Counting Rings Around Hurricane Sandy

Downed trees from Hurricane Sandy provided a unique learning experience for Middlesex County College science students.

Hurricane Sandy brought a lot of destruction with her, but in her wake, she also left a learning opportunity.

About 40 trees were knocked down by the hurricane at the Middlesex County College campus in Edison when Sandy blew in in late October. As college maintenance employees were clearing up the tree debris, they saw that some of the downed trees were both big and old.

Cross sections of the downed trees the workers cut and saved fit in perfect with the school's biology and natural science classes.

“Trees are some of the oldest living organisms,” said Parag Muley, chair of the Department of Natural Sciences at the College. “You can learn a lot by knowing how it grew.”

There's even a name for it. The science is called dendrochronology, the study of tree aging. Students can study a cross-section of one of the trees to learn about its history and the history of the local environment. 

Examining the tree rings can give an idea of the quality of soil, prevalence of insects, fire, drought, and the air quality throughout its life, Muley said.

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