Trace Elements in Tree Rings: Evidence of Recent and Historical Air Pollution

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Science  04 May 1984:
Vol. 224, Issue 4648, pp. 494-497
DOI: 10.1126/science.224.4648.494


Annual growth rings from short-leaf pine trees in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park show suppressed growth and increased iron content between 1863 and 1912, a period of smelting activity and large sulfur dioxide releases at Copperhill, Tennessee, 88 kilometers upwind. Similar growth suppression and increases of iron and other metals were found in rings formed in the past 20 to 25 years, a period when regional fossil fuel combustion emissions increased about 200 percent. Metals concentrations in phloem and cambium are high, but whether they exceed toxic thresholds for these tissues is not known.