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Power Hardware Science

Scientists Discover Link Between Trees and Electricity 173

Posted by samzenpus
from the lightning-leaf dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Everyone knows trees give us all oxygen so we can breathe, but according to Australian scientists, they also affect the concentration of positive and negative ions in the air. A team from the Queensland University of Technology's International Laboratory for Air Quality and Health ran experiments in six locations all over Brisbane and found that positive and negative ion concentrations in the air were two times higher in heavily wooded areas than in open grassy areas, such as parks."
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Scientists Discover Link Between Trees and Electricity

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 22, 2012 @08:20PM (#39446653)

    Shocking!

  • Avatar (Score:5, Funny)

    by Bananatree3 (872975) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @08:21PM (#39446671)
    The planet is one giant brain!
    • by TWX (665546)

      Damn, that was quick... I came to make the same joke...

    • Avatar reads as if someone based it on cliff notes from Alan Dean Foster's Midworld novel

  • by dgatwood (11270) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @08:21PM (#39446673) Journal

    Static electricity occurs when one thing rubs against another thing. Trees have a lot more surface area for the wind to rub against than empty fields.

    • by reverseengineer (580922) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @08:40PM (#39446781)
      That isn't the mechanism the paper is proposing. What the authors suggest is that trees uptake radon dissolved in groundwater, transpire it into the air, and that it is the radioactive decay of radon that would be responsible for the ions released by trees.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      Static electricity occurs when one thing rubs against another thing . Trees have a lot more surface area for the wind to rub against than empty fields.

      Is that the feeling we get from sex?

    • by calzones (890942)

      Trees wear rubber-soled shoes?

    • by TheCarp (96830)

      However, they don't have an insulator creating a space between the leaves and the ground. If this explanation ends up being it, then I would imagine it like being in a very large, air dielectric, capacitor. The ions are dielectric loss in the huge and oddly constructed capacitor. Even though each leaf is small and, while it might build a reasonable voltage, I have never gotten a shock from touching a leaf, so I am thinking there isn't much charge per unit area....but.... all those leaves make for a pretty g

    • by Dahamma (304068)

      Interesting and insightful, really? Mods obviously don't RTFA any more than any one else here.

      Though I would have modded it funny, maybe. Especially if you picture someone rubbing the trees with a gigantic balloon...

      • Though I would have modded it funny, maybe. Especially if you picture someone rubbing the trees with a gigantic balloon...

        Or a tiny cat.

        Bad kitty, bad!

      • by siddesu (698447)
        This joke hasn't been funny since Karl May published "The Ghost of Llano Estacado".
  • This has been known (Score:5, Informative)

    by Kagetsuki (1620613) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @08:41PM (#39446795)

    This has been known for a very long time and it's very much common knowledge. Ambient negative ion levels can even be obtained through weather services in my country. My Daikin air conditioner even claims to keep ambient ion levels at "lush forest" levels and it's not near new. Just do a google search for "forest negative ion" and you'll find tons of products and articles on the subject. Why is this at all news?

    • by Tehrasha (624164)
      No kidding. For example, high ozone concentrations in forests is decades old news.
      • Trees produce pollution! And pollution is good, without it we wouldn't have the Smoky Mountains! /Reagan

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Not new. The paper's proposed mechanism (transpiring radon brought up from the ground) might be.

    • What are the implications? Do the levels of various ions in the air impact human health in any way? How do they differ in cities vs suburbs vs the countryside?
      • by Kagetsuki (1620613) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @10:31PM (#39447345)

        A few searches will give you quite a few hits for detailed analysis but I'll give you a quick rundown of how I understand it:

        What are the implications?

        Higher concentrations of negative ions in the air basically leads to "cleaner" air. The basic idea is that the negative ions are attracted to positively charged particulates which they latch on to and break down. Negative ions can also break down bacteria. More details in this wikipedia article: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Air_ioniser [wikipedia.org]

        Do the levels of various ions in the air impact human health in any way?

        Yes but I'm not personally aware of how much and I'm not sure how much scientific study could have a corporate bias behind it (to sell air purifiction technologies). Reguardless, it's pretty much been scientifically proven that particular levels of negative ions (not too much, but above a certain level) have human health benefits. Some studies I've seen claim negative ion rich environments make the environment more physicall comfortable (more refreshed and energized) to the body which leads to higher energy and lower stress - and personally that's why I purchased higher quality air conditioners and filtration units which I do *feel* make my living and working spaces more comfortable.

        How do they differ in cities vs suburbs vs the countryside?

        I'm assuming it is -generally- true that cities would likely have lower concentrations than the suburbs which would in turn have lower concentrations than the countryside.

  • by FairAndHateful (2522378) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @08:52PM (#39446835)
    At first I was thinking "more positive and negative ions... Wouldn't they be attracted to each other and take care of that? Then I read TFA.

    "Trees act as radon pumps, bringing the gas to the surface and releasing it to the atmosphere through transpiration - a process where water absorbed by the root system is evaporated into the atmosphere from leaves. This is especially prevalent for trees with deep root systems, such as eucalypts."

    The QUT scientists estimated that, in a eucalyptus forest, trees may account for up to 37 per cent of the radon in the air when transpiration rates were highest.

    So... If I go into the forest, I'm more likely to be breathing radon, and at greater concentrations? Um... I do like the trees, but from this I'm not sure the feeling is mutual...

  • This is cooler (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 22, 2012 @08:54PM (#39446839)

    http://www.livescience.com/5711-electricity-harvested-trees.html

    Trees actually produce a small current when a nail is inserted into them and connected to a ground. It is not via the same mechanism as a battery.

  • There was a guy I read about in one of those kooky FORBIDDEN SCIENCE books you have to order from the back page of a catalog that also sells spirit crystals, dream catchers and cheap swords. I didn't get to read the entire chapter on him, but he was utilizing a system of rods stuck into the ground hear trees to harness energy. It seemed to be pseudo-science of the most laughable sort at the time, but now, I dunno. He could have been on to something.
  • Wot??? (Score:4, Informative)

    by the eric conspiracy (20178) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @11:23PM (#39447607)

    > Everyone knows that trees give us all oxygen so we can breathe

    I certainly don't know any such thing. In fact I thought forests were net zero oxygen because when trees die the decay of the tree consumes as much oxygen as the tree produced during its life. Not to mention that of course at night the tree is burning the sugars it made during the day by photosynthesis.

    Plankton is where there is a possible net oxygen increase because when they go dead they can sink, and when that happens they don't decay.

    • by CesiumFrog (41314)

      > Everyone knows that trees give us all oxygen so we can breathe

      I certainly don't know any such thing. In fact I thought forests were net zero oxygen because when trees die the decay of the tree consumes as much oxygen as the tree produced during its life. Not to mention that of course at night the tree is burning the sugars it made during the day by photosynthesis.

      If that were true, why does the global atmospheric CO2 concentration (whilst obviously increasing year after year) have a seasonal oscillation with its phase matched to the growing season of the northern hemisphere (which has an excess of forests rather than ocean)?

      Plankton is where there is a possible net oxygen increase because when they go dead they can sink, and when that happens they don't decay.

      It might be the production of carbon-rich soil that you're overlooking.

      • >why does the global atmospheric CO2 concentration (whilst obviously increasing year after year) have a seasonal oscillation

        Seasonal oscillations are perfectly consistent within the context of a next zero. Just make the measurement at the same time each year. It's time series analysis 101.

        > It might be the production of carbon-rich soil that you're overlooking.

        Production of carbon-rich soil is one part of the forest carbon cycle. There is also a balancing destruction of carbon rich soil due to biologi

  • The ratio between wooded and grass would turn u a number. So what.
    We need an absolute reference as well.

    Otherwise they might change the ambient by 0.0002% and grasslands by 0.0001%
  • The article seems to imply that radon gar is actually taken up and transpired by trees, but that isn't really the case, is it? I think it's more likely the radon gas is being precipitated* from ground water as tree roots take it up. The consequences are of course still the same, I'm just questioning the implied mechanism.

    * (Wrong verb?)

  • Perhaps the trees aren't directly responsible for the findings -- I mean, the story makes it sound like the trees are actually creating electricity themselves,but perhaps it is more a result of wooded areas, meaning that since the wooded areas tend to give wind resistance, the wind is less likely to disperse these negative ions, so they tend to become more concentrated there.
  • I'm working on my Master Gardener certification. And I can tell you that EVERY element trees absorb or expel is ionized. Trees don't interact with anything but anions and cations. So there's that! Nothing a $250 course in plants wouldn't have taught you!

  • Negative ions at double the concentration sounds bad (who like negativity?). But positive ions sound good (I like positive).

    So - is this a Good Thing or a Bad Thing? Or is it just an observation?

It seems that more and more mathematicians are using a new, high level language named "research student".

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