Academics and Research / News

First lecture in global series explores tree-ring data in Central America

Matthew Taylor (at left in green), Kevin Anchukaitis, DU students and residents of La Ventosa, Guatemala, learn about tree coring. Photo courtesy of Matthew Taylor

Matthew Taylor, associate professor in the Department of Geography, will talk about his work in Guatemala at 5 p.m. April 16 in a lecture titled Research and Teaching in the Land of Trees and Volcanoes.

Taylor’s lecture is the first in a new series of presentations, lectures and illustrated talks by DU faculty and staff about overseas research, service, teaching experiences and efforts at internationalizing the University’s curriculum.

Taylor has spent two decades studying human-environment relationships in Latin America, ranging from the impact of rural electrification on firewood consumption to how 40 years of civil war impacted the environment.

For the past three years, Taylor and Columbia University research scientist Kevin Anchukaitis have been investigating past droughts in the region by examining tree rings, a branch of science called dendrochronology.

“We bring our expertise together to form a team whereby we can collect good scientific information about past climate and drought through trees and model that forward for future populations,” says Taylor, who does his fieldwork with the help of DU graduate and undergraduate students.

“There is a lot of talk about global warming, but in many circumstances it’s the drying that’s going to take place that will be more impactful on people’s lives,” he says. “If you have a 20 percent decline in rainfall, that’s going to change what you grow.”

The oldest tree the team has found so far has been 400 years old, he says.

“Ideally we would like to find a stand of trees that gets us back 800 or 900 years ago.”

The researchers collect tree-ring information using a hand-turned bore that does not affect the tree’s health. Climate patterns are discerned through a complex understanding of statistics, biology and climatology.

“This type of research is done around the world,” Taylor says. “We have established the first tree-ring chronology in Central America. All of this data gets added to the international tree-ring database.”

Taylor’s free lecture will be held at the International House dining room, located at the corner of Warren Avenue and Josephine Street. Discussion and refreshments will follow the talk. To register, email The series is co-sponsored by the Department of Geography and the Office of Internationalization.

Faculty and staff interested in taking part in the series or helping to organize it are asked to contact Russell Fielding at or Andy Goetz at



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