The California Drought Is So Bad, It Might Be Killing The Giant Sequoia

A full-grown giant sequoia is a thirsty tree. In the height of summer, the millenia-old behemoths, some of which grow upwards of 30 stories tall, can guzzle 500 to 800 gallons of water. They can also survive a variety of scourges that would fell an inferior conifer — beetles, wildfires, storms. But scientists are worried the species may have met its match in the ongoing California drought.

Nate Stephenson, a research ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, was walking through the woods last year when he noticed some of the trees he’d been studying for decades had dropped most of their leaves. He joined forces with other researchers from the USGS, as well as from the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, Stanford University and the Carnegie Airborne Observatory, to launch a comprehensive health study on the sequoia.

Anthony Ambrose, a tree ecologist at University of California, Berkeley, led a recent bout of fieldwork to monitor how stressed the sequoia have been, and if, in fact, we should be worried about their longevity. A few weeks from now, his team plans to collect a slew of samples from more than 50 trees that have dropped up to 75 percent of their leaves. He hopes the research can provide real-time data to forest managers who can prioritize care for threatened trees.

“There are a lot of trees that are dying, a lot of pines and cedars that have died because of the drought,” Ambrose told The Huffington Post. “The giant sequoia seem to be pretty resistant, but we want to know what does it take to kill one of these and what can we learn from this.”

Koren Nydick, a lead author of the study, spoke with Ezra David Romero of NPR affiliate Valley Public Radio about —> Read More