Though it’s considered “the loneliest tree in the world,” the uninhabited Campbell Island Sitka spruce has recently been befriending a team of New Zealand researchers who believe it can help unlock the secrets of climate change.

At nine meters tall, the spruce has been recognized by Guinness World Records as the ‘farthest tree’ on Earth. It is the only tree on a windswept island 700 kilometers south of New Zealand in the Antarctic Ocean. It is the only tree with a circumference of 222 km. Its closest neighbor grows in the Auckland Islands.

Before the Campbell Island spruce, Niger’s tenere tree was said to be the most isolated tree on earth until it was knocked down by a motorist in 1973.

Sitka spruce is believed to have been planted in the early 1900s by Lord Ranfurly, then Governor of New Zealand.

Although the study was unable to confirm its exact age, Guinness World Records notes that although it is widely known as the loneliest tree in the world, it is “universally recognized for what constitutes a tree”. There is no precise definition,” he said.

It’s also classified as an invasive species, and some scientists are happy it’s gone. can be a valuable tool for understanding what is happening in the uptake of carbon dioxide.

“Only about half of the CO2 we put into the atmosphere when we burn fossil fuels stays there, and the other half ends up on land and in the ocean,” says Turnbull.

“We found that one of our carbon sinks, the Antarctic Ocean, is responsible for about 10% of all emissions we have produced in the last 150 years.”

Turnbull has worked with New Zealand’s Deep South National Science Challenge, the Antarctic Science Platform, and the National Water and Atmospheric Laboratory to understand what is happening to carbon in the Antarctic Ocean.

The team is asking two main questions. Will global warming be significantly accelerated if carbon sinks are “filled up”? Or could these sinks help absorb more carbon and reduce global warming by learning how they work?

Previous studies examining carbon uptake in the Southern Ocean yielded conflicting results. The current theory is that uptake is increasing, and Turnbull wants to understand what’s driving it.

Taking air samples is the best way to measure CO2 concentrations and can be complemented with deep water radiocarbon dating samples. But it has its limits.

“You can’t collect the air that was there 30 years ago because it doesn’t exist anymore,” says Turnbull.

“So I came up with the idea of ​​using tree rings. Plants take carbon dioxide out of the air through photosynthesis as they grow, and use it to grow structures, and the carbon in the air ends up in the rings. will be.”

This is useful when established trees are abundant, but they are rare in the Southern Ocean. This is the southernmost tree the team found and provides excellent data. “It grew much faster than anything else [in that region] Rings are larger and easier to separate and retrieve records. ”

Using a hand drill, Turnbull extracted a 5 mm core sample from the tree in 2016, but the results have yet to be published.

For the lonely state of the tree, an explanation may be in the eye of the beholder.

“To enter from the cove [to the tree] You have to walk among elephant seals, sea lions, penguins and albatrosses,” Turnbull said. “[The tree] He doesn’t look lonely…he actually looks pretty happy.

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