Academic journal article Science and Children

Measuring Trees with the Speed of Sound

Academic journal article Science and Children

Measuring Trees with the Speed of Sound

Article excerpt

How do foresters and researchers see into a living tree to measure wood decay? They use sound.

Living trees can rot from the inside out, leaving only a hollowed trunk. Wood rot in living trees can cause overestimates of global carbon pools, timber loss in forestry, and poor tree health. Understanding wood decay in forests is of special concern in the tropics because tropical forests are estimated to harbor 96% of the world's tree diversity and about 25% of terrestrial carbon, compared to the roughly 10% of carbon held in temperate forests.

A research team recently established methods for using a sound wave technology called sonic tomography. Their methods were derived from measurements on more than 1,800 living trees of 173 tropical rainforest tree species in Panama.

"We don't yet know where internal decay and damage rank as a cause of tree mortality," says Greg Gilbert, lead author of the study. "Most of the decay is hidden--the tomography now allows us to see how many apparently healthy trees are actually decayed inside."

Sonic tomography sends sound waves through tree trunks. …

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