A New Way to See Healthy Trees

Could tree doctors be a new thing in the future? Well maybe not, but we are learning methods to check on the health of various trees, like the recent sonic tomograph used by the Urban Forestry division in Missoula.

The Urban Forestry division has been cataloguing the trees among the streets all over Missoula, and they have also been tracking the health of these trees. For the majority of trees they could easily place them in a healthy category or a dangerous category, in which they needed to be replaced. But there were a number of trees that were not clear based on just looking at them. They had qualities of both deterioration and healthiness. These trees were where the Sonic Tomograph was employed.

The Sonic Tomograph works by placing probes with sensors around the trunk of the tree. From there sound waves are released from the probes, and the sensors check for how long it takes the sound to travel through the tree trunk. The slower the sound waves, the less healthy the tree tends to be. This is because it will move slower through the tree if there are decays or hollow areas in the tree causing the waves to bounce around instead of making it back to the sensor quickly.

The biggest problem with the use of this device though is sound waves can be damaging to the trees when they are ‘injected’ like this, if the sound waves are too strong. This means cheaper versions of these tomographs can cause serious damage to trees, but expensive models work fine. That makes them a very costly expense, but incredibly useful to cities. For now, we are unlikely to see Sonic Tomographs used all across the US, because of this cost otherwise we start damaging the trees ourselves, which defeats the purpose of checking them out.

However, if we can find a way to improve the tomograph, it does seem like the most effective way of checking the insides of a tree without severely damaging or removing anything from the tree, like cross-sections and other methods tend to cause. But if you see a tree that doesn’t look too health you can contact your city about the issue, as it could result in some traffic problems in the future.

Remember, the health of our trees are important, they give us our oxygen!