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Stay Flexible, Grow Old

Limber pine

Brian Tikalsky (left of tree) takes a sample of the oldes known limber pine in the world, located near Utah’s Alta ski resort.

How many droughts have there been since A.D. 303? The oldest known limber pine in the world, discovered last summer by grad student Bryan P. Tikalsky (BS ’05) as part of his climate studies with assistant professor of geography Matthew F. Bekker (BS ’94), might hold the answer. Only time, and a lot of tree-ring counting, will reveal a useful timeline of precipitation trends.

“Twister” has bent but not broken in the powerful buffets of Wasatch-front winds near the Alta ski resort for at least 1,700 years. The next oldest Pinus flexilis is in northern New Mexico, a sad little sapling at only 1,670 years old. Tikalsky and Bekker hope that data collected from Twister and its neighbors—both living and dead—will extend the climate record back at least 2,000 years.