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Henri's Page


July 2015. I'm sawing into an ancient log in the Beartooth Mountains of northwestern Wyoming. This whitebark pine likely began growing well prior to AD 1000, thrived during the Medieval Climatic Optimum (AD 1100 to 1400), but then succumbed to intense cold temperatures and snow and ice build-up in the middle 1700s during the Little Ice Age (AD 1400 to 1800). Notice no other such large trees exist there today, only smaller and younger whitebark pine trees that established after the snow and ice had completely receded from the area in the last 300 years. Using dendrochronology, not only can we learn what climate was like for this area over the past 1300 years, but we can also gain some insights on how climate affected the history of the forests that once lived here.

My Curriculum Vitae


How to contact me:

Henri D. Grissino-Mayer
Department of Geography
417 Burchfiel Geography Building
The University of Tennessee
Knoxville, Tennessee 37996-0925 U.S.A.
865 974-6029 (office)
865 974-6025 (fax)
grissino [at] utk [dot] edu

Personal Stuff

Place/date of birth: Monterey, California, December 24, 1954
Home Address: Knoxville, Tennessee, U.S.A.
Hobbies: Hiking and backpacking, camping, collecting old and rare books, trees, rescuing cats
Family: In July 2011, I married Brandi Boggs and we share a beautiful house with her three children (Maya, Zaen, and Alex), our new son Noah, along with our 11 cats and ___ dogs (you get to fill in the blank).

Teaching Interests

After eight long years as an Assistant Professor and six years as an Associate Professor, I was finally promoted to Full Professor in August 2011 at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. My expertise focuses on and dendrochronology, paleoclimatology, and fire ecology, but I also have a fair background in quantitative methods, biogeography, geomorphology, natural and human hazards, soil science and soil geography, and geographic thought. I strongly believe that the primary purpose of a university is to educate, and that through research we become better educators. I also believe in the use of new technologies in the classroom, and I am a strong advocate of the use of the Internet and worldwide web to enhance the learning experience.

Teaching Philosophies

  • I believe in collaborative learning that provides ample opportunity for students to become involved in the educational and research processes.

  • I believe that the educational experience should be an enjoyable one.

  • I do not believe in standing in front of a class for one hour and regurgitating material from a textbook.

  • I do not believe in complete isolation during education.

  • I believe in a reasonable student/teacher ratio to ensure individual attention is given to all students.

  • I believe a student should receive the highest quality education in an environment that best suits the student and not the administration.

Research Interests

I remember when I saw my first tree ring - I was a young laddie of but two, and my papa took me to the arboretum. When I saw my first signature pattern, I said "Papa, when I grow up, I want to study forensics and carve up dead bodies." But my wise papa said, "Become a dendrochronologist instead..." My background as a climatologist introduced me to tree-ring research way back in 1985, when I was a masters student at the University of Georgia. My own research concentrates on several areas, listed below. I've been fortunate that my research has been featured in thousands of newspapers worldwide and my students and I have been featured in several television documentaries. Be sure to check out these online published news articles which describe my research!

See Henri featured in video news stories:

UT professor on Chimney Tops 2 report: Residents should be prepared for fires -- WATE-TV, Knoxville, Tennessee
Henri Grissino-Mayer discusses the 2016 Chimney Tops 2 fire -- The University of Tennessee
'Gatlinburg Wildfire Survivors' group demand change at city meeting -- WBIR-TV, Knoxville, Tennessee
UT Professor using award money to warn of wildfires -- WBIR-TV, Knoxville, Tennessee
Gatlinburg fires were "catastrophe waiting to happen" -- WVLT-TV, Knoxville, Tennessee
UT professor warns about fire dangers -- WATE-TV, Knoxville, Tennessee
Fire on the Mountain -- NewsChannel 5, Nashville, Tennessee
Professor predicted Gatlinburg wildfire -- WATE-TV, Knoxville, Tennessee
Tennessee This Week -- WATE-TV, Knoxville, Tennessee
Gatlinburg was made to burn -- CNN International
Knoxville Air Quality -- WBIR-TV, Knoxville, Tennessee
The Stradivarius Mystery -- Weather Channel
The Scream -- Weather Channel
The Year Without a Summer -- Weather Channel
Weather Time Travelers -- Weather Channel
Fredericksburg Crib Dam -- Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star

News stories about Henri and his students:

Wildfire professor bristles at officials' resistance to safety programs  -- Knoxville News Sentinel
Commentary: Act now to prevent another tragedy like Gatlinburg  -- TreeSource
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is 520,000 acres of tinderbox -- Knoxville News Sentinel
South Carolina fire handled much differently than Chimney Tops 2 -- Knoxville News Sentinel
Tennessee schools need to teach geography better  -- The Tennessean
The Brilliance of a Stradivari Violin Might Rest Within Its Wood -- New York Times
After the flames, ‘mountain tough’ Gatlinburg looks to the future -- Washington Post
Gatlinburg’s Inferno: Why It Started, How It Spread, and What Needs to Happen Next -- Knoxville Mercury
'Gatlinburg was made to burn,' professor says -- CNN International
Tennessee college professor predicted Gatlinburg wildfire: Town was ‘made to burn’  -- WNCN
UT Geography Expert: Though Tragic, Gatlinburg Fire was ‘A Safe Prediction’ -- Winchester Herald Chronicle
University Professor Predicted Gatlinburg Wildfire for Years -- FireFighter Nation
Gatlinburg Wildfires Cause 3 Deaths, Hundreds Displaced -- Daily Beacon
University of Tennessee Professor Predicted Gatlinburg Fire for Years  -- Knoxville News Sentinel
Maps at McClung Museum Offer Glimpse into History -- Knoxville News Sentinel
Researchers Use Tree-Ring Science To Study Area Log Cabins -- Watauga Online
Lord of the Rings -- Low Country Weekly
The Bell Tolls for a Tough Old Tree -- Albuquerque Journal
Death of Yoda the 650-Year-Old Tree Tells Tale of Southwest Drought -- NBC News
Shortleaf pine declining without fire in the Smokies -- Knoxville News Sentinel
Without fire, No Name Key could lose its pine forests -- Keynews.com
Dendroarchaeology Expert to Talk Tree-Ring Dating and Historic Structures -- University of Wisconsin-Platteville, University News
The Longest Measure of Drought: 21 Centuries of Rainfall in New Mexico -- NYTimes.com
Timbers from Dam Hold Record of Past -- Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star
Dire Drought Ahead, May Lead to Massive Tree Death -- AAAS EurekAlert
Trees Tell the History of Fire -- National Park Service
Reading history - one ring at a time -- Indiana State University Newsroom
UF, UT Researchers Join Forces to Bring Tree-Ring Dating Technology to Heart of Southeast -- University of Florida News
Dr. Grissino-Mayer to Speak -- Historic City News
UT Pre-Game Faculty Showcase Focuses on Tree Ring Science, Wildfire Predictions in Smokies
UT researchers' work reveals 220-year hurricane history -- Tennessee Today
Tree rings provide a 200-year-old hurricane record -- NSF News
Tree rings could settle global warming hurricane debate -- MongaBay.com
Every tree has a story to tell -- Christian Science Monitor
Did "Little Ice Age" Create Stradivarius Violins' Famous Tone? -- National Geographic News
Does climate explain prized violins' tone? -- MSNBC
£10m violin 'the real thing' -- BBC News
Secret ingredient in Stradivari may be heaven sent -- USA Today
Chill might be Stradivarius secret -- London Free Press
Validity of Stradivari examined -- University of Tennessee Daily Beacon
Climatologist: Georgia unprepared for drought -- Augusta Chronicle
Specialist pushing deliberate burning -- Augusta Chronicle


My Research Reconstructing Climate

First, I use tree rings to reconstruct past climates, accomplished by developing site master tree-ring chronologies, then calibrating recent tree-ring widths with historic climate records. I've concentrated mainly in the southwestern United States, but began my career by reconstructing climate in northeastern Georgia under the direction of Dave Butler.

Some years ago, I developed a 2,129 year long reconstruction of rainfall for northwestern New Mexico. This reconstruction was based on a master chronology developed from some extremely old living trees and remnant wood found in El Malpais National Monument, just south of Grants, New Mexico. The graph below shows a 100-year spline (much like a moving average) fit to the reconstruction to accentuate the century-scale trends in past rainfall. Note, however, that the graph above does not depict decadal scale trends very well...

The graph below, however, was designed to depict shorter-term, decadal-scale trends by using a 25-year spline. Notice that droughts and wet periods that last many years are now shown, such as the drought of the 1950s, which was one of the worst in the last 2,100 years.


My Research on Fire History

Second, I use tree rings to reconstruct past fire regimes by analyzing the fire-scar record contained in many ponderosa pine trees. I was initially involved in fire history research as part of Tom Swetnam's Fire History and Ecology Workgroup at the University of Arizona since about 1989 when I collected my first fire-scarred specimens up on Mt. Graham in the Pinaleño Mountains of southeastern Arizona. A good portion of my dissertation research involved developing chronologies of past fire for several sites at El Malpais National Monument. I found that temporal changes in past fires were linked to global-scale changes in atmospheric circulations patterns that resulted in shifts in the summer monsoon component of Southwestern precipitation. Human-related factors, such as grazing and fire suppression, also had significant impacts on fire regimes, especially ca. 1870-1900.


The Dendrochronology Bibliographic Database

Screen shot of the Bibliography Entry FieldsSince 1986, I've been collecting references about dendrochronology. I now have over 15,000 of these in a computerized bibliographic database that is now searchable via the worldwide web. The database is alphabetically arranged by author, and contains the year of publication, title, source (journal, book, proceedings, etc.), and language information, and also lists keywords that include site information and species used. I have about 13,000 of these in my actual possession, and the collection has been used by researchers from all over the world. I have many rare references as well. If you'd like more information, or you have references you'd like to add, please contact me at my e-mail address below. Also, please send me any reprints of articles related to tree-ring research that you publish so that I may enter these into the database!


Software for Dendrochronology

On the side, I also enjoy programming to make all our lives a little easier. I became involved with the International Tree-Ring Data Bank (ITRDB) in 1988 through Hal Fritts, with whom I continue to work. Since 1991, I've headed the development of the ITRDB Program Library, which has been distributed to over 100 institutes around the world. I've also written FHX2, software for the analysis of fire history from tree-ring data. This software allows researchers to easily enter fire history data, analyze it statistically, graph it, and even plot it. This software has also been distributed widely, and is in use by the USDA Forest Service, the National Park Service, the National Biological Survey, over 50 academic institutions, and in many countries around the world.

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