Driftwood in Iceland

May 16, 2012


Photographer: Rebecca Roush
Summary Author: Stu Witmer

The photo above shows a stack of driftwood on the beach of the bay of Hunafloi near Drangsnes, in the Westfjords district of Iceland. This is no casual bonfire in the making. Trees are few in Iceland. So much so that a popular joke for tourists is “What should you do if you’re lost in the forest? Stand up.” Most of the native trees were cut down in the early days of settlement and a reforestation program is underway to help bring the forests back. Meanwhile, driftwood fills the gap. There’s more driftwood than you might expect. Primarily spruce (Picea), pine (Pinus) and larch (Larix sibirica) the majority of these trees originally stood along Siberian rivers such as the Ob and the Lena where they may have eroded from the shores or escaped from logging operations. Once at sea, the trees drift with the Arctic Ocean currents. Studies have shown that it takes about five years for these trees to travel to Iceland. Driftwood can only stay afloat for about ten months indicating that these trees are primarily carried by sea ice. Along the way, the wood becomes impregnated with so much salt from the seawater that it is hardened thus making it excellent for use in construction. These days it is mainly used for fence posts. Since the wood belongs to whoever owns the land it washes up on, it makes a cost-effective building material and sometimes a cash crop. Photo taken September 13, 2011.

Photo details: Camera: Canon Powershot SD 1300 IS; Focal Length: 5 mm; F Number: f/8; ISO Speed Ratings: 160; Flash: off.