Researchers measure cavitation noise in trees

April 17, 2013 by Bob Yirka, report
Image: Wikipedia.

( —A team of researchers from Grenoble University in France has found that under experimental conditions, roughly half of the noise created by drying wood is due to cavitation. The team made this discovery while studying the noises trees make in drought conditions. They presented their findings at last month's American Physical Society meeting.

Scientists have known for many years that trees make noise, and not from just the creaking that occurs as wind pushes them back and forth. Trees also emit noise that is too high in frequency for the to hear. Past research suggests that the noises trees make change if they're not getting enough water, and at least some of that noise is likely due to cavitation. Cavitation occurs when form in the tubes (xylem) that run up and down , preventing water from being pulled upward—in some cases it causes the tree to die. What has remained a mystery, however, is how much of the noise coming from trees during times of is due to cavitation, and how much from other sources, such as cell breakage.

To find out, the team in France cut very thin slices of wood that preserved the xylem structure, and soaked them in a special gel that mimicked the wet environment of a living tree. Then, the researchers slowly exposed the wood to dry air, creating drought-like conditions, all the while making both audio and video recordings of what occurred as the wood grew drier. In so doing, they found that at least half of the noise emitted from the drying wood came from cavitation. They also found that the sounds made by cavitation were distinguishable from other sounds made by the wood as it was drying out.

Gaining a better understanding of the noises trees make under different conditions is important because it could one day provide a means for diagnosing , most specifically, how close a tree is to dying when it's not getting enough water. Knowing which sounds to look for when studying trees living in regions where weather is changing due to global warming can help with forestry management—early detection, via a type of tree stethoscope, could alert authorities to problems before they become too difficult to solve.

Explore further: Researchers find trees worldwide more sensitive to drought than previously thought

More information: Abstract: W28.00001 : Cavitation in trees monitored using simultaneously acoustics and optics, Bulletin of the American Physical Society,

Under hydric stress, in dry weather conditions, the sap within trees may reach extreme negative pressures and cavitate: bubbles appear, which eventually causes an embolism in the circulation. It has been shown that cavitation is associated with short acoustic emissions, and they can be recorded in the ultrasound range. However the precise origin of each acoustic emission is still not clear. In particular, the acoustic emissions could be not only the consequence of cavitation, but also of the collapse of xylem conduits, or of fractures in the wood. Here we present an original set-up where we can simultaneously record (i) the acoustic emissions, (ii) the location of cavitation events, by imaging the sap channels under light transmission microscopy. We are then able to correlate the sounds to the visible changes in channels, such as the appearance of cavitation bubbles. We hope the results of the present study might help to better understand the acoustic signals emitted by trees, and to obtain further information in the evolution of wood under dry stress conditions.

Related Stories

Why juniper trees can live on less water

February 27, 2008

An ability to avoid the plant equivalent of vapor lock and a favorable evolutionary history may explain the unusual drought resistance of junipers, some varieties of which are now spreading rapidly in water-starved regions ...

The case of the dying aspens

December 12, 2011

Over the past 10 years, the death of forest trees due to drought and increased temperatures has been documented on all continents except Antarctica. This can in turn drive global warming by reducing the amount of carbon dioxide ...

Recommended for you

The melodious mouse that sings for sex

April 25, 2018

A small, brown mouse found in the forests of Central America bucks the rodent trend of conversing in high-pitched squeaks often inaudible to the human ear.

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1 / 5 (3) Apr 17, 2013
The tree of life - an intuitive approach to an evolution of trees.
Every life form communicates. Humans can replicate any sound.
Even the Big Bang:
Humans can replicate/record any sound.
Played back and listen to all the sounds you made in the first three years of your life. Will you ever be able to recognize yourself?
The project - the tree of life - is a tribute long overdue. The reverence for life is represented by a tree. Now we pay respect the sounds of trees as well. And continue we will... to learn.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.