Journal Highlights

Tracking driftwood gives researchers insight into past Arctic Ocean changes

Blog— 

Wood from trees that fell into Arctic-draining rivers thousands of years ago is giving scientists a detailed look at how Arctic Ocean circulation has changed over the past 12,000 years.

In a new study, researchers used nearly 1,000 pieces of driftwood collected from Arctic shorelines since the 1950s to track Arctic sea ice extent and ocean circulation since the start of the Holocene.

Driftwood enters the Arctic Ocean from rivers. Some driftwood becomes frozen in sea ice, and floats on a raft of sea ice until the ice melts and the wood reaches shore. In the new study, scientists used driftwood samples to show the two main Arctic Ocean currents alternate dominance every few thousand years, with one current favoring sea ice formation and one favoring sea ice decline.

Arctic Ocean currents change over time, and insight into past changes in these currents can shed light on how the current rise in temperatures could affect sea ice extent. The new study’s results help put the current Arctic sea ice decline into context and help researchers better understand the drivers of Arctic Ocean circulation and climate over time, according to the study’s authors…More