Sonic Tomography – The Future of Tree Diagnostics

Tree risk assessment is crucial for preserving public safety and property. But traditional methods only reveal issues on a tree’s exterior. What about hazards hidden inside apparently healthy trees? Enter sonic tomography, a game-changing, non-invasive technology that allows arborists to see into trees using soundwaves. This advanced diagnostic reveals internal defects before they become critical risks.

In this article, we’ll explore the incredible science behind sonic tomography and how it benefits modern tree care. You’ll learn:

  • How sonic tomography functions to map interior decay and damage.
  • Key advantages include early detection, precision mapping, comprehensive scanning, and rapid insights.
  • When to utilize sonic testing to uncover potential hidden hazards.

The Science Behind Using Sonic Tomography for Tree Risk Assessment

Sonic tomography is an innovative, non-invasive technology that allows arborists to evaluate the internal condition of trees to detect hidden decay, cavities, and cracks. This advanced method uses sound to create detailed images of wood integrity for comprehensive tree health assessment.

An orange case containing the sonic tomography unit sits open in front of a large brown tree trunk with sensors pinned to the trunk’s circumference.

Sonic Tomography is a minimally invasive technology that measures sound waves through points connected to the tree trunk. Photo used courtesy of Dr. Julian A. Dunster.

What is Sonic Tomography and How Does It Work?

Sonic tomography measures the speed of sound waves passing through a standing tree’s wood. It operates on the principle that sound waves travel slower through damaged or decayed sections compared to healthy wood.

To perform a scan, an arborist lightly inserts small nails partway around the tree’s circumference. Sensors known as transducers are then placed on each nail. The arborist taps on the nails one by one to generate sound waves originating from multiple points around the tree. The sensors track precisely how long the waves from each source point take to reach the other sensors.

The collected data is processed through proprietary software to generate a tomogram – essentially an ultrasound image of the tree’s interior.

The tomogram reveals wood density and integrity variations by mapping the sound wave velocities. Areas of slower velocity indicate potential defects like decay, cracks, or cavities. Locations of faster velocity represent structurally sound wood.

Sonic tomography produces an image called a “tomogram” that allows the arborist to assess the tree for decay or cracks.

Sonic tomography produces an image called a “tomogram” that allows the arborist to assess the tree for decay or cracks. Photo used courtesy of Dr. Julian A. Dunster.

Benefits of Using Sonic Tomography in Tree Evaluation

Sonic tomography provides multiple advantages over other methods of assessing trees:

  • Non-Invasive – It causes no damage to the tree compared to invasive techniques like drill testing. The tiny nails leave minimal traces.
  • Early Decay Detection – It reliably detects early stages of internal decay before any external symptoms appear. This allows for early interventions.
  • Precision Mapping – It produces detailed images showing the precise location and extent of defects for surgical tree care planning.
  • Comprehensive Coverage – It scans the entire interior versus sampling just isolated points. Defects between drill test locations can be missed.
  • Quick Insights – Data is processed immediately onsite, enabling prompt risk analysis versus waiting on lab results from core samples.

Minimizing Risks by Detecting Hidden Hazards

A key benefit of sonic tomography is identifying defects like decay and cracks hidden inside apparently healthy trees. This allows arborists to take proactive measures and minimize risks.

Trees often decay from the inside out, showing no external evidence until significant internal weakness already exists. Sonic scans spotlight compromised areas before they expand or trigger tree failure. This is especially critical for trees near homes, streets, parks, and public spaces.

Detailed internal maps also facilitate customized tree stabilization and safety procedures. Arborists can strategically install cables and braces to reinforce specific areas pinpointed by tomography results.

A large brown tree trunk with sensors pinned to the trunk’s circumference is receiving an evaluation using sonic tomography.

When to Use Sonic Testing in Tree Evaluation

Arborists may recommend sonic tomography in these scenarios:

  • Trees adjacent to high-target zones like houses, busy roads, parking areas, or pedestrian walkways
  • Valuable specimen trees where internal defects could compromise viability
  • Trees previously cabled and braced to verify continued structural integrity
  • Trees displaying only subtle external indicators of defects like cankers and galls
  • Confirming or further investigating deficiencies found via other methods like visual inspection or drill testing
  • Part of regular tree evaluations on an ongoing basis or interval

Sonic Tomography Enhances Modern Arboriculture

By revealing the unseen inside trees, sonic tomography provides today’s arborists with meaningful data to optimize tree preservation, health, and public safety. Used proactively, this non-invasive technology empowers science-based tree risk management. It is a prime example of how arboriculture continues adopting advanced tools to care for trees.

Sonic tomography demonstrates how innovative tools equip arborists to optimize tree preservation, health, and safety through science-based evaluation.

Interested in Having Your Trees Assessed Using Sonic Tomography?

Call Regal Tree and Shrub Experts at 774-719-2450 to schedule a consultation with a certified arborist today. With the latest technology available to assess, treat, and save your trees, we’re at the forefront of tree care! Proudly serving Bristol, Norfolk, Middlesex, and Plymouth counties, Massachusetts, and Providence County, Rhode Island.

Kevin Johnston

Kevin is the owner of Regal Tree and Shrub Experts and holds a degree in Urban Forestry from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He has more than 20 years of experience in tree care and is a Massachusetts Certified Arborist. Learn more about Kevin Johnston
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