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Ellen McCallie's Diary

Day 12: Earthquakes

Photo: Kate giving the correct date of the last earthquake, 1717It's too amazing to be true, but it is! Our estimate of the date of the earthquake based on the tree cores was off by only eight years — 1725 v 1717. Before anyone says "this is beginner's luck", let's talk about the "repeatability" of science.

When scientists report their findings in journals, they state their methodology so that others can check their results. In other words, we've just further substantiated that 1) the forest we were in appears to be, based on our limited six core sample, even aged — all the trees were between 246 and 277 years old, and 2) the trees in this forest began colonizing the area in about 1725. Thus, we've just substantiated that the data and the results that the first group got are actually reasonable.

Now, I cannot prove or substantiate that an earthquake actually caused the forest on that patch of land to be decimated so this next bunch of trees could colonize the area and grow into the forest that is there today. We do, however, know that the Maori people did not have a common practice of clear-cutting forest. We also know that there are many forests in this area that are basically the same age as this one. Few natural phenomena can cause such catastrophic disruption besides earthquakes, volcanoes and hurricanes. Windstorms and floods are more isolated and usually don't affect entire regions. So, I feel like we've just won big on a TV game show. Hooray for trees!

Plus, the production team just won't stop talking about the beauty of the forest. Some of them call it fairyland, some call it the green cathedral, and all of them want to go back. Hoorah! People value things they love and find appealing. That's what's going to keep the forests alive, healthy, and functioning for us as well as the rest of the planet.

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Photo: Ellen McCallie
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