SANTA FE (AP) — For a plant physiologist whose research points to a looming disaster in the world as we know it, Nate G. McDowell is a surprisingly upbeat guy.
“I’m excited. This is such an awesome project,” said McDowell, a Los Alamos National laboratory staff scientist, as he gave a tour of his latest research site near Bandelier National Monument.
In a way, McDowell’s getting to do what he loved as a boy growing up in Washington state’s Olympic rainforest — run around in the woods. Only now, his play has evolved into critical research modeling the death of New Mexico pinons and junipers as temperatures climb and drought deepens.
McDowell steps inside one of the cylindrical plexiglass and steel chambers near two of the trees he’s likely to kill in his research. It is blisteringly hot inside already at 9:30 a.m. He confesses to loving trees, “dead or alive.”
“I do think about that (killing trees),” McDowell said, acknowledging a twinge of guilt now and then. “But we have to kill the trees to understand how they die. Not a lot of them, just a few.”