Centuries-old black oak falls on Wooster campus

A mighty oak has fallen. An Oak Grove tree that stood for more than two centuries came down on Monday at The College of Wooster.

No people or property were hurt when the black oak (quercus velutina) fell, though it did cause some damage to a nearby white oak tree that caused it to be taken down as well. According to the College’s manager of grounds, Phil Olsen, the tree fell due to what is called “natural failure,” he said. “It happens sometimes, especially this time of year, where the tree could no longer hold itself up because of the moisture in it,” he said. “Everything has an end date and that was it. It’s sad. It was one of the feature trees on our tree walk and one of the oldest stately black oaks on our campus.”

The tree was assessed by Nick Wiesenberg, Geology Technician in Earth Sciences, who determined the tree to be 228 years old.

“With the help of the tree service crew, we were able to obtain a cross-section from the black oak that contained the inner most rings which I cross-dated with other tree ring data from the old oaks on campus,” he said. “Although one of the largest in diameter, it was not the oldest we have sampled on campus.” Olsen recalled having to take down a white oak tree near the tennis courts a few years ago that dated at least 350 years.

The Wooster campus is home to several old oak trees in Oak Grove, the seeds for which were planted as many as 340 years ago, according to a stone tablet located near the fallen tree. “We are so incredibly fortunate to have such amazing trees at the College of Wooster–more than 2,500 trees all together,” President Sarah Bolton told the Daily Record. “Some of the trees, like the black oak that fell this morning, are older than the College itself. Our trees are beautiful, and they carry our history in so many ways.” Our excellent grounds team, led by expert arborist Phil Olsen, cares for all of our trees, tracking and supporting their health, deciding on new plantings, and making sure the campus conserves this precious resource. I am so grateful to Phil and his team for their incredible work and dedication to the thriving of our campus and our community,” she said.

Wooster’s campus has more trees than students and holds an official Tree Campus USA designation.

Phil Olsen, Manager of Grounds

Phil Olsen, Manager of Grounds

Working Remotely with Youth Groups in Southeast Alaska

We had the good fortune to work (remotely) with four TRAYLS groups in Alaska. The TRAYLS (Training Rural Alaskan Youth Leaders & Students) Groups from Southeast Alaska teamed up with Earth Scientist students  Ricky Papay (’22), Wenshuo Zhao (‘23) and Lucie Fiala (‘23) to investigate tree-rings and climate in Southeast Alaska. Students from the villages of Hoonah, Angoon, Klawock and Kake cored trees in the region, plotted the location of their sites on GIS software Survey 123, sent the cores to the WTRL for processing and analyses, and then the groups met to discuss results. The logistics and implementation of the program was possible through all the great group leaders in Southeast Alaska and Nick Wiesenberg (Wooster) and Ben Gaglioti (University of Alaska – Fairbanks).

The groups had a full summer and the tree-ring work was only one of their projects. They traveled by kayak, boat and floatplane across the region, sampling and taking notes on each tree they cored (various photos of the Kake and Angoon groups)

The Hoonah and Klawock teams shown measuring and coring and filling out the survey data.

The AYLS groups from Kake, Hoonah, Angoon and Klawock sampled an extensive portion of Southeast Alaska in the summer of 2021. The groups entered their data in to Survey 123 and Wooster students could check in each day and see the map populate with the sample sites.

Wooster students (Ricky Papay and Wenshuo Zhao) worked up the tree-ring data in the lab at Wooster and then we met on Zoom to share the results.

Representative samples from the AYLS groups. These are the first Red Cedar (far left) that the Wooster lab has worked with.

One of the tables showing the combined AYLS and Wooster data set. This was for the Prince of Wales group (Klawock). Three of the cedar trees are over 400 years old.


Some of the results included the Yellow Cedar tree-ring record above that brings the LIA (Little Ice Age) increase in growth and a recent release that could be related to warming or logging at a site on Prince of Wales Island.


A red cedar chronology appears to record reduced ring-width shortly after the 1815 eruption of Tambora (1816 called the year without summer in Europe) – it may be that the volcanic event forces a change in ocean temperatures that then causes the cooling to persist. Further study is needed.

Tree-ring series from Hoonah – these western hemlocks show an interesting suppression of growth in the mid to late 1700s, a change that persists for some decades. Western hemlock here also appear to track the warming well. Again further analysis can test some of the ideas the groups generated about the changes in observed tree growth.

Next summer we hope to visit some of these sites and expand on this work, as well a s continuing our remote collaboration.

A 40-foot spruce dugout canoes carved in Hoonah by master carver Wayne Price, and apprentices Steven Price, Zack James (Tlél Tooch Tláa.aa) and James Hart (Gooch Éesh) arriving Bartlett Cove, Glacier Bay, Alaska. The trip from Hoonah marked the return of the Tlingit to their ancestral homeland in 2016. Image courtesy of the Juneau Empire, the full story is here.


This project was funded by the National Science Foundation Paleoclimate Program (Awards: P2C2-2002561 and 2002454).

Wolf Lake and the Surrounding Landscape, Glacier Bay, Alaska

Members of the Wooster Tree Ring Lab had a great opportunity to travel to a seldom-visited part of Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve – a transect from Wolf Lake to Burroughs Glacier. We were there because there is 2500 year-old forest remnant that was overrun by ice. The ice has gone and continues to melt. Our interest is recovering these logs is to fill a gap millennial-scale tree-ring record from the Gulf of Alaska. The recently exposed logs are being lost to science each year as they flush out into the sea and rot away in this hypermaritime climate. Wooster student independent studies (ISs) in the region quite literally have surrounded this Wolf Lake site with their research, and over the last 10 years we have honed into this key location from all directions.

A view of Mount Wright through a gap in drift and bedrock. Tree-ring records from the flanks of Mt. Wright were part of a study led by Stephanie Jarvis and sampled by Sarah Appleton, who did their thesis work in the region.

We flew into the site this year. In previous years we attempted to walk in twice and once we were successful. I recommend the flying