The forest is displeased. Trees are wobbling, the wind is howling, and huge tufts of Earth are rising and falling as if lifted by a humongous pair of lungs pumping just below the soil.
That's certainly what it looks like in a recent video making the rounds on social media. Filmed earlier this month in a forest in Sacre-Coeur, Quebec, Canada, the clip shows what appears to be the Earth itself doing a deep-breathing exercise, lurching up and down with unsettling force.
It's not an earthquake. It's not an Ent from "The Lord of the Rings." And it's not, thankfully, the snoring of some vengeful forest deity, marshalling her power before lashing out at whoever has been dumping cat poop into the nearby St. Lawrence River.
The real explanation is much less whimsical, and much less terrifying. Simply put, it's the wind.
"During a rain- and wind-storm event, the ground becomes saturated, 'loosening' the soil's cohesion with the roots as the wind is blowing on a tree's crown," Mark Vanderwouw, and arborist working with Shady Lane Expert Tree Care in Ontario, Canada, told The Weather Network. "The wind is trying to 'push' the trees over, and as the force is transferred to the roots, the ground begins to 'heave.'"
OK, maybe that is sort of epic and terrifying. It's a clash between the elements: wind versus root, air versus Earth. The terrestrial forces seem to have won this skirmish. However, Vanderwouwadded, if the wind blew a little harder or lasted a little longer, the tree roots would likely start snapping, and the forest would start to topple.
That's pretty dramatic. But if you're still disappointed that this excellent video does not, in fact, show a forest "breathing," remember that trees actually do breathe, by replacing atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) with oxygen via photosynthesis. The soil breathes, too, in a backward sort of way. Tiny microbes living underground chow down on the CO2 stored in plant roots and dead leaves, then release that CO2 back into the air. This is called soil respiration, and it's been happening a lot more in the last 25 years, thanks to climate change.
So, there you have it: Forests can breathe — but not in obvious, visible ways — and climate change is causing them to hyperventilate. Probably not what you hoped to learn by clicking on this article, but that's life. Take a deep, cleansing breath and try to make peace with that.
Originally published on Live Science.
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Brandon is the space/physics editor at Live Science. His writing has appeared in The Washington Post, Reader's Digest, CBS.com, the Richard Dawkins Foundation website and other outlets. He holds a bachelor's degree in creative writing from the University of Arizona, with minors in journalism and media arts. He enjoys writing most about space, geoscience and the mysteries of the universe.