Tag Archives: hyperion redwood

Helios Was a 400 Foot Redwood Not So Long Ago

 

1      Hyperion and Helios

Disclaimer:  This analysis is based on my own interpretation of published redwood study information, primarily from this source:

How do tree structure and old age affect growth potential of California redwoods?

Stephen C. Sillett, Robert Van Pelt, Allyson L. Carroll, Russell D. Kramer, Anthony R. Ambrose, D’Arcy Trask

Ecological Monographs 2015 Vol: 85 (2) :181-212.
doi: 10.1890/14-1016.1

So here we go ….

Hyperion and Helios are remarkably similar redwoods in some ways. They both grow on steep slopes above Redwood Creek tributaries.  Their diameters and heights are very similar.  But there is one big difference – Helios is 2040 years old versus Hyperion is a sprightly 1260 years old.   Then also Helios has reiterations in its crown versus Hyperion does not.  A reiteration is regrowth after breakage.

I started to think, I wonder what the height of Helios was before its top broke off and grew back.  Was it once taller than its current height of 377 feet or so?

Well, I think it was taller, a little over 400 feet tall, and that was not so long ago.

2      Helios Height Estimate Before Reiteration

 

The idea is to review diameter at 80 meters in height for Helios and Hyperion, then for calculation purposes adjust Helios’ diameter at 80 meters downward a bit due to its greater age.

Then, take the amount of growth in Hyperion above 80 meters as a function of its trunk diameter at 80 meters.   This is then applied to the Helios diameter at 80 meters to arrive at a Helios height before reiteration.   Remember Hyperion has no reiteration in its crown.

Then to get the approximate date of the Helios reiteration take the Helios average change in height per year and apply this to the amount of height that is above the reiteration.

So we start with this table:

Tree Name Age Study Year Height Diameter cm at 80 meter height (est) Ring Width cm at 80 meter height (est) Diameter cm at 80 meter height age adjustment cm growth above 80 / cm diam at 80
Hyperion 1260 2010 115.62 163 0.065 0 21.9
Helios 2040 2013 114.82 198 0.048 -4

And from there do this set of calculations:

Hyperion cm growth above 80 m / cm diameter at 80 m 21.9
Helios original growth above 80 m based on Hyperion 4236
Helios height pre reiteration in meters (est) 122.36
Helios height pre reiteration in feet (est) 401.5
Helios reiteration point height meters 106.5
Helios actual reiterated growth meters 8.32
Helios growth rate per year centimeters (past 10 yrs) 9.2
Helios estimated age of reiteration in years 90.4

So it can be inferred there was at least one 400 foot redwood in the past, it was Helios.  The top was probably blown out during a major windstorm between 1900 and 1925.

Helios may be a 400 foot redwood once more, but that will take another 70 years or so.

If there is a 400 foot redwood again it will probably be Helios, Hyperion, or some other redwood growing on a bench on a steep hillside with relative protection from high winds.  Trees growing on flats along Bull Creek or Redwood Creek are probably too exposed to high winds to avoid breakage once they get a lot taller than the rest of the surrounding redwoods.

Then the other factor is the timing of the next Cascadia earthquake.  That will snap off a lot of the tops.

Thanks for reading.

Hiking to Hyperion – Neither Triumph nor Failure

1      June 8, 2015.   The Big Day

The Hyperion redwood tree.  Tallest tree in the world.  It was always “there”, and probably passed over by more than a few redwood researchers and explorers.  But in August 2006 Michael Taylor and Chris Atkins put the rangefinders on the tree and found a height of 378 feet, making it the new tallest tree.  And in 2016 it remains the world’s tallest tree, at 380 feet 4 inches.

So that’s great, but where is this tree?   Well, in 2006, and for many years after that, no one would say.   But the tree was featured in a best seller.  And even today you can go to You Tube to play views from Hyperion’s canopy, and order a CD from National Geographic if you want even clearer canopy views.  Those canopy views gave away the general area for Hyperion to a number of people, more so over time as Google Earth capabilities and clarity improved.

So armed with my “definitive” analysis, I was set to find Hyperion.  This was a third attempt.  The first time was very fun and interesting but wrong area.  The second time was also fun and interesting but still wrong area.  Gosh the remote areas of Redwood National Park are incredibly green and beautiful with many, many giant trees.  But the areas were wrong for Hyperion.  But this third time would be the charm, I hoped.

2      Off to Hyperion

 

Around 11 AM I arrived at the mouth of the suspected creek.  This required a crossing of Redwood Creek which was knee deep with a pretty quick flow but really not that difficult on this day.  This crossing is impossible in wetter months as Redwood Creek can be twenty feet deep.

The feeder creek, the one hopefully housing Hyperion, was very pleasant, with a lot of small frogs.  The creek bed has some uniform shaped stones which are a little slippery to walk over, I suspect these may be left over from the beds of logging roads that were once in the area.   Since I was alone I took care with every step, I did not want to slip and fall and hit my head on a rock, that would be really bad.  Every now and then there were some nettles to move aside and deeper pools to avoid.  I saw no human footprints.

There was a little under duck beneath a small log pile.  It looked solid enough and kind of served as an official entrance to the area of the creek where the mature redwoods start.   It was almost as if a sign could be put up there that says “This Way to Hyperion Grove”.

This Way to Hyperion
This Way to Hyperion

 

So all was well, I was making slow progress up the creek.  But then, some motion to my left, followed by the loudest, most guttural bellow I had ever heard.  And the source was close.  A bear, and he or she was very pissed off at me!   Well, I bellowed right back, HEY!!!!, and stomped around the creek.  I never heard from the bear again, it must have then moved out of the area.   Sounds unbelievable, but this is the honest to goodness truth.

The bear trap
The bear trap

 

Now armed with an extra dose of adrenaline I continued up the creek.  There were some nice tall redwoods to the right up on the hillside.  They didn’t exactly look like some of the Hyperion pictures, but who knows.

Hyperion Teasers
Hyperion Teasers

 

But I knew I needed to keep going.  I had one more good clue, a picture of some guys climbing over a log pile.  I was looking for that log pile.  And then, forty careful minutes into the hike up the creek, there it was, the log pile.  I was right!  This was Hyperion’s creek!

Log Pile Near Hyperion
Log Pile Near Hyperion

 

3      Hyperion Grove

 

So up and over that log pile I went.   Just like the guys in the photo.  No problems.   After that I was really amongst the old growth, with big mature trees on both sides of the creek.  The sweet smell of bay laurel / pepper wood permeated the air and the big timber muffled all sounds.  I knew Hyperion would be on the right side of the creek as moving upstream and right in this area.  So where was it, which tree is it?  There were a couple dozen to pick from.

Now I need to tell you Hyperion looks nothing like many of the pre 2015 photos on the internet.  It is much closer to the creek, just above the end of the sword ferns.  And it is very eroded on the downhill side, really pitifully eroded.  That tree could fall anytime, at least that’s the way it looks to me.   If it were growing that way along 101 I think Cal Trans would cut it down.  And those pictures of the grove called “Hyperion from Below” – no, they are not from below, they are from across the creek’s valley.

So I walked right by Hyperion.  Saw it, said nah, and walked right by it.  Unbelievable, but true.  I am sure others have done it.   A short way further along I saw a couple trees on the right that were good suspects.  And I saw another tree further ahead that looked like a candidate.  But I was getting tired, the day was moving along, and I decided to go up through the ferns right there to the two trees.

Candidate tree - not Hyperion
Candidate tree – not Hyperion

 

Candidate trees near Hyperion
Candidate trees near Hyperion

 

After hiking to the two trees I realized they were not Hyperion and its neighbor.  So I sat there for a while, feeling defeated.   I did not realize I was sitting sixty feet west of Hyperion and its neighbor.  The neighbor was blocking Hyperion and the distinguishing adjacent log.  So after about twenty minutes of reflection I walked back down to the creek, looking right at Hyperion on the way down.  I can still see it in my mind.  I didn’t recognize it for what it was.  How about that.

Here is my GPS trace of the hike in the Hyperion area, it is a little erratic versus my actual course but generally correct.  H1 is Hyperion’s location.  What a stunning effort and what a colossal albeit temporary setback.

Trace of hike in Hyperion area
Trace of hike in Hyperion area

 

Later last summer more information on Hyperion was leaked and I was able to go back later in the year and locate the tree no problem.  While sitting behind Hyperion I looked over to the two redwoods I was sitting beside three months earlier and just shook my head.

Hyperion
Hyperion

 

 

Thanks for reading.

Height Changes in Very Tall Coast Redwood Trees

1      Redwood Tree Height

In the past twenty years it has become possible to systemically search old growth redwood forests for tall trees.  Overhead LiDAR data can identify very tall trees.  Then follow up measurements with laser range finders can identify height accurately within a foot or so.  If more accuracy is required then advanced climbing techniques followed by the use of a measuring pole and direct tape drop can accurately measure height with a precision of a centimeter or so.

For trees on slopes or mounded trees there is still some judgement involved when determining true ground level.  So not everyone will agree on the exact height of certain very tall redwoods.

2      Average Annual Height Changes in Redwood Trees

 

Using published sources the height of the one hundred tallest known redwoods in 2000 can be compared to the 2012 height for the exact same trees.  When doing this comparison several interesting observations can be made.

  • First, ALL one hundred tallest known redwoods from 2000 were still standing in 2012. Assuming each individual tree has a one in a thousand chance of toppling in a given year there is a 70 percent chance at least one tree would fall during this period.  But none did.   So a quiet interval for the redwoods, versus the 1990’s when two of the tallest redwoods fell (Telperion and Dyerville Giant).
  • Second, just six of the one hundred tallest known redwoods lost height from 2000 to 2012. So very little die back of the tops.
  • Third, about one third of the one hundred tallest trees grew at an average rate of six inches or more per year. That’s a pretty good growth rate for an old growth redwood tree.

3      Some Tables Concerning Height Changes

 

This table shows twelve year height changes by individual tree, with the starting heights sorted from low to high as move from left to right.  Here note some of the tallest redwoods had pretty good growth rates but overall there is a slightly negative association between starting tree height and height change.

Height Change vs Height Rank
Height Change vs Height Rank

 

 

This table shows the average height change in feet per year by park.  Note the low tree count for Redwood National Park, many of the tallest redwoods in RNP were unidentified in the year 2000.

On average these tallest redwoods gained three inches in height per year.

Height Change by Park
Height Change by Park

 

 

This table shows detail for areas of Humboldt Redwoods State Park.  Note the fastest growth area is the even aged very tall stand of redwoods in Harper Flat.   Here the redwoods averaged almost five inches of growth per year.

Height Change by Humboldt Area
Height Change by Humboldt Area, chg/yr in feet

 

4      Height Changes for a Few Specific Redwoods

 

Here are examples of trees with negative of zero change in height.

Giant Tree. About nine feet shorter than the sign says.
Giant Tree. Lost about a foot in height over 12 years.

 

Redwood Creek Giant - no height change
Redwood Creek Giant – no height change but nice emoji

 

These three top ten tallest redwoods all had about the same average annual increase in height per year between 2000 and 2012, about 3.5 inches.

THE Stratosphere Giant
THE Stratosphere Giant

 

Paradox
Paradox

 

Laurelin, as inspired by Tolkien
Laurelin, as inspired by Tolkien

 

This is Nugget in Redwood National Park, it increased in height a bit more between 2000 and 2012 than the other top ten redwoods, about 4.25 inches per year.

Nugget
Nugget

 

There were two redwood trees on Harper Flat that grew a whopping seven feet between 2000 and 2012.   This tree is one of them.

Harper Flat up seven feet in twelve years
Harper Flat redwood up seven feet in twelve years

 

The two tallest redwoods, Hyperion and Helios, are not included in these tables as their discovery year was after 2000.  In general Hyperion is growing relatively slowly compared to the other tallest redwoods while Helios is growing at a rate similar to Laurelin, Paradox, and Stratosphere Giant.

Hyperion did pick up the pace a bit after 2012.

 

Hyperion
Hyperion.  The tallest.

 

I read a Humboldt State dendrochronology (tree ring) study which indicated redwoods are putting on more mass now than at any other time in the past one thousand years.  This is also exhibited in the general height increase of all the tallest redwoods from 2000 to 2012.

Why is this?

 

 

 

 

Tall Redwoods Need Loads of Schist

1      Tall Redwoods and Creeks

There is an association between alluvial flats built up from by stream flood deposits and tall redwood trees.  The tall redwoods spread their roots through this nutrient rich soil, often in multiple iterations as alluvial soil builds up from flooding events over the centuries.   However these streams are not an important source of water for these redwood trees.  Instead high amounts of annual rainfall as well as year round fog drip provide the water for these giants.   However there is another way rich soil can accumulate to support the growth of tall redwoods.

2      Tall Redwoods and Schist Filled Benches

If you have been on the hillsides above redwood creeks you may have noticed several things.

  • First, the hillsides can be very steep, with gradients often between 20 and 40 percent.
  • Second, there are convex (slightly bowl shaped relative to the slope) benches that occur at different elevations on these hillsides.
  • Third, these benches have a dark, fine soil. That dark fine soil is called schist and when you stand on these benches you are standing on a pile of schist.   Schist is great soil to support redwood tree growth.    In the Redwood Creek Basin the soil on the hillsides (all of it) creeps about 2 millimeters per year and can also flow up to 200 millimeters during a very heavy rain event.  The convex shape of the hillside benches induces the capture of the creeping schist soil.  Presto, you have the perfect growing medium for a redwood.

If a redwood grows on a schist bench in an area that is within reach of fog year round it can grow very tall.  As tall as any redwood that grows in the alluvial flats.

Hyperion grows on a schist bench.  By all accounts Helios and Orion also grow on schist benches.

Much of the alluvial flat soil is schist that has washed, flowed, or crept down the hillside, mixed with the flowing creek, and then left on the flats above the creek banks as the waters receded.    To some extent this occurs every year during the transition from the wet to the dry season.  One type of schist soil is called greywacke.  There is a redwood on the upper Bull Creek flats in Humboldt Redwoods that is named Graywacke after this soil type.

 

3      Schist in Northern California Is Formed by Plate Tectonics

 

A lot of geology is hard for me to follow but apparently the schist associated with northern California redwood forests was induced by tectonic fracturing and shearing of underlying bedrock.  There is a tremendous amount of tectonic activity in the northern California redwood belt, as this is the location of the Mendocino Triple Junction where three large tectonic plates meet.   There is a subduction zone a short distance offshore which induces giant (9.0 magnitude) earthquakes every 300-500 years (the last one was in 1700).   Off the major faults are many minor faults, and the some of the notable redwood creeks follow these minor faults.  Examples are Redwood Creek following Grogan Fault and Lost Man Creek following Lost Man Fault.

The tectonic activity and associated periodic earthquakes have created the benches on the hillsides and contributed to the unstable nature of the soil formations.  The soil formations then  creep over time, allowing for the collection of the soil in the convex benches.

4      Schist in Northern California Needs Flooding for Active Transport

 

Heavy rains induce the hillside schist soils to flow over the underlying bedrock.  This can help the convex hillside benches “fill up” with soil as well as transport soil down to the creeks.  Once in the creek the schist soil mixes in with the fast moving floodwaters.  Then as the flood waters become less turbid and start to recede the schist falls out of solution and adds soil to the alluvial flats along the creek.

 

5      The Formula for Tall Redwoods in Northern California

 

A unique set of circumstances have combined to create the spectacular redwood forests in northern California.   These forests would not be as impressive or even exist at all if even one of these ingredients was missing:

  • High annual rainfall
  • Some fog to provide moisture during the dry season
  • Temperatures above freezing year round
  • Incredibly rich schist soils which are the product of tectonic activity
  • Flooding rainfalls to move the soil into the convex benches and build the alluvial flats

Forests with tall redwoods need earthquakes and floods to thrive over the millennia.

 

6      It is Difficult to Measure the Height of Redwoods on Hillsides

 

Exceptional redwoods have been noted and measured in the northern California redwood forests for over fifty years.  Looking through the data the redwood dimensions are defined in these ways:

  • Diameter (or circumference which we recall from trignometry is pi x diameter).  This is by far the easiest dimension to measure as you walk up to the trunk and use a tape wrap or rangefinder to do the measurement.
  • Height. This can be difficult as the top of the tree needs to be hit at a distance with a rangefinder, then the height differential between the measure point and the point where the trunk meets soil needs to be determined.
  • American Forestry Points:  Trunk circumference inches plus height in feet plus one fourth average crown spread in feet.  So here the crown spread has been added as an additional measurement to base circumference and height.
  • Mass or volume. This is exceedingly difficult to measure and requires multiple measure points along the trunk as well as some kind of estimate of wood in the limbs and branches.  Based on the overall shape of the redwood formulas for different geometric cone forms can be used as an estimate.

When a tall redwood is on a hillside all these measurements become more difficult.

  • For diameter the determination of average breast height (4.5 feet) measure point can involve some judgement as the point where the trunk meets soil can be ten feet higher on the up slope side of the tree versus the down slope side of the tree.
  • For height the elevation differential between measure point and trunk elevation can become difficult. Many hillside redwood tops will measure around five hundred feet in height from a measure point on the flats but how high is the tree base above the flat?   The GPS can become a little erratic on a remote forested hillside and GPS altitude  readings are usually a little off.  So even if you get coordinates right at the trunk that may or may not be correct for altitude.

Also LiDAR has had its problems measuring trees on slopes.   If a tree leans to the downhill the height will be overestimated.  But there are also many redwood trees that lean a little uphill.  This is due to the downslope buttressing seen in many hillside redwoods.   Redwoods leaning uphill will have an underestimated LiDAR height.  By the way, this hillside buttressing is an area of controversy in determining the ground level for hillside redwoods.

Demonstrated LiDAR errors for redwoods heights are up to five percent.  This would result in an 18 foot or so error for a very tall redwood.

It is possible the tallest redwood is not Hyperion but rather a hillside redwood that has been missed so far.   It is very easy to walk right by a tall hillside redwood.  There is a chance a redwood or two growing out of a schist bench on a steep hillside slope could be taller than Hyperion.  As one redwood explorer has commented, “chance has potential”.

7      Views of Tall Redwoods Growing on Schist Filled Hillside Benches

 

Tall redwoods growing on schist filled bench above Redwood Creek tributary
Tall redwoods growing on schist filled bench above Redwood Creek tributary

 

Tall redwoods growing along schist filled bench above Lost Man Creek
Tall redwoods growing along schist filled bench above Lost Man Creek

 

8      Views of Tall Redwoods Growing on Schist Filled Alluvial Flats

 

Harper Flat. Even aged forest of tall redwoods with many fusions. Fused redwoods are clonal sprouts from same roots that fused over time as the trunks touched and grew. Even age of stand and clonal fusions due to flooding event 1,000 years ago.
Harper Flat. Even aged forest of tall redwoods with many fusions. Fused redwoods are clonal sprouts from same roots that fused over time as the trunks touched and grew. Even age of stand and bias toward clonal propagation  due to flooding event 1,000 years ago.

 

Redwood National Park Tall Trees Grove. Iconic alluvial flats grove.
Redwood National Park Tall Trees Grove. Iconic alluvial flats grove.