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The (Natural) Woodblock Preservation Society
March 22, 2010 7:24 AM   Subscribe

When a tree falls in the forest, but nobody comes along for 45,000 years, can you still hear it? Recipe for 'preserved wood' (not 'petrified' wood): take one dead tree, cover with enough mud or freezing water to keep oxygen out, wait. How long? Perhaps only 45 years, in the case of the Suriname hardwoods being harvested with underwater robot saws. Or maybe around 100 years, for the millions of logs that sank in Lake Superior during logging operations, now being brought to the surface. But the carbon dating of 45,000 years on the Kauri wood being 'logged' in New Zealand swamps and turned into furniture has these beat.
posted by woodblock100 (51 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
beaten
posted by jpcooper at 7:44 AM on March 22, 2010


i <3 strong verbs.
posted by dunkadunc at 7:47 AM on March 22, 2010


I wonder how long it will take for someone to claim outrageous tonal properties for ancient Kauri wood in luthiery?
posted by scruss at 7:48 AM on March 22, 2010




I wonder how long it will take for someone to claim outrageous tonal properties for ancient Kauri wood in luthiery?


or for audiophile speaker cabinets.
posted by the cuban at 7:49 AM on March 22, 2010 [5 favorites]


Also, I remember going down to the gravel pit near my house as a kid and finding bits of what seemed to have been seaweed and, once in a while, bird footprints in the layers of sand and clay. This was all miles from the ocean.
posted by dunkadunc at 7:49 AM on March 22, 2010


We've got a Kauri wood candle holder dated at over 30,000 years old, a present from a friend in NZ. It's extremely tacky thanks to the cheap gold-metal fitting that's been fastened into the candle hole. 33,000 years, and what is some lovely fine-grained wood got turned into artless cheap-looking tourist bollocks. There's something profound in that about human nature.
posted by dowcrag at 7:50 AM on March 22, 2010 [13 favorites]


Is this sustainable?
posted by msittig at 7:52 AM on March 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


I am the last person to complain about consumer culture--I am as hopelessly addicted as anyone to the lure of luxury consumption. But there is just something so perverse about buying a doorstop made of 45,000 year old wood. Roman emperors would blanch at the decadence.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 7:54 AM on March 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Is this sustainable?

Ask me again in 45,000 years.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 7:55 AM on March 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


msittig, this is unsustainable, by definition. These trees aren't being replaced. That said, not much is being lost; maybe, in a few million years, these trees would have become oil. They aren't being burned, so the carbon is remaining sequestered. At most you might be able to argue that fish habitat is being lost.
posted by sonic meat machine at 7:56 AM on March 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


I wonder how long it will take for someone to claim outrageous tonal properties for ancient Kauri wood in luthiery?

This guy made a guitar out of Kauri wood.
posted by Bobicus at 7:56 AM on March 22, 2010


This guy made a guitar out of Kauri wood.

"The guitar has detail parts of mammoth ivory, handmade by myself; the inset in the tailpiece, bridge saddle, nut and truss rod cover, even the Slaman logo are all made in mammoth ivory, aged 10.000+ years old."

MAMMOTH.

IVORY.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 8:01 AM on March 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


This guy made a guitar out of Kauri wood.

They make a lot of cheap-grade guitars out of Kauri, for example, the cheapest priced Yamaha electrics.
posted by Pollomacho at 8:02 AM on March 22, 2010


MERCHANT.

IVORY.


This guitar will only play period pieces set at a glacial pace.
posted by Babblesort at 8:44 AM on March 22, 2010 [5 favorites]


I'll admit there's a lot of interesting stuff in this FPP, but how am I the first to pick up on the UNDERWATER ROBOT SAWS?
posted by Kirk Grim at 8:44 AM on March 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


First rule of underwater robot saw club...
posted by Babblesort at 8:46 AM on March 22, 2010 [5 favorites]


Eponysterically speaking, pre-emptive titles are deeply unfair, woodblock100. This was going to be my first.
posted by The Mouthchew at 8:56 AM on March 22, 2010


KEENEN.

IVORY.

(WAYANS).

posted by Pollomacho at 9:03 AM on March 22, 2010 [6 favorites]


underwater robot saws

A simple one here, with a photo gallery, and Triton Logging, with their 'Sawfish' — a 5,500-pound unmanned logging device capable of finding, chopping, and floating trees weighing up to 200 pounds to the surface from deep underwater" (video)
posted by woodblock100 at 9:08 AM on March 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


At most you might be able to argue that fish habitat is being lost.

Palaeo-climatic information too, annual and sub-annual records of climate, oxygen isotope ratios on an annual resolution, records of volcanism, response of individual trees within stands to climatic changes, unique series of comparative tree rings, knowledge of annual variation in 14C production to baseline radiocarbon dating, associated pollen records disturbed by recovery methods, other woody plant fossils (leaves, twigs, cones, etc.) lost during extraction, fossil insect assemblages from the forest lost as collateral damage.....

These kinds of places are immense repositories of extremely valuable paleontological information. To mine them for trinkets, and claim that only fish habitat is being lost is the narrow minded ignorance of the true Philistine.
posted by Rumple at 9:17 AM on March 22, 2010 [10 favorites]


Horace Rumpole at 7:54 AM on March 22 [+] [!] I am the last person to complain about consumer culture--I am as hopelessly addicted as anyone to the lure of luxury consumption. But there is just something so perverse about buying a doorstop made of 45,000 year old wood. Roman emperors would blanch at the decadence.

The Lake Superior salvage operation seems much more earth-friendly/low impact than the NZ gig. I'm bothered as much by the idea of gouging out trenches in northern New Zealand wetlands as I am that the end result is a 45,000 year old spiral coaster.

Kirk Grim at 8:44 AM on March 22 [+] [!] I'll admit there's a lot of interesting stuff in this FPP, but how am I the first to pick up on the UNDERWATER ROBOT SAWS?

I, for one, welcome our new Underwater Robot Saw Overlords.
posted by spacely_sprocket at 9:18 AM on March 22, 2010


I was speaking primarily of the Lake Superior project, Rumple.
posted by sonic meat machine at 10:10 AM on March 22, 2010


I did some technical writing for an underwater robot saw company. Great product - Canadian R/D tax laws actually help subsidize the cost of designing and manufacturing these vehicles (they actually have a proprietary technology as a contractor I wasn't allowed to examine), and then they can harvest virgin underwater timber for very low cost, both economical and environmental (they don't have to build roads, which is a huge enviro/economical cost), and they also don't have to cut down existing stands of trees. Plus, this "Green", sustainable wood fetches higher prices. There's also enough underwater forests to make this a viable industry for at least 20 years.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:27 AM on March 22, 2010


MORISSETTE.

IRONY.

posted by DU at 10:30 AM on March 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't know about gouging wetlands, but logging reservoirs seems to be a win-win in many ways.

Triton's advantage over everyone else is that their ROVs are safe. Often with underwater logging you need divers to work with an ROV - the ROV saws the tree, and the divers attach flotation devices to get the trees to the surface. It's dangerous work, and it's also slow, and if you add it to the amount of time it takes to secure a logging permit, this industry has really been for the dedicated people who value the experience over profits - it's not lucrative.

However, Triton's ROV takes the diver out of the picture - it's safer, faster, and more profitable. Anything that reduces the amount of standing hardwood or old growth above-surface has got to be a good thing.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:33 AM on March 22, 2010


The downside of recovering these logs is that no one is learning to step lightly and that none of the girls from the parish around want to waltz with the ROV operator.
posted by GuyZero at 11:05 AM on March 22, 2010 [9 favorites]


Rumple: Palaeo-climatic information too, annual and sub-annual records of climate, oxygen isotope ratios on an annual resolution, records of volcanism, response of individual trees within stands to climatic changes, unique series of comparative tree rings, knowledge of annual variation in 14C production to baseline radiocarbon dating, associated pollen records disturbed by recovery methods, other woody plant fossils (leaves, twigs, cones, etc.) lost during extraction, fossil insect assemblages from the forest lost as collateral damage.....

These kinds of places are immense repositories of extremely valuable paleontological information. To mine them for trinkets, and claim that only fish habitat is being lost is the narrow minded ignorance of the true Philistine.


Quoted for truth, excellent comment.
posted by julie_of_the_jungle at 11:15 AM on March 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


They make a lot of cheap-grade guitars out of Kauri, for example, the cheapest priced Yamaha electrics.

They almost certainly aren't NZ kauri (Agathis australis) but another kauri species. Almost all our kauri was logged for furniture, building, and spars for the British navy, and what's left is damned expensive.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 11:31 AM on March 22, 2010


Yeah, not all kauri is underwater gabillion-year-old preserved stuff. Some of it's just, you know, trees. Good for making guitars out of, but not astoundingly good and definitely not wet-dream material for high-end guitar nuts the way Brazilian rosewood or real mahogany is.

The guy in Bobicus's link did make his out of the gabilion-year-old stuff, though, which is pretty badass. Beats using it for doorstops, anyway.
posted by nebulawindphone at 11:59 AM on March 22, 2010


To put it another way: if we could still get cheap logs of the stuff, no one would be going to the trouble of hauling waterlogged curiosities out of the swamp.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:09 PM on March 22, 2010


NATALIE.

MERCHANT.




PLAYED. OUT. (yet?)


Anyway, mammoth ivory doesn't seem that rare or special, considering you can buy a pound of mammoth ivory trimmings for $55 per pound, or a pound of "C" grade for less than $30. The higher quality stuff still goes for more, according to my Googling about. It sounds impressive and all, but unless you're looking for a quality complete, specimen tusk (free from breaks or major cracks), it doesn't seem too expensive.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:50 PM on March 22, 2010


you can buy a pound of mammoth ivory trimmings for $55 per pound

Well that's my Christmas list all done then.
posted by penduluum at 1:26 PM on March 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'll add this to my Christmas list.
posted by various at 1:33 PM on March 22, 2010


Coming this fall on CBS:

MAMMOTH & IVORY.

THEY'RE COPS.
AND THEY'RE ABOUT TO GO PREHISTORIC ON YOUR ASS.

posted by Horace Rumpole at 1:36 PM on March 22, 2010


Kauri forests are protected now, and the trees are like squat, very wide redwoods (see, for example, Tāne Mahuta).

Kauri can't legally be logged now, but it's a gorgeous wood. We have a large scotch chest made by a friend of the family out of swamp kauri. The wood is practically without knots, and it glows.
posted by Paragon at 1:46 PM on March 22, 2010 [1 favorite]




You know what, I think my memory is playing tricks on me. That scotch chest isn't kauri. Sorry folks!
posted by Paragon at 2:04 PM on March 22, 2010


Wow, the Sawfish is the coolest! And why is it at high school career day there's never an underwater robot saw operator booth? If I had a pool, I would totally be interested in one of those things. You can keep your bags of mammoth ivory and 45,000 year old wooden doorstops, this is gonna be the best Christmas ever!
posted by Kirk Grim at 2:13 PM on March 22, 2010




Mammoth ivory is becoming as common as dirt. The melting permafrost is turning up hundreds of the beasts, enough so that rural Russians are dredging creeks and rivers as viable ivory harvesting business operations now.
posted by five fresh fish at 3:57 PM on March 22, 2010


Palaeo-climatic information ....

Oh for goodness sake, get a grip! Every swamp is sacred, becuse every swamp may tell us a tiny bit about the recent past? Come off it. A couple of well-placed samples, and all of that info you say is 'lost' is preserved for all time.

There are so very many higher priorities in this sort of research, thare are so many areas not sampled, there is far more data available than researchers will ever know what to do with.

I'm all in favour of research taking priority in any contested cases, but this is a joke.
posted by wilful at 4:24 PM on March 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


No leave everything alone for future researchers. I'm leaving them my dishes.
posted by GuyZero at 5:18 PM on March 22, 2010


Oh for goodness sake, get a grip! Every swamp is sacred, becuse every swamp may tell us a tiny bit about the recent past? Come off it. A couple of well-placed samples, and all of that info you say is 'lost' is preserved for all time.

Ancient Kauri is a finite resource that will definitely run out one day. The exact quantity is unknown and not all swamp areas are accessible. If used wisely as a precious timber we believe there is up to 30 years supply remaining.


From this company's swamp kauri wood website.

The problem is there are no protected swamps, as far as I can tell, so there is some cause for concern. Limited forestry is fine, but science is always getting better so we need to save some for future generations. I don't think we have any better way of preserving them than the swamps.

Another guitar link, because that seems to be a theme in this thread.
posted by Bobicus at 5:35 PM on March 22, 2010


Oh crap I read that wrong. NOT all swamp areas are accessible. Ok, everything's cool.
posted by Bobicus at 5:42 PM on March 22, 2010


filthy light thief: "PLAYED. OUT. (yet?)"

EBONY.

IVORY.

Evidently not.
posted by bwg at 6:52 PM on March 22, 2010


Palaeo-Climatic Information

That's what I'm going to title my next sex book, targeting senior citizens who have never explored their g-spot. I'd also do one for prostate stimulation, but once again men have all the good luck and, by that age, plenty of experience with their prostate.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:50 PM on March 22, 2010


wilful: A couple of well-placed samples, and all of that info you say is 'lost' is preserved for all time.

Actually, each tree is a unique repository of the climatic information and other environmental circumstances during its lifetime, encoded in its rings, and, the opportunity to see variability within a stand of trees is highly unusual, especially at this age. But you sound like you don't like swamps, or research, so go crazy with your wilful, gleeful strip mining of a non-renewable resource.
posted by Rumple at 9:20 PM on March 22, 2010


Rumple, your argument is a joke. What you say about uniqueness is tritely, trivially true. The same applies to you and me and any other organic being.

These trees are very likely to have very limited information, that is easily found in the first couple of samples, or very readily found elsewhere in the swamp. Except of course, nobody will ever look because the amount of knowledge generated is trivial, already well known enough, or able to be got from other, simpler, cheaper sources.

As it happens, I am (statistically) far more likely to have more to do with commissioning, reading and applying research in closely related fields to this than you are. I'm not a field scientist, but palynology and dendrochronology are part of my day job. I do care about this stuff, and can tell you that from general principles (not necessarily these kauri swamps, but most times) that there's a lot more out there that can be sampled than ever will be, generating far more data than we'll ever want or need.

As for "strip-mining" a non-renewable resource, pray tell, have you got a better use for the wood?
posted by wilful at 10:03 PM on March 22, 2010


have you got a better use for the wood?

Yeah, leave it in the ground for future generations with improved methods.

And no, my argument is not a "joke". You and I may be unique and yet uninteresting, but you and I are not 45,000 years old. BTW I am a field scientist and palynology and dendrochronology are part of my day job too, as is palaeo-environmental reconstruction. Your statistics are off, and your attitude is, to say the least, surprising.
posted by Rumple at 11:21 PM on March 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


My statistics are off? OK, wont quote any more. (*scratches head*)

What improved methods? More efficient, less invasive harvesting?

The simple point remains, in general terms, there's much more info out there about New Zealand's climate 45 000 years ago than we're going to ever extract from these swamps. If only due to inadequate science staffing.
posted by wilful at 11:43 PM on March 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Looks like I am not the only one who thinks there is value in these swamps.

ScienceDaily (Apr. 5, 2010) — Oxford University is involved in a research project to unearth 30,000 year old climate records, before they are lost forever. The rings of preserved kauri trees, hidden in New Zealand's peat bogs, hold the secret to climate fluctuations spanning back to the end of the last Ice Age.
posted by Rumple at 10:02 AM on April 5, 2010


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