Field Assessment of Downed Timber Strength Deterioration Rate and Wood Quality Using Acoustic Technologies
Hurricane and tornado events cause significant damage to high-value timber in the United States each year. Forest managers and landowners are keenly interested in finding olutions to salvage and repurpose these downed timbers before they cause pest infestations and fire outbreaks, completely losing their value or increasing processing costs. To better understand the wood quality of the downed timber, we used acoustic waves techniques as a nondestructive testing approach to assess the wood degradation rate of downed trees and determine the extent of fracture and voids in the damaged regions. We periodically monitored the acoustic velocity of the downed trees for 12 consecutive months using a time of flight (TOF) acoustic method. Acoustic measurements were conducted using three different techniques—longitudinal, transverse, and off-set methods. Wood density, age, and the diameter at breast height (dbh) class measurement for southern timber (chip-nsaw for dbh 8”–11” and sawtimber with dbh 12” and up) were used as the predictive parameters of the downed trees. The results indicated positive relationships between dbh class, stand age, and acoustic velocity measurement (R2 > 65%). The TOF acoustic velocity was indicated to potentially separate higher-stiffness timber from lower-stiffness timber in a hurricane event for structural or non-structural applications. The regression coefficient from the repeated measurements indicated that both age and diameter class strongly impacted the acoustic properties of the downed trees (p-value 0.001). The sawtimber dbh class recorded a higher acoustic velocity compared to the chip-n-saw type. Fracture, voids, and massive decay in downed trees were detected beyond the visible inspection, features that often are identified by loggers in lower quality wood; however, TOF showed a weak response in picking up incremental deterioration due to changes in specific environmental factors that affected acoustic readings. This study showed that acoustic wave methods could potentially be used as a field evaluation tool for assessing the quality of downed trees.