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A 'breathing' tree?

Cheryl Santa Maria, staff writer
November 15, 2012 — In September, Tonie from Fort St. John, B.C. sent us a video with roots that appeared to be heaving under the earth.

Rain can cause the ground to become saturated, 'loosening' the soil's cohesion with the roots
Rain can cause the ground to become saturated, 'loosening' the soil's cohesion with the roots

Trees breathe by taking in carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen in a process called photosynthesis.

But unlike humans, this doesn't involve inhaling and exhaling -- which is exactly what this tree appears to be doing.

"In the morning the wind had been strong, so we decided to take a walk to the beach," Tonie explained when he uploaded his video to The Weather Network website.

"While walking I [stopped] and [found] the ground under me ... moving. We found that the roots were causing the ground to move."

According to Mark Vanderwouw, a certified arborist at Shady Lane Expert Tree Care in Newmarket, Ontario, this optical illusion has nothing to do with actual 'breathing' -- and everything to do with the weather.

"During a rain and windstorm event the ground becomes saturated, 'loosening' the soil's cohesion with the roots as the wind is blowing on the tree's crown," he explains.

"The wind is trying to 'push' the tree over, and as the force is transferred to the roots, and the begins to 'heave'. If the winds were strong enough and lasted long enough more roots would start to break and eventually the tree would topple."

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