Tree planting at Northern Ireland’s oldest scientific institution; new chapter within grounds of Armagh Observatory and Planetarium

As many dog-walkers in our local community know well, the Armagh Observatory is set within an historic landscaped estate that is home to a number of astronomical exhibitions that takes the visitor through a virtual journey of the cosmos, also thanks the recent addition of a set of augmented reality interactive stations.

Over the last couple of years, a number of trees had to be felled following damage by storms or due to diseases that rendered them unsafe. This includes several trees that had stood for hundreds of years and that may even have survived dramatic meteorological events such as “the Night of the Big Wind” of 1839 (Fig.~1)

Fig 1: National Library of Ireland
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Fig 2

Figure 1. An illustration of houses and ships in Dublin being tossed around by the Big Wind of 1839, which inspired the 3rd director of the Observatory Thomas Romney Robinson to invent the cup anemometer (Fig 2), widely use today to measure wind speed.

Fortunately, the Department for Communities has now helped funding the planting of 16 trees, in an effort not only to maintain the centuries-old aesthetic of the Observatory grounds but also to help AOP leading by example in fighting climate change. Trees indeed absorb carbon from the atmosphere, thus helping to balance the increase in carbon due the burning of fossil fuels (e.g coal, petrol oil).  

Interestingly, these historic trees must have felt in their roots the more recent overall warming of our planet.  Whereas air temperature measurements are subject to erratic fluctuations dictated by the weather, underground temperatures are more stable and, as AOP’s own daily meteorological record shows (Fig. 3), can reveal the inexorable upward trajectory of climate change. 

Fig 3

Figure 3. Evidence of climate change over the past century, as shown by AOP’s temperature measurements taken 1 meter under the ground. An increase in the yearly average underground temperature is clearly visible, in particular in the last 40 years.

At AOP we are acutely aware of both the fragility of our planet and its uniqueness, as indeed study of other planets in our Solar system reveals dramatic past changes in their climate, billions of years ago. This leaves us with the responsibility to cherish our own home.

Lynne Brown, Shane Kelly, Michael Burton and Carol Corvan pitched in to help plant our new trees


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