Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 December 2014

Queen’s ordered to release tree data

The analysing of tree rings can give scientists information on global weather patterns
The analysing of tree rings can give scientists information on global weather patterns

Queen's University has until Monday night to hand over unique data that could undermine global warming theories.

The institution has refused to release all its findings on tree rings, which store information on climate patterns.

London academic Douglas J Keenan has been battling Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) for three years for the vital material.

He believes that studies of trees grown over thousands of years could prove that climate change is cyclical rather than man-made.

Earlier this month the Information Commissioner told QUB to hand over the results of the 30-year-old studies and blasted the institution for “breaches” of the Freedom of Information Act.

Mr Keenan hit out at Queen’s for sitting on the remainder of the data, which was funded by the public purse. The lab was closed in 2009 and the data never published.

The English mathematician says that determining the temperature flux during a time known as the ‘Medieval Warm Period’, when Earth, or at least the Northern Hemisphere, appears to have been unusually warm, is key to the study of global warming.

“I don’t know if this data will confirm or dispel theories about global warming. This is about transparency. The data collected, funded by public money, is being treated like private property,” Mr Keenan said.

“The tree-ring data held by QUB primarily consists of the widths of the annual rings of trees. Additional data could be obtained from the wood, which would make the full data set even more valuable.

“That would have benefited QUB, benefited science, and, given the importance of global warming, benefited the world. Yet instead of doing that, QUB closed the lab.”

However QUB said it has abided by the Information Commissioner’s ruling.

“The university has now published electronic data relating to its tree ring research in line with the Decision Notice issued by the Information Commissioner,” a spokeswoman said.

Factfile

Paleoecology is where tree ring analysis is used to determine past ecologies and climates.

Many trees in temperate zones make one growth ring each year, which provides a record of ring patterns that reflect the climate in which the tree grew.

Good conditions result in a wide ring. A dry year may result in a very narrow one.

Alternating conditions can result in several rings forming in a given year.

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