What Does a Dying Forest Sound Like?

What Does a Dying Forest Sound Like?

As temperatures rise, scientists scramble to pinpoint trees in danger of drought

Populus tremuloides

Severe drought killed this stand of trembling aspen trees, Populus tremuloides, near Fairplay, Colorado. (William Anderegg)

By Maya Wei-Haas

You can actually hear a tree dying.

No, it doesn’t scream in pain as a denim-clad lumberjack joyfully chops its trunk. However, during the increasingly common periods of extreme drought and heat, a tree’s slow desiccation becomes audible through a microphone pressed to its trunk.

“It sounds a little like popcorn popping—little cracks and pops,” says William Anderegg, a biologist at Princeton University.

The process that leads to the crackling noise is one of several that scientists are studying to better understand how trees react to drought and heat. With the loss of millions of trees as global temperatures continue their upward march, this information could help scientists more accurately predict which trees are most in danger, leading to improved climate models as well as better management of forests during periods of drought. Read more.