Monday, February 10, 2014

Tree Ring Laboratory at James Cook University, Townsville, Queensland, Australia

Dr. Nathan English has a tree-ring laboratory at James Cook University in Townsville, located in Northern Queensland of Australia. I had the opportunity to visit with him for five days when Dr. Steve Leavitt and Dr. Irina Panyushkina from the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research (LTRR) in Tucson Arizona where also visiting with their son Eric. Nathan conducts stable isotope work on a variety of objects from modern trees, to petrified wood, and cactus spines. In fact, I really enjoyed his presentation at WorldDendro on the new field of Acanthochronology which examines cactus spines in chronological sequence to obtain environmental information.

At this lab he works with Dr. Christa Placzek (his partner) who is a geochemist. She has a clean room environment for sample processing prior to stable isotope work. James Cook University has a central laboratory facility so that Nathan and Christa have access to an Inductively Plasma Coupled – Mass Spectrometer (ICP-MS), an Inductively Coupled Plasma – Atomic Emission Spectroscoper (ICP-AES), and a Neptune Multicollector-Inductively Coupled Plasma-Mass Spectrometer (MC-ICP-MS). Nathan has two honors students working with him currently, Daniel Balanzategui and Ruginia Duffy.

Because of the stable isotope work that Nathan is doing in the large Australian Kauri (Agathis robusta) trees, he has a meter long 10cm diameter increment borer. This is an impressive increment borer that would take a lot of work to core a tree.

Nathan has started to work with Tellervo (developed by Peter Brewer and others - which is a ring-width measuring system that is tied in to a dating program and an archive system. You can see the bar codes on the core mounts which enable the researcher to quickly associate a core with its data and metadata stored in the server through Tellervo. 

Nathan has been experimenting with an automated technique to more quickly evaporate samples that have been processed for alpha cellulose that works by drawing air through a B├╝chner funnel. He also has a cost-effective alternative to aluminum block heating elements that involves bricks from the hardware store, an honors student with a cement drill, and a heating oven.

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