Something is up with those trees.
They didn't grow any larger or suddenly become sentient, but the trees outside the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant are definitely acting weird, according to a new study published earlier this month in the journal Plants.
Researchers from multiple universities in Italy and Brazil studied fir trees growing near the plant, which was destroyed in 2011 following a severe earthquake. The scientists studied whorls — nodes where leaves, branches or other plant parts grow from a central point — and found that fir trees around Fukushima exhibited weird growth patterns around them.
"These conifers showed irregular branching at the main axis whorls," reads the study, spotted by Newsweek. "The frequency of these anomalies corresponded to the environmental radiation dose rate at the observed sites."
The more radiation, in other words, the weirder the trees got.
Circle of Life
It's pretty interesting that trees affected by nuclear radiation grow in funky patterns and are still affected by material in the soil near Fukushima. But even more important is the team's goal of learning how to better take care of people caught up in similar, future disasters, and to create better emergency management plans.
"Ten years have passed since the FNPP accident, and still the large-scale effects are visible," the researchers concluded. "Learning from past incidents and implementing this knowledge can make a significant difference in terms of lives and costs in healthcare management."
We may not always be good stewards of the environment around us, but nature seems happy to provide cautionary tales for humanity to learn from all the same.
More on Fukushima weirdness: Scientists Monitoring Radioactive Snakes Near Fukushima Meltdown Site