Tracing the origin of Arctic driftwood


Corresponding author: U. Büntgen, Swiss Federal Research Institute, WSL, 8903 Birmensdorf, Switzerland. (


[1] Arctic environments, where surface temperatures increase and sea ice cover and permafrost depth decrease, are very sensitive to even slight climatic variations. Placing recent environmental change of the high-northern latitudes in a long-term context is, however, complicated by too short meteorological observations and too few proxy records. Driftwood may represent a unique cross-disciplinary archive at the interface of marine and terrestrial processes. Here, we introduce 1445 driftwood remains from coastal East Greenland and Svalbard. Macroscopy and microscopy were applied for wood anatomical classification; a multi-species subset was used for detecting fungi; and information on boreal vegetation patterns, circumpolar river systems, and ocean current dynamics was reviewed and evaluated. Four conifer (Pinus, Larix, Picea, and Abies) and three deciduous (Populus, Salix, and Betula) genera were differentiated. Species-specific identification also separated Pinus sylvestris and Pinus sibirica, which account for ~40% of all driftwood and predominantly originate from western and central Siberia. Larch and spruce from Siberia or North America represents ~26% and ~18% of all materials, respectively. Fungal colonization caused different levels of driftwood staining and/or decay. Our results demonstrate the importance of combining wood anatomical knowledge with insight on boreal forest composition for successfully tracing the origin of Arctic driftwood. To ultimately reconstruct spatiotemporal variations in ocean currents, and to better quantify postglacial uplift rates, we recommend consideration of dendrochronologically dated material from many more circumpolar sites.