The origins of shake and drought crack in trees


Under controlled conditions, this project will reproduce the varying sequences of soil moisture conditions experienced by a growing tree and attempt to replicate the climactic conditions thought to be partially-responsible for causing fractures in the wood of living trees. A portable Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) instrument is being used to visualise internal fluid distributions within the trees as a function of soil moisture content. These fluid distributions will help to develop and validate a fluid dynamics simulation of the tree’s water transportation system. This should enable us to calculate the stresses in the trees resulting from the moisture distributions, and therefore determine if cracking is likely to occur.

Coil in tree

Research objectives

  • To determine if the origin of drought cracking and shake in living trees is partially related to fluid mechanics and, if so, what sequences of moisture conditions are responsible.

  • To produce a realistic simulation of fluid dynamics at the scale of wood cell walls and to verify the results of the simulation using non-invasive imaging techniques.

Results so far



This project was started in October 2016, with the intention to publish a thesis by October 2020.

Related Resources

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)


Sam Henderson