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Douglass sought to better understand cycles of sunspot activity and reasoned that changes in solar activity would affect climate patterns on earth, which would subsequently be recorded by tree-ring growth patterns (i.e., sunspots → climate → tree rings).Diagram of secondary growth in a tree showing idealised vertical and horizontal sections.

Visible rings result from the change in growth speed through the seasons of the year; thus, critical for the title method, one ring generally marks the passage of one year in the life of the tree.For instance, the bristlecone pine is exceptionally long-lived and slow growing, and has been used extensively for chronologies; still-living and dead specimens of this species provide tree-ring patterns going back thousands of years, in some regions more than 10,000 years. P., the radiocarbon dates are calibrated against dendrochronological dates.Currently, the maximum span for fully anchored chronology is a little over 11,000 years B. In 2004 a new radiocarbon calibration curve, INTCAL04, was internationally ratified to provide calibrated dates back to 26,000 B. Dendrochronology practice faces many obstacles, including the existence of species of ants that inhabit trees and extend their galleries into the wood, thus destroying ring structure.Dendrochronology (or tree-ring dating) is the scientific method of dating tree rings (also called growth rings) to the exact year they were formed in order to analyze atmospheric conditions during different periods in history.Dendrochronology is useful for determining the timing of events and rates of change in the environment (most prominently climate) and also in works of art and architecture, such as old panel paintings on wood, buildings, etc.The inner portion of a growth ring is formed early in the growing season, when growth is comparatively rapid (hence the wood is less dense) and is known as "early wood" (or "spring wood", or "late-spring wood" Many trees in temperate zones make one growth ring each year, with the newest adjacent to the bark.

Hence, for the entire period of a tree's life, a year-by-year record or ring pattern is formed that reflects the age of the tree and the climatic conditions in which the tree grew.

It is also used in radiocarbon dating to calibrate radiocarbon ages.

New growth in trees occurs in a layer of cells near the bark.

First, contrary to the single ring per year paradigm, alternating poor and favorable conditions, such as mid-summer droughts, can result in several rings forming in a given year.

In addition, particular tree species may present "missing rings", and this influences the selection of trees for study of long time spans.

A new layer of wood is added in each growing season, thickening the stem, existing branches and roots, to form a growth ring.