January 16, 2012

The 5th oldest tree in the world burns down.

Guess how old the tree was before you look.

3,500 years old.

How far off were you?

67 comments:

t-man said...

The suspect? The 6th oldest tree, which has ambitions.

dbp said...

I guessed 3,500 but I figured I wouldn't be dead-on since how likely is it that it would be a nice round number like that?

chickenlittle said...

Bristlecone pine? 2.5k years?

Bob_R said...

I blame global warming.

Bob_R said...

....or was the American military industrial complex mining for Unobtainium at its roots?

chickenlittle said...

"How young are you?
How old am I?
Let's count the rings around my eyes"

Paul Westerberg

dbp said...

The article indicated that the tree is hollow. This makes me wonder how the age is determined. You can't count the rings when the middle ones are all missing, though I suppose one could make an estimate based on the diameter.

Tank said...

WAY off.

LOL.

Bob Ellison said...

Good one, t-man.

Trees don't burn down. They burn up.

Alexander said...

How far off? About two millennia.

MikeR said...

Love the comments. "This tree survived everything for 3,500 years, but it could not survive Obama."

"@teaisstronger this tree catching on fire has nothing to do with President Obama. The tree(s) were around long before he was ever came into the world. Nice try but an epic fail on attacking the President."

:) Epic funny.

john said...

From the comments:

"I see from the majority of posters here that absolutely nothing is sacred and that intelligence and civility have gone by the wayside. ... The world is way overdue for some of sort of cleansing pandemic."

Paco Wové said...

I hate to be a corrosive skeptic, but I have serious doubts that this tree was anywhere near 3500 years old. It also apparently wasn't the tallest bald cypress either.

Patrick said...

Off by 1500 years. That's an old tree.

A. Shmendrik said...

Off by one millennium.

SteveR said...

Government run arboriculture. Rationed no doubt.

Quaestor said...

Nailed it. Dead on.

Destroyed by arson. I hope they catch the bastard. Somebody will snitch.

paul a'barge said...

Satan plays with matches.

edutcher said...

I think I read somewhere of a tree about 5000 years old and went with that before I read anything.

In one of the early episodes of "Bonanza", Pa and the boys are wondering how old a tree they just cut down might have been and Pa says, "That tree was old when Jesus raised fish from the Sea of Galilee".

A long time ago in more ways than one.

traditionalguy said...

Some Giant Sequoias ( Redwoods) of northern California coastal valleys are about 3000 years old. They have a stump with rings marked for history, and Jesus birth is a third of the way from the center.

TMink said...

I was an order of magnitude off.

So when do I get my job in the Obama financial think tank?

Trey

Paco Wové said...

Ok, I'm lying. I don't hate being a corrosive skeptic at all.

DaveW said...

I guessed 1,500.

deborah said...

I guessed 3000.

wv: nosedog

Crunchy Frog said...

I guessed 3500. Do I get a cookie?

Joe said...

I just did more reading on trees than I cared to and came away with the distinct impression that estimating the age of trees is mostly bullshit.

I suspect that what often happens is some scientist does some measurements and arrives at a massive date range, whereupon the locals pick the high end of that range.

Proof said...

If Florida needs a replacement "Senator", California would be happy to ship them one of ours!

EMD said...

I guessed 3,914. I hate guessing round numbers.

Erik Robert Nelson said...

I guessed 2500. It's interesting to think that the tree has been around for nearly the entirety of human history. But I'm also unsympathetic about such things. Rocks in my backyard have been around longer.

ignatzk said...

Think George Bush.

Don't Tread 2012 said...

My guess was wrong.

My other guess is that if this was arson, the responsible party never read any of Kilmer's poems.

Andrea said...

I knew that tree!

I'll bet lightning did it. Central Florida is the lightning capitol of the world or something. It's always starting fires there. Also, the ground around the tree was fairly consistently muddy (the park it was in is part of a larger ecological part that consists of lowland swampy forest) -- there was a wooden walkway that led to and around the tree. I think that even in the droughts we had a few years ago the ground in that park was damp.

Andrea said...

PS: I don't understand some of the comments here, from people who actually seem offended that the tree was thought to be a certain age. I don't get it. Who cares if it was 3,500 years old? I mean, I didn't realize there was a contest and that you all have other favorite old trees. Or maybe it's just a reflex and you can't help it, and if I wrote here that I felt good today someone would eventually pop up saying "I hate to be a corrosive skeptic, but no way do you feel good today."

It's not a contest. You don't have to disagree with everything automatically.

rhhardin said...

Sic semper arboribus.

Lyle said...

:(

EDH said...

Do You Remember?

Now I remember watching
That old tree burn down
I took a picture that
I don't like to look at

Well all these times
They come and go
Alone don't seem so long
Over 10 years have gone by
We can't rewind
We're locked in time
But you're still mine

Do you remember?

Chip Ahoy said...

This is a real shame.

I am left with an empty feeling for a tree that I didn't know about which is like being doubly empty. It is rather like when the granite face of the old man slid off and there went a monument that people loved that I heard about for the first time when it was gone forever.

The answer to this gnawing double emptiness is to plant trees with 3,500 years in the future in mind, and to look for faces in granite exposed by receding glaciers.

Tyrone Slothrop said...

I guessed 4000, because trees always lie about their age.

Icepick said...

If Florida needs a replacement "Senator", California would be happy to ship them one of ours!

Thems fightin' words! Are you TRYING to start a new war between the states?

I'll bet lightning did it. Central Florida is the lightning capitol of the world or something.

Clear night, no storms, no rain. Lightning unlikely.

Bob Ellison said...

Words of wisdom, Chip. Also, plant a butterfly in hopes that a porcupine might one day rule the world.

Tyrone Slothrop said...

@Chip Ahoy

Precisely the way I felt when I knew nothing about Patrick O'Brien until I read his obituary. I never got to feel the excitement of a new Aubrey/Maturin novel coming out. Since then I've read the series through three times.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Unless you have examined every tree in the world, how can you know if this is the 5th, 10th or whatever oldest tree.

Dumb

Browndog said...

My guess is they have no idea how old the tree actually is-

My guess is, that after X many years, carbon dating is no longer accurate, and is based on a computer model.

Then there's the whole global warming and hockey sticks thingy..

bubble boy said...

it was reported that nancy pelosi
planted the tree

David said...

I was off by 500 years.

That's about my average for old trees.

Beldar said...

@ t-man: Why only suspect the 6th? All but four trees in the world share its motive.

Browndog said...

Hmm...

Iconic tree inexplicably burns to the ground in Florida...

Tim Tebow gets bounced in the play-offs...

Damn it!

(Althouse doesn't like the 'God' part of it.....which takes away the effect I was looking for)

Bob_R said...

Belder - They're trees. Numbers 1-4 might think #5 was gaining on them.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

Andrea said...

You don't have to disagree with everything automatically.

Yes I do.

ironrailsironweights said...

A bald cypress tree ... is that anything like a woman that has a (hideous pedophilic) bald eagle?

Peter

Robin said...

Ann, you were only about an hour and a half drive from the location of many of the other oldest trees when you were in Denver. There are bristlecone pines in the mountains just south of east of Denver above South Park.

MadisonMan said...

I am suspicious that it is the 5th oldest tree. It's not like all trees have been sampled.

I was off by 500 years. I was thinking in round millenial numbers.

t-man said...

On second thought, maybe it was self-defense.

Gabriel Hanna said...

My guess is they have no idea how old the tree actually is-

Trees in temperate zones stop growing in winter, then start again in spring. Finding out how old a tree is comes down to simply counting rings. If you are counting rings from a dead tree, you can only find out how old it was when it died by counting its rings. But you can compare to other trees in the area and match rings to see how the lengths of the growing seasons from year to year match up. In this way, in some areas a complete record of tree rings has been assembled going back 10,000 years. No computer models required.

My guess is, that after X many years, carbon dating is no longer accurate, and is based on a computer model.

Carbon dating, and all other kinds of radioactive dating, is based on the nuclear decay laws, which are simple applications of probability. A carbon-14 atom has a 1 in 8000 chance of decaying in nitrogen-14 in a year. So a sample of carbon-14 will be half nitrogen in 5700 years, and this determined by weighing, basically. Beyond 45,000 years there's not enough left to get meaningful dates, so you can use another radioactive isotope, like potassium-40, or for really long ago dates uranium-238.

Carbon-14 dates do need to be calibrated, because carbon-14 is produced only by cosmic radiation acting on nitrogen-14. How large your carbon-14 sample should have been in a given year is going to depend on how much cosmic radiation was incident in that year, but for a sample less that 4000 years old the effect is not very significant.

crosspatch said...

It's called the "news industry" for a reason: they manufacture news.

Every time there is a wildfire in the California / Nevada mountains very old trees die.

Carnifex said...

Wow! Look at the big brain on Gabriel Hanna!

Thank you for the small lesson in carbon, and tree dating. I'm the first to question "the science is settled" meme but I think counting tree rings is pretty much settled.

Now as for that new-fangled carbon-14 stuff. I'ma gonna have to check my lucky astrological mood ring for how I feel about that.

There's a majesty to trees that can only be expressed by the greatest poets. To see something standing there, so vibrant, so alive. Not as we live, but watching, decades pass as years. The history it has lived through.

About 10 years ago, roughly, a fisherman here caught a snapping turtle that they estimated was over 200 years old. The fish and wildlife department put it on display for 5 years, then released it back into the wild at an undisclosed location.

It had a head the size of a bucket, and was about 4 feet long. It does man good to know that there are things more majestic, more long-lived, than him.

MadisonMan said...

My guess is, that after X many years, carbon dating is no longer accurate

Why use facts when you can guess!

I don't believe this theory because I guess it's not accurate. That's a sweet way to discount just about anything.

dbp said...

You can only do carbon 14 dating on carbon that is present. If the tree is hollow in the center, how exactly do you analyze wood that isn't there?

Gabriel Hanna said...

@dhp: If the tree is hollow in the center, how exactly do you analyze wood that isn't there?

If it were entirely hollow everywhere, from the thickness of the remaining rings and the diameter of the tree it would be easy to estimate to the century. According to Wikipedia this is how it was done, and the tree's age is 3500 +/- 100 years.

Gabriel Hanna said...

@Madison Man:I don't believe this theory because I guess it's not accurate. That's a sweet way to discount just about anything.

Can you blame him? "Carbon" and "tree rings" are important to global warming, so of course they have to be bogus, amirite? No actual knowledge is necessary.

Leo Shavah said...

Interesting, human skulls and what not are projected to be millions of years old, but any actual surviving artifacts, from houses to pottery to structures to trees, are no more than 5000 years old! Says something about theory vs fact. The Hebrew year (which starts at creation) is 5,772.

Rusty said...

The other 4 trees are nervous.

Bruce said...

Here's something I've always been curious about regarding carbon dating:

How do they know the composition and age of the carbon at the time the tree was growing?

Asked another way: If I planted a tree today, would all it's carbon 14 be "brand new"? Or would some of the carbon 14 already be 1000 years old and therefore partially decayed?

If you carbon-dated my body today, how old would my body seem? If I ate a couple delicious slices of 3500 year old tree, wouldn't my body then contain a lot of "old" carbon 14 and therefore suddenly measure as being much older?

Just curious about how it works. I get the statistical radioactive decay of isotopes, but how do you know that what you are trying to date started with "brand new", undecayed carbon 14 (or if that isn't the assumption, what the mix of old/new carbon is).

dbp said...

The only source of carbon for trees is the CO2 in air. C-14 is made at a constant rate due to cosmic rays and decays at a known rate.

When a tree dies, it stops getting any carbon from the environment and the existing C-14 depletes through radioactive decay. The amount remaining tells the age at death.

What is interesting is that the ratio of C-14 in the atmosphere is changing over time due to the use of fossil fuels. Coal is really old--millions of years and the half life of C-14 is around 6,000 years.

Gabriel Hanna said...

@Leo Shavah:

Clovis points, found right here in North America, are 13,500 years old.

The Bible says a lot of things.

Gabriel Hanna said...

@Bruce: dpb's answer is dead on.

The percentage of carbon in the atmosphere which is in the carbon-14 form is small, and changes only very slowly. Trees and other living things are continually exchanging carbon with the atmosphere; as long as an organism is alive and respirating its C-14 ratio will be constantly replenished. Once it dies, the C-14 decays without being replenished.

BJM said...

FYI-Wikipedia's gone black...call or email your rep or senator. STOP SOPA/PIPA.