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In a remarkable new discovery, scientists have identified the world’s largest logjam, storing a whopping 3.4 million tons of carbon within the Arctic’s Mackenzie River Delta in Nunavut, Canada. Covering an area of 51 square kilometers (20 square miles), this massive woody debris deposit plays a crucial yet understudied role in the global carbon cycle.
As trees fall in Arctic forests, rivers transport them toward the ocean, accumulating and storing carbon along the way. The cold, dry, or icy conditions of the Arctic can preserve trees for tens of thousands of years, making them an invaluable carbon storage resource. According to Alicia Sendrowski, who led the study at Colorado State University, this wood deposit is equivalent to the carbon emissions of two and a half million cars in a year.
Despite being a significant carbon pool, our understanding of these logjams remains limited compared to other forms of carbon like dissolved or particulate organic carbon. However, this is rapidly changing as researchers like Sendrowski and her colleagues map and quantify these wood deposits in the Arctic.
To estimate the carbon storage of the Mackenzie River Delta logjam, the researchers used high-resolution imagery and radiocarbon dating on field samples. They discovered more than 400,000 miniature caches of wood, storing approximately 3.4 million tons of carbon. But the actual amount could be twice as large, considering the hidden logs buried in soil or submerged underwater.
Though the carbon stored in the logs represents a relatively small fraction of the delta’s total carbon storage, changes in the basin, such as logging, damming, and Climate change, could significantly impact wood preservation and carbon storage. The Mackenzie logjam is just one of many large woody deposits in the Arctic, which together may constitute a substantial carbon storage pool.
Researchers are keen to learn more about the longevity of trees in the Arctic and how “active” the carbon pool is, meaning how quickly material moves around. Carbon dating revealed that while many trees began growing around 1950, some dated back to around 700 CE. In a 1960s study, wood from a tree preserved in an icy mound was carbon-dated to about 33,000 years ago.
As we uncover more about these hidden carbon treasures, the potential to apply this knowledge to other locations with large wood deposits becomes increasingly exciting. By understanding the role of these logjams in the carbon cycle, we can better inform sustainable practices and protect our planet. So, let’s raise awareness and Support research efforts to unlock the mysteries of these carbon-storing logjams and strive for a greener future!
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