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posted by martyb on Friday March 27 2015, @03:09AM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the Great-Pyramid-is-about-4600-years-old dept.

Rachel Sussman has an interesting article at Nautilus about her nine year quest to find and photograph the oldest living things in the world. To qualify for inclusion, each organism must have gone through at least 2,000 years of continuous life as an individual. "I selected 2,000 years as my minimum age specifically to draw attention to the gentleman’s agreement of what “year zero” means. In other words, 2000 years serves both as an all-too-human start date, as well as the baseline age of my subjects," writes Sussman, an American fine art photographer. "The requirement of endurance on an individual level was an important consideration, because we all innately relate to the idea of self. This was a purposeful anthropomorphization that would further imbue the organisms with a reflective quality in which we could glimpse ourselves." Sussman went searching for 5,500-year-old moss in Antarctica, a 2,000-year-old brain coral in Tobago, an 80,000-year-old Aspen colony in Utah, a 2,000-year-old primitive Welwitschia in Namibia, and a 43,600-year-old shrub in Tasmania that’s the last of its kind on the planet, to name a few.

Sussman writes that one of her primary goals was to create a little jolt of recognition at the shallowness of human timekeeping and the blink that is a human lifespan. "Does our understanding of time have to be tethered to our physiological experience of it? writes Sussman. "The more we embrace long-term thinking, the more ethical our decision-making becomes." Sussman says that the dialogue with environmental conservation is a perfect example of the importance of blending art, science, and long-term thinking. "We hear these things like carbon-dioxide levels are rising. You hear "400 parts per million," and it doesn't really register what that means. But when you can look at this organism and say, "Wow, this spruce tree has been living on this mountainside for 9,500 years and, in the past 50, got this spindly trunk in the center because it got warmer at the top of this mountainside," there's something that's a very literal depiction of climate change happening right in front of you. It's observable. So I hope that that's going to be a way that people can connect to that as an issue."

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  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 27 2015, @03:43AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 27 2015, @03:43AM (#163096)

    I'd comment but I need to spend some deep time sleeping like the dead now.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 28 2015, @06:23AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 28 2015, @06:23AM (#163457)

      That is not dead which can eternal lie...

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 27 2015, @03:45AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 27 2015, @03:45AM (#163098)

    This is less about shallowness and more about our nature.

  • (Score: 4, Insightful) by aristarchus on Friday March 27 2015, @07:06AM

    by aristarchus (2645) on Friday March 27 2015, @07:06AM (#163123) Journal

    Anyone who has spend the slightest amount of time in a truly old-growth forest knows this; our sense of time is about that of an insect. Grub, emerge, mate, ovate, die. Some older life forms have simpler but more long range plans.

    --
    Someone please explain to Hemo that my AC posts never get moderated because no one understands them. (Stolen AC sig. )
    • (Score: 4, Insightful) by q.kontinuum on Friday March 27 2015, @07:59AM

      by q.kontinuum (532) on Friday March 27 2015, @07:59AM (#163128) Journal

      Some older life forms have [...] plans.

      I doubt that. Even with humans there doesn't seem to be any master-plan for us as a species. We are talking about global warming, nature being destroyed, etc., but even though most scientists agree these problems are real, we are not really able to work together to solve these issues and to make a plan for our future.

      Life of a species has no purpose or plan. An individual might make plans, but that's about it. On any broader scale, life is what happens to us, not what we do or plan.

      --
      Registered IRC nick on chat.soylentnews.org: qkontinuum
      • (Score: 3, Funny) by aristarchus on Friday March 27 2015, @08:32AM

        by aristarchus (2645) on Friday March 27 2015, @08:32AM (#163131) Journal

        So, then, nobody told you? Sorry I brought it up! ("Bristlecone Pine to Alpha Centauri, Bristlecone to Alpha Centauri. No sign of temporally intelligent life in this sector. Request reassignment. Over." )

        --
        Someone please explain to Hemo that my AC posts never get moderated because no one understands them. (Stolen AC sig. )
      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 28 2015, @03:09AM

        by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 28 2015, @03:09AM (#163407)

        with humans there doesn't seem to be any master-plan for us as a species

        You haven't been paying attention.
        Clearly, the plan is to have as much wealth and power concentrated into as few hands as possible.
        {image of Emperor Tarkin goes here}

        -- gewg_

        • (Score: 2) by q.kontinuum on Saturday March 28 2015, @07:47AM

          by q.kontinuum (532) on Saturday March 28 2015, @07:47AM (#163472) Journal

          I don't buy this. The individual plan of a bunch of rich guys is to get richer and more powerful, while probably each of them would probably like to see poverty eradicated and wealth equally distributed - except for themselves, of course. I don't think any of them gives a rats ass about getting other rich guys richer.

          --
          Registered IRC nick on chat.soylentnews.org: qkontinuum
    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 27 2015, @01:11PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 27 2015, @01:11PM (#163174)

      I'd rather spend 5 thinking years, than be a tree for 5000.

      • (Score: 2) by TK on Friday March 27 2015, @02:23PM

        by TK (2760) on Friday March 27 2015, @02:23PM (#163190)

        Too bad at the end of those five years you'll only have the mind of a five year old.

        On the other hand, living your whole life without knowing true pain or loss, while you still have a naive optimism about the nature of life and the world is probably not that bad. I think that's what the Adam and Eve story was going for. No wonder that motherfucker* lived so long; God's a dick.

        *He fucked the mother of all humanity, he's the proto-motherfucker.

        --
        The fleas have smaller fleas, upon their backs to bite them, and those fleas have lesser fleas, and so ad infinitum
  • (Score: 2, Interesting) by deathlyslow on Friday March 27 2015, @11:33AM

    by deathlyslow (2818) <wmasmith@gmail.com> on Friday March 27 2015, @11:33AM (#163160)

    How does one accurately date these, what life forms, without damaging them? I ask out of ignorance not trying to to start a a flame war or anything. With the trees you can count the rings. but I doubt there's any single aspen tree with 80K of rings in that stand. This just fascinates me how things can be aged accurately, or not, as the case may be. I'm talking with the minimum age being 2000 years that's pretty small on the time scale. Most times I see ranges that are larger than that.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 27 2015, @01:15PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 27 2015, @01:15PM (#163178)

      Same concept as with rings. The reason trees get more of those as they age is because they never stop growing. You can estimate their age by their size, although not as accurately as counting the rings.

    • (Score: 3, Interesting) by Reziac on Friday March 27 2015, @01:57PM

      by Reziac (2489) on Friday March 27 2015, @01:57PM (#163186) Homepage

      I know some of the bristlecones have had bore samples taken, which does a tree no real harm provided you plug the hole after yourself so insects and fungi don't use it as a highway to the tree's interior. (And one was cut down to examine its rings, but that was a long time ago. Wonder what became of the cut trunk?) The aspen grove -- I vaguely recall that was via DNA sampling.

      The 'spindly trunk the past 50 years' thing is just artist's-rendering nonsense. In fact tree rings in general are climate nonsense... as any arborist knows, tree trunk growth is a function of water, not temperature. If that weren't so, those cold-dwelling pines that can do 10 feet a year in their youth wouldn't be among the fastest-growing trees on the planet, with concomitantly wide rings. Put the same species in the desert and growth slows to a crawl... unless you water 'em. A lot.

      • (Score: 1, Informative) by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 27 2015, @09:43PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 27 2015, @09:43PM (#163341)

        Dude, the only thing that ring width on a single tree is guaranteed to tell you is how much the tree grew that year. Growth is some places is determined mostly by water received, in other places more so by temperature experienced. It all depends on the species and the habitat.

        To coax information from the tree rings, you've got to correlate them against external factors. See link below for details.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dendroclimatology [wikipedia.org]

      • (Score: 3, Informative) by LancePodstrong on Saturday March 28 2015, @12:47AM

        by LancePodstrong (5029) on Saturday March 28 2015, @12:47AM (#163372)

        Rings are a reflection of transpiration, which has to do with both precipitation and temperature. So it's not either/or, it's both.

  • (Score: 1, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 27 2015, @04:55PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 27 2015, @04:55PM (#163243)

    Given she's taking pictures of coral, what's an individual?

    How much genetic drift and spatial change is allowed before you consider it not the same creature?

    http://www.iflscience.com/environment/scientists-discover-microbes-have-remained-essentially-unchanged-2-billion-years [iflscience.com]

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 27 2015, @06:53PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 27 2015, @06:53PM (#163281)

      Given she's taking pictures of trees, what's an individual?

      80,000-year-old Aspen colony in Utah

      a colony of quaking aspen that is an estimated 80,000 years old, though no individual tree currently alive is anywhere near that age

      • (Score: 2) by M. Baranczak on Friday March 27 2015, @08:10PM

        by M. Baranczak (1673) on Friday March 27 2015, @08:10PM (#163308)

        Aspens reproduce via underground suckers. So the whole colony could be considered one organism.