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KNOXVILLE — It’s hard to imagine a talking tree, but when it comes to hurricanes, University of Tennessee professor Claudia Mora has found that trees have a lot to tell us.

Claudia Mora

Her research, conducted along with Henri Grissino-Mayer, UT associate professor of geography, was named one of the top 100 science stories of 2005 in this month’s issue of Discover magazine.

Mora will speak on her research at noon on Feb. 3 in rooms C-D of Thompson-Boling Arena, as part of the ongoing Science Forum discussion series. The Science Forum is a weekly, non-technical lecture and discussion designed to help others better understand research across many disciplines.

Mora and her team have discovered that when a tree is caught in a hurricane, it causes a change in the chemistry of that year’s ring, increasing the presence of a certain type of oxygen. By examining rings of trees preserved in swamps that date back up to 500 years, she can develop a much longer history of hurricane activity than currently exists.

“The answer for the uptick in the number and frequency of hurricanes since 1995 is not at all clear,” said Mora, who serves as department head of UT’s Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences. “There’s evidence to indicate that they vary in cycles over multiple decades, but the record we have now is just too short.”

The current hurricane record for the Southeast dates only to the 1800s, which is not long enough to have a reliable estimate of the cycles that might exist for hurricane activity. While the research thus far has focused on the Valdosta, Ga. area, Mora’s team will begin work in Pensacola, Fla., and Charleston, S.C., this year to expand their geographic base.

“Information from the tree rings will give us a record of appropriate length to know whether the kind of variation we’re seeing is part of a natural cycle or if it has been influenced by human actions through global warming.”
Additional Science Forums in February follow:

– Friday, Feb. 10, Dr. Timothy G. Rials, professor and director of the Forest Products Center,
“Hierarchical Structure in Wood–Defining Properties and Use”
– Friday, Feb. 17 Dr. Susan Speraw, R.N., associate professor of Nursing,
“Homeland Security Nursing”
– Friday, Feb. 24, Dr. Gary Flandro, Boling Chair of Excellence in Space Propulsion, University of Tennessee Space Institute,
“Space Flight–New Pathways”

All forums are held from noon to 1 p.m. in rooms C-D of Thompson-Boling Arena.


Contact: Jay Mayfield (865) 974-9409,