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William Peck: Carbon Isotopes of Historical Maple Syrup Collections: A Unique Record of Long-Term Sugar Bush Health

By Upstate Institute on January 1, 2010
Professor William Peck

William Peck

The following is a faculty research project supported by the Upstate Institute:

William Peck, Department of Geology

Maple syrup production is an important upstate economy, and its supplementary income helps make family farms economically viable. The maple syrup industry in the US is currently threatened by a variety of environmental and economic factors, some of which especially affect Upstate producers.

I propose to examine a unique health record of sugar bushes: the chemistry of maple syrup archived by producers. The ratio of the different masses of carbon incorporated in sugars (13C vs12C) is sensitive to chemical reactions that occur during photosynthesis, and thus can be used to detect changing environmental conditions such as atmospheric composition or mean annual temperature. With the help of the Cornell and UVM Maple Syrup Extension Services I will locate producers with old syrup samples (apparently it is not uncommon to keep the ‘test samples’ from each year’s syrup). This will be coupled with analysis of this spring’s syrup production from different ecological zones within the state. I hope that this study provides useful data on the decade-scale health of sugar maples in New York and helps us understand the possible cumulative effects of pollution, disease, and climate change on the maple syrup industry.

This article was published in the February 1, 2010 edition of the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry. It was also highlighted in the online research report for Nature.

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