A stunning avalanche season saw thousands of slides snap mature tree trunks like twigs, wipe historic buildings off the map and radically alter Colorado’s mountain landscape.
But the big slides that splintered conifer forests and felled massive aspen groves also delivered an important new scientific resource to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center and U.S. Forest Service: downed trees.
Now a team of researchers is working through the wreckage, collecting cross sections from the fallen trees that they say will help them learn more about the relationship of climate to avalanche cycles.
"This season presented an opportunity that researchers didn’t want to lose," said Kelly Elder, a research hydrologist for the U.S. Forest Service who in early June was collecting samples from trees near Silverton. “A bunch of us came together and realized this is a real opportunity and we should jump on it.”
By dating trees in avalanche paths, researchers can measure the length of time between avalanche cycles. This type of work is known as dendroecology — the study of tree-ring patterns and the ecological factors that create them, which can include climate.