The University of Arizona's "tree-ringers" are celebrating their move this weekend from "temporary" headquarters in the bowels of Arizona Stadium to a light-filled aerie above the stolid brick of the mathematics annex.

The Bryant Bannister Tree Ring Laboratory provides new offices and laboratories for a program that was housed for 75 years in temporary space beneath the bleachers of the football stadium.

The $12 million project is primarily financed by a gift from Agnese Haury, the widow of one of the program's founders.

Her late husband, Emil Haury, was the Southwest's pre-eminent archaeologist when the new science of dendrochronology was conceived by astronomer A.E. Douglass. He originally wanted to correlate tree-ring growth to a long-running record of sunspots, thinking he could show the effect of those coronal mass ejections on the Earth's weather.

That didn't pan out, but when he teamed up with Haury, they were able to answer important scientific questions in archaeology - dramatically dating the great pueblos of the Southwest by comparing tree rings on timbers used in them to standing ancient trees in the region.

A new science, dendrochronology, was born, and it continues to expand where it began.

The laboratories of the new building illustrate that expansion. There is space, still, for dendro-archaeology, its floor already blackened from the charred timbers under investigation.

Adjacent labs allow for such things as analysis of chemical isotopes.

A suite of labs is devoted to climate studies. Researchers there use an increasingly sophisticated analysis of "early" and "late" wood in tree rings to reconstruct records of precipitation and streamflow - a history that could predict our future under changing climate regimes.

The new building was a long time coming. Douglass was told his quarters were temporary when the lab was created in 1937. Malcolm Hughes, renowned climate researcher and former director of the Tree-Ring Lab, said he was promised new digs when he was recruited to the university in 1983.

It took a private donation of $9 million from Agnese Haury to finally make it happen. "That's the way it is today," Hughes said.

The building is another modern addition to the traditionally red-brick campus from the Phoenix architectural and design firm of Richärd + Bauer, which also designed the award-winning copper-clad addition to the Aden Meinel Optical Sciences Building.

It is supposed to evoke a tree-house. Its lobby trunk is circular and translucent. The two floors above it are squared off, adorned and partially shaded on three sides with what look like giant wind chimes, designed to flow in the wind without knocking into each other.

They are the leaves of the tree canopy.

The occupants of the building had mixed opinions about its exterior, but raved about its interior feel and utility.

"We were troglodytes for so long," said senior research specialist Rex Adams, whose former cave was in the windowless basement of the Mathematics East building, which the Tree-Ring Lab now overhangs.

"I didn't know what natural light was," Adams said.

The laboratory gained extra space for an auditorium and conference rooms. They were both fully in use Thursday as workers put finishing touches on the building.

Tours will be given today, and researchers will be on hand to explain their work.

Exhibits include a 2-ton slice of a giant sequoia formerly on display in the Arizona State Museum that now dominates the lobby exhibition area.

Hanging on a wall is a slab from Prometheus - a bristlecone pine that was cut down by a geological researcher who didn't realize he was killing the world's oldest known tree specimen.

Most of the museum's collection of more than 2 million wood specimens remains in temporary storage, awaiting the remodeling of the Mathematics East building into a climate-controlled archive.


• What: Open house at the Bryant Bannister Tree Ring Laboratory.

• When: Today, , 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

• Where: 1215 E. Lowell St.

Guided one-hour tours every half-hour. Hands-on demonstrations of tree-coring. The last tour will begin at 3 p.m.

• Admission: Free.

• Parking: Sixth Street Garage, 1201 E. Sixth St. Free.

Contact reporter Tom Beal at or 573-4158.