This Tree Produces Psychedelic Art By Using Sensors to Monitor Its Own Health

Trees are nature’s record keepers. They document their lives through annual growth rings hidden behind their bark, and for those that know how to read this arboreal script, the rings tell a detailed story. They reveal insect infestations and disease, forest fires and droughts, and general climate conditions throughout the tree’s life.

If there are any trees left in the future, their rings will show how our species struggled to limit our carbon emissions and poisoned the Earth. Due to the timescales involved in climate change, its effects are difficult for humans to see on a day-to-day basis, but it will be clear enough in the annual record of the trees.

But what if there was a way to use the natural climate monitoring ability of trees to convey the urgency of climate change to ordinary people? This is the motivating idea behind Voice of Nature, an installation created by the Dutch environmental artist Thijs Biersteker.

Sensor attached to the tree

A sensor attached to the tree. Image: Thijs Biersteker

While Biersteker didn’t downplay the importance of environmental research occurring right now, he said his project is less about producing new scientific insights than figuring out how to communicate climate data in a way that makes sense to non-researchers.

As an example of what this looks like in practice, Biersteker recalled how during the installation of the artwork, there was a prolonged period without any rain.

“We asked if someone could water the tree, but everyone was busy,” Biersteker said. “Once we connected our moist level sensor to the tree and showed the data indicating the tree was thirsty, there was someone with a waterhose within 15 minutes. I think that was a good demonstration of how we trust data more than our eyes these days.”