Driftwood in Iceland

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Driftwood has played an important role all around this otherwise woodless country ever since it was settled.  The volume of this natural resource has been great during the centuries, but somewhat different between the years.  It probably extended the inhabitancy of many remote areas, which were abandoned gradually during the first half of the 20th century.  The wood was exploited for the building of abodes, boats, furniture, boat winches, food bowls, barrels and boxes and also for making charcoal.  The cortex was dried and rolled up to light the fire in the stoves.  The people in the Northwest burned most of the sorcerers and witches of this country during the late Middle Ages, because they did not suffer from lack of wood.

The driftwood as everything else, which drifts ashore, belongs to the landowners, who went to great lengths to protect these rights in the past.  If they could not immediately move the wood they wanted to use, they marked the trunks or logs to prevent others from picking them up.  The longer the trunks stay in the sea, the more saturated they get with salt and grow very hard and enduring as a construction material.  Nowadays this wood is mainly exploited for fence poles and rough constructions.

The northern coastline is “white” with driftwood, which originally is carried down the rivers of Siberia (Ob, Jenisej, Katanga, Lena and others) to the sea, where the northeastern currents carry it to the pack ice.  Then it is carried around the North Pole and some of it is released north of Iceland and carried there with the East Greenland Stream.  In 1971, oceanographers deemed the speed of the drift 400-1000 km per year and thus it would take 4-5 years for the trunks to be carried to Iceland.  The main tree species brought to the country this way are fur, larch and some spruce and poplar.  The oldest trunks found on the northern coastline date back about 500 years.

Driftwood has probably never been as common in the South, but more wood drifted up here in the past with the Gulf Stream from the Gulf of Mexico, delivered by the rivers spilling into it.  The people in  south Iceland had another wood resource, i.e. the many wooden vessels, which ran aground on the flat South Coast.

Driftwood is scarcer along the western and eastern coastlines of the country.

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