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Free shipment: how timber gets to Arctic islands

The timber brought to the Arctic from faraway places tells a lot about its origin, about the climate change, Arctic streams, and water levels in northern rivers and seas

NOVOSIBIRSK, June 15. /TASS/. For 700 years, timber from Eastern Siberia, North America and Europe has been mooring Greenland, Iceland and Spitzbergen, scientists from Russia, German, Argentina and some European countries said referring to results of the research, as they analyzed about 2,500 wood samples, collected on the islands.

A TASS correspondent expands on how timber research prompted further studies on climate change, and how people living on the Arctic islands learned to use stained wood.

Wood talks

The timber brought to the Arctic from faraway places tells a lot about its origin, about the climate change, Arctic streams, and water levels in northern rivers and seas.

"Annual growth rings may be of different width depending on weather conditions: in good years they are wide, and in cold years they become narrow. Thus, as we know where the timber is found and how old it is, we can learn much about the Arctic steams. The height, at which the timber was found, speaks about sea and ice levels," Alexander Kirdyanov of the Institute of Wood at the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences told TASS.

Specialists are using scales for studies of drifting timer at the Arctic islands and in the Lena River’s delta in Yakutia - to learn the trunks’ origin and age.

"We have several scales of up to 800 years, and want to extend the chronology," the scientist said. "For example, Europe uses a 12,000-years’ scale for oak. We used the radiocarbon method to date some of the samples, which were more than 2,000 years old."

How timber travels to the Arctic

"Trees do not grow on Arctic islands, they come by rivers and seas from different places, and the locals have been using them to build houses and to fuel ovens. We have researched more than 2,400 samples of the timber, which arrived to Greenland, the Faroe Island and Spitsbergen, and sorted them. Russian scientists have a detailed database for Siberia’s different regions. We compared samples from the mainland and from the islands and saw that larch comes to the Arctic mostly from Yakutia, pines - from southern Krasnoyarsk Territory, spruce - from North America, Canada and Europe," the expert said.

In the XX century, pines floated to the Arctic islands as people transported them along the Angara River towards Dudinka and Igarka ports.

"Huge rafts, which were to travel along the Yenisei, sometimes went loose and the timber drifted to the Arctic Ocean, got into ices, and eventually arrived to the islands," he explained.

Stained wood-free and long-lasting

"The Pomors [Russian settlers, living on the White Sea coasts] traditionally used floating timber for construction: both living and fishing houses on coasts of the White, Barents and Kars Seas," a historian Evgeny Yermolov said. "Stained wood is a very convenient material: it is strong, durable, and besides - absolutely free."

Alexandra Avtushkova of Novosibirsk’s Local History Museum says in the XIV century the Grumant Archipelago (Spitsbergen) became a part of the inhibited Russian North. The locals lived in houses of drifting timber and fragments of the Pomors’ vessels. "The wood was used not only for house construction, they used it - together with walrus and bear fat - to fuel ovens," she said.

Drifting timber used to be popular for housing construction up to the XX century. "It was both inconvenient and expensive to deliver wood materials to the islands," she continued. "Back in the Soviet times already, researchers lived in wood-panel houses on the Franz Josef Land, Novaya Zemlya, and Severnaya Zemlya."

The Russian Science Foundation offers grants for this scientific research.