On Purpose: Portrait of Research Innovation

To commemorate our 150th anniversary in 2018, the College of Liberal Arts commissioned 60 photographs taken by Xavier Tavera. Departments and programs partnered with Tavera to envision their images and to write the narratives that accompany each photograph. View On Purpose: Portrait of the Liberal Arts.

A faculty member and LATIS representative stand in the drendrochronology lab with tree cores.

Tree-ring research is a simple but remarkably powerful tool for environmental science. In the global change era, tree rings provide unique perspective on ways that natural systems vary and the influence of human activities. Dendrochronology is also a superb mechanism for introducing students and the broader public to environmental thinking and geographic inquiry. 

Based in CLA’s Department of Geography, Environment & Society (GES), the Center for Dendrochronology is an internationally recognized lab group that specializes in tree-ring data development and interpretation. Faculty member Daniel Griffin and students from GES and the Department of Computer Science are partnering with technology architect Colin McFadden and Liberal Arts Technology & Innovation Services to transform the basic practice of data collection and archiving in dendrochronology. 

Their “Dendro Elevator” is a novel and open-source web-based platform for hosting, viewing, and analyzing high-resolution images of tree-ring specimens. Thousands of images captured with a professional camera system are combined into a single panoramic photograph of microscope quality. These images are cloud-hosted and can be efficiently transmitted to any internet-connected device. An intuitive browser-based toolset facilitates image annotation and calibrated measurement, and the system has excellent potential to grow with future methodological innovation. 

Compared to traditional standards of tree-ring measurement, this platform improves time efficiency and accountability in quality control, both of which are especially helpful when working with people who are new to tree-ring studies. Most importantly, this system produces a permanent digital image archive suitable for various approaches of image analysis, including those related to quantitative wood anatomy and machine learning. The web platform ensures that the tree-ring specimens will be available to a variety of users, from the general public to classrooms of all levels, and from remote research collaborators to in-house teams. 

The Dendro Elevator system’s superb image resolution and efficient web hosting represent a critical step forward for open science data standards in dendrochronology, and a revolutionary way to bring the myriad stories that tree rings can tell the world. 

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