above, yellow and red bands stand out among the hundreds of telltale tree rings, clearly marking series of past multi-year drought events. Trees have been quietly collecting data for us all, tracking the rainfall and temperature for thousands of years. Paleoclimatologists, as scientists in this field are known, use these natural data loggers to discover long term trends and changes in Earth’s climate.
What does this data have to say? Climate scientists Daniel Griffin and Kevin J. Anchukaitis recently published a paper that explains just how exceptional the current drought really is: “We demonstrate that while 3 year periods of persistent below-average soil moisture are not uncommon, the current event is the most severe drought in the last 1200 years, with single year (2014) and accumulated moisture deficits worse than any previous continuous span of dry years”
At “Tree Sitting,” suspended sections of tree rings (averaged from the scientists’ study of 273 Blue Oak trees spread throughout California) display distinct sets of multi-year droughts. “While there have been 37 occurrences of 3 year droughts and a total of 66 uninterrupted dry periods between 3 and 9 years” the study reports, the current drought stands out in the context of the last millennium. “It is the worst drought on record,” the most severe in 1200 years.
“Tree Sitting” invites Market Street travelers to sit for a moment and remove themselves from the immediate short-term concerns of their world. Utilizing the tools of paleoclimatology, the trees may be speaking to us. Understanding and adapting to long-term climate trends most certainly relies upon on our ability to listen.