News
News Home
Quick Bites
Exploradio
News Archive
News Channel
Special Features
NPR
nowplaying
On AirNewsClassical
Loading...
  
School Closings
WKSU Support
Funding for WKSU is made possible in part through support from the following businesses and organizations.

NOCHE

Greater Akron Chamber

Hennes Paynter Communications


For more information on how your company or organization can support WKSU, download the WKSU Media Kit.

(WKSU Media Kit PDF icon )


Donate Your Vehicle to WKSU

Programs Schedule Make A Pledge Member BenefitsFAQ/HelpContact Us
Science and Technology




Exploradio: A tree falls in the woods
Scientists from around the world come to Davey Tree's research farm to gather data on the biomechanics of falling trees
by WKSU's JEFF ST. CLAIR
This story is part of a special series.


Reporter / Host
Jeff St. Clair
 
Lothar Goecke, right, leads a team of German researchers measuring the amount of force needed to pull down a young pin oak. The data gathered at Davey Tree's research farm in Northeast Ohio is used to determine critical strain models for tree safety worldwide.
Courtesy of Jeff St.Clair
Download (WKSU Only)
In The Region:

Trees are an integral part of our Northeast Ohio landscape. But trees felled by storms cause hundreds of millions of dollars in damage each year.  Likewise, keeping trees healthy and upright can be challenging.  

In this week’s Exploradio, WKSU’s Jeff St.Clair takes us to an international gathering of scientists studying the biomechanics of how trees topple, tilt, and heal.

LISTEN: Exploradio: A tree falls in the woods

Other options:
Windows Media / MP3 Download (5:19)


The sound of one tree falling
A trio of German tree scientists cranks away on a mechanical winch. They’re tightening a cable anchored to a young pin oak, apparently trying to discover whether a tree falling in the woods makes a sound. The answer arrives like a gun shot, as the oak begins to snap under nearly three tons of pressure.

Researcher Steffen Rust says the crowd watching the demonstration at Davey Tree’s Portage County research farm was betting against the Germans. He says the locals laughed, saying, "'You will never break a pin oak.’”

Finally the young tree gives way, bent double in splintered submission. Scattered applause celebrates the effort.

It wasn’t to test the metaphysics of a tree falling in the woods that drew Rust and arborists from around the world to the 40-acre tract in Shalersville. They came for a week of field research and symposia on the biomechanics of falling, toppling  and tilting trees.

Rust says they are toppling trees, “to find thresholds of safety for trees to estimate the load when a tree will break in the wind." But he acknowledges it would take a very strong wind indeed to flatten pin oaks.

Root damage in urban landscapes
In another part of the Davey research farm, workers use air knives to strip away soil from the roots of a London plane tree.

Andreas Detter, a tree consultant from Bavaria, is excavating the roots, "looking for cracks, deformations, failures in the root zone – so we can correlate them with a specific degree of inclination.”

Detter and his team tilt the trees and then scour the roots to gather data to build their computer model. His goal is to predict the likelihood of root-damaged trees toppling in the urban landscape where roots are often severed when repairing pavement, or constructing a house. He says the field tests allow him, "to analyze whether that tree is still stable enough so we can give it time to recover from damages that have been done.”


The biomechanics of 'system hardening'
Washington state tree expert John Goodfellow uses a digital scale to weigh a leafy branch that dangles from the end of a crane. Goodfellow and engineers with the Electric Power Research Institute are measuring what happens when a falling branch hits a substitute power line.

“We’re looking at the strike force of tree failure as it might affect the power system and subsequently outages and all that kind of thing…”

Goodfellow was one of the experts brought in 10 years ago to review the causes of the 2003 blackout, when overloaded power lines dipping onto unpruned trees began a cascade of failures that spread from Ohio -- blackening half of New England and parts of Canada and Chicago.

He calls it a watershed event in the study of how trees affect infrastructure, and the regulatory environment that exists today.

His experiment ready, Goodfellow counts-down…“3,2,1...” as a tree branch crashes onto a steel pipe.  Both are outfitted with accelerometers.

Goodfellow determines the impact force by measuring the rate of deceleration. He says, “it’s not how fast it’s going - it’s how fast it stops," that causes damage. Goodfellow says these types of experiments provide data for utility engineers working on what he calls ‘system hardening.’

He says utilities want to make the overhead power system more durable with upgrades to cross arms and poles, but have very little field data on which to base the redesigns. 

Tending champion trees
The crane used in the testing is owned by Mark Hoenigman of Busy Bee tree service in Novelty, Ohio. Rather than testing the biomechanics of trees falling, he specializes in keeping his favorite ones healthy and upright.

“I have a number of customers who have some big red oaks that are just gorgeous.  One of them is state champion northern red oak.”

Hoenigman looks at how soil chemistry, root health and nutrient flow act as preventatives.

He says, “if you can increase the health of the soil and get it in a good balance, the tree will take care of itself.”


The tree laboratory
The Davey Tree research farm is littered with the remains of trees sacrificed in the name of biomechanics research.  But resource manager Ward Peterson says that’s part of the plan, “Davey planted these trees in the early 1960s.”

About a dozen species - maple, ash, oak, pine, London plane trees and others - grow in neat plots. Peterson says most are genetically identical clones that allow for reproducible experiments, “So it gives the researcher just the perfect laboratory.” 

At Davey’s research farm, when a tree falls in the woods and a scientist is there to hear it, the sound is data.

(Click image for larger view.)

Add Your Comment
Name:

Location:

E-mail: (not published, only used to contact you about your comment)


Comments:




 
Page Options

Print this page

E-Mail this page / Send mp3

Share on Facebook



Support for Exploradio
provided by:








Stories with Recent Comments

Ohio becomes first in the nation to dump PARCC testing
Best test to use for elementary schools is the old pre common core Iowa test of basic skills. This test measures apples to apples and tests the skills appropri...

Ohio is moving forward with new standardized tests
Mr Chow, Nice piece on testing. Should not Ohio go to an open bid process for the new assessment contract? Ohio has stayed with a "connected" DC non-profit fo...

The Surpreme Court gay-marriage decision plays out in Ohio Amish country
Keep in mind that the majority of the people residing in Holmes County are Amish, a church people who do not vote because they do not believe in governmental ru...

Akron council committee recommends Forney for its opening
Which committee member voted for Wilhite?

Nearly a dozen Cuyahoga gay couples get licenses to marry after the Supreme Court ruling
Presiding Judge Anthony J. Russo a graduate of Chanel High School and supposed member of St. Francis Parish in Gates Mills has just excommunicated himself. As ...

Canton Youth Symphony is named orchestra of the year
This is what makes CSO the hippest small town orchestra in America!

What can be expected if Ohio's tobacco taxes increase?
let's face it! The increase has little to do with smoking cessation

Rare Cleveland Indians photo from 1911 hits the auction block
Paddy Livingston, who cut his teeth on a Louisville Slugger in Kent, Ohio was one of the immortals that played in that game. He was the catcher. Ty Cobb actuall...

Nexus denies Green's request to relocate its planned gas pipeline
These people have so much power. Too much. They could care less about the people they leave when it is done. Spectra does not, and admits, they do not do the...

Copyright © 2015 WKSU Public Radio, All Rights Reserved.

 
In Partnership With:

NPR PRI Kent State University

listen in windows media format listen in realplayer format Car Talk Hosts: Tom & Ray Magliozzi Fresh Air Host: Terry Gross A Service of Kent State University 89.7 WKSU | NPR.Classical.Other smart stuff. NPR Senior Correspondent: Noah Adams Living on Earth Host: Steve Curwood 89.7 WKSU | NPR.Classical.Other smart stuff. A Service of Kent State University