going with the flow
exploring ecotechnologies in practice
about this contribution
Trees, scientists, artists, and their instruments sense how water flows. Trees take risks during the growing season by boosting transpiration (sap flow) or they hold back. Veins expanding, contracting. Water is pulled upwards from the soil to the air, passing by tree stems. But if drought occurs, trees could die.
Scientists and trees are both sensing in tandem with environmental conditions. Because of its regular fluctuations, the process can be compared to the pulse of a heart. During daytime, trees transpire, resulting in stem water movement. This decreases from the outer to the inner sapwood, and because of dehydration, stem shrinkage ensues. During the night, the stem swells due to rehydration and water recharge. Pulling, funneling, decreasing, expanding. The pulsing relays these functions in relation with light and atmospheric humidity.
Scientists monitor the tree stem with heated needles, and encircle the tree trunks with straps and machines. A dendrometer quantifies the changes in the stem’s size due to swelling, shrinkage, and growth, rendering it in microns. On July 3, 2020, for a mature sugar maple tree, its diameter was 355000.13 μm at 3:00 pm and 355062.47 μm at midnight. On the same day and for the same tree, a sap flow sensor combined with a data logger and algorithms reported the transpiration in centimeters per hour : 1.05 cm/h at 5:00 am and 14.89 cm/h at 2:00 pm. The sampling concurs, the tree is constantly changing. The tree’s experience is shared with humans. Building together, from experience, the knowledge about and in changing climates, opening up to multiplicities, embracing ecotechnologies in practice: the tree’s own, the instrumentation and the milieu of co-occurrence. Visualizations weave relations of this meeting between quantitative and qualitative sensing, an interoperability with computers. Is this data fidelity? Here, sap flow becomes a series of dots, densifying, the tree water deficit is inferred by the changing dimensions of the intervals between lines, pointing to local changes and changes in the tree. Still. Flowing. On.
Christoforos Pappas, civil engineer, researcher and professor in geosciences
Daniel Kneeshaw, forest ecologist and professor
Gisèle Trudel, artist and professor
Marie-Eve Morissette, designer and master’s student in digital design
designers: Gisèle Trudel, Marie-Eve Morissette
project manager: Manon Huberland
editorial mediation: Jean Dubois
financial support: The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the Canadian Foundation for Innovation, the Fonds de recherche du Québec – Société et culture.
acknowledgements: Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM in Tiohtiá:ke/Montreal) is situated on the traditional territory of the Kanien’kehà:ka, a place which has long served as a site of meeting and exchange amongst many First Nations including the Kanien’kehá:ka of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, Huron/Wendat, Abenaki, and Anishinaabeg.
references and rights
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Copyright 2022 All photos by Gisèle Trudel, on location at Smartforests Canada research site at Sainte-Émélie-de-L’Énergie, Québec. Reproduced with permission.
bibliography and references
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This article is using Chicago format for its references
Acer Saccharum, Kneeshaw, D., Morissette, M.-E., Pappas, C., Trudel, G. et al. 2023. “Going with the Flow: Exploring Ecotechnologies in Practice.” .able journal: https://able-journal.org/going-with-the-flow