Fewer Days of Fog May Doom Redwoods

"Forest moon of Endor" setting endangered by loss of fog

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
    Miguel Vieira
    More summer sun may mean fewer redwoods in the Northern California forests where George Lucas set the climactic battles in Return of the Jedi.

    Though a fog advisory went out today warning motorists to be wary of slippery conditions and low visibility on the Golden Gate Bridge, the Northern California coast is actually seeing less fog in the summer months.

    Great if you're looking to buy property in the Sunset, but apparently it sucks if you're a young redwood tree.

    That's according to research from scientists at the University of California at Berkeley's Department of Environmental Science, who studied over a century of weather data.

    Redwoods require fog during the otherwise-dry summer months in order to stay watered. While older trees will live, new trees won't necessarily be able to grow.

    And if the redwoods go, so does the unique ecology of forests stretching from Big Sur to the Oregon border.

    The biggest threat to the redwoods may still be humans, who cleared 95 percent of the trees' natural habitat in the years following the Gold Rush.

    While it's not clear if the reduction in foggy days -- from 109 days in the summer of 1951 to just 60 in 1997 -- is tied to man-made climate change, it wouldn't be much of a surprise.

    The researchers are currently looking at tree-ring patterns to analyze a longer historical record. Presumably matching up recent growth changes with modern data would allow them to extrapolate shifts in fog levels over the life of a specimen that's hundreds of years old.

    Photo by Miguel Vieira.

    Jackson West worries about the Southlandification of the Bay Area's climate.