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New professor: Tree ring researcher with a passion for volcanoes

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30.04.2019 | Beate Kittl |  News WSL 


In his work, Paolo Cherubini of the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research WSL investigates what tree rings can reveal about occurrences such as past volcanic eruptions or present air pollution. The tree ring researcher has now been appointed Adjunct Professor at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Canada.


The environmental conditions of a tree are reflected in the growth of its tree rings. Therefore, even after the death of a tree, old wood is a unique archive for the past climate, insect infestations and many other disturbances, such as volcanic eruptions and air pollutants.

Can volcanic eruptions not only be dated using annual rings, but even predicted for the future? The dendrochronologist Paolo Cherubini has investigated this bold thesis. The reason was that a growth spurt was detectable in the wood of trees on the flank of Mount Etna shortly before an eruption. Although the predictive power of the observation remains limited, Cherubini and his colleagues were able to show that the tree rings had absorbed volcanic CO2 gases shortly before an eruption and that their traces could help to reconstruct past volcanic eruptions.

Tracking pollutant levels over years

In other studies, Cherubini explored how pollutants from traffic are "stored" in the tree rings. According to the results, the concentration of noxious substances in the wood can indicate how the pollution at the site has developed over the years. Cherubini conducts his investigations at the tree ring laboratory of WSL, the largest in Europe.

To ensure that students in the densely wooded country of Canada can also benefit from Cherubini's experience, he has now accepted an adjunct professorship in the Department of Forest and Conservation Sciences of the renowned UBC in Vancouver B.C. Cherubini studied Forest Sciences in Florence and received his PhD in Botany in Basel. He has been researching at WSL since 1996. He is an editor of numerous scientific journals and has published nearly 300 scientific papers. He will continue his research at the WSL and also teach as a lecturer at the University of Zurich.