Next Global-Warming Victim: Centuries-Old Shipwrecks

By Andrew Moseman | January 20, 2010 12:52 pm

VasaAt the bottom of the Baltic Sea, history sits largely intact. Because shipworms don’t care for these cold, low-salt waters, shipwrecks can endure for centuries without great decay. The Vasa, a famous Swedish warship that sank in Stockholm harbor in 1628, was in terrific condition when engineers raised it from the depths more than 300 years later. But, scientists now warn, those conditions could be coming to an end due to global warming.

Shipworms, which can obliterate a wreck in ten years, have already attacked about a hundred sunken vessels dating back to the 13th century in Baltic waters off Germany, Denmark, and Sweden, reported study co-author Christin Appelqvist [National Geographic News]. Now, Appelqvist says, their range is beginning to extend beyond those areas into the northern part of the Baltic. That could threaten close to 100,000 shipwrecks scattered across the bottom of the sea.

Shipworms are not worms at all, but rather saltwater clams with reduced shells notorious for boring into and eventually destroying wooden structures immersed in sea water, such as piers, docks and wooden ships [UPI]. These clams can bore a foot deep into wood of all kinds. Because they already inhabit the waters of Sweden’s small western coast (located at the southern tip of the country), Appelqvist says no wooden wrecks remain there—at least not any that are in decent enough condition to be studied.

The shipworms are warm-water lovers, so Appelqvist’s team wonders if rising sea temperatures are what has allowed them this extended range. “The warmer temperatures mean that the shipworm is less stressed and can thus tolerate lower salinity,” she explained. “The warm water also results in a longer breeding season” [The Local].

Related Content:
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Image of the Vasa: flickr / Carl M

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Living World
  • Eamon

    Shipworms, which can obliterate a wreck in ten years, have already attacked about a hundred sunken vessels dating back to the 13th century in Baltic waters

    But…how can this be? Ehrvrybody knows the Medieval Warm Period was much warmer than our current spell of hot weather! How can these 13th Century ships have survived the depradations of the MWP shipworms?!

  • John Moore

    Ok maybe you didn’t read the article well enough. There are hundreds of ships from 13th onward in the waters in question. In the 13th century there were by far fewer vessels to “chew” on. Then the climate changed and it became colder and the area of foraging became smaller and dare I say shallower. They simply were not eating the vessels present. Of course a 1 trillion dollar tax will prevent these creatures from eating as well….due to plain guilt I suppose.

  • Eamon

    John, “from the 13th Century onwards” includes ships from the 13th Century, funnily enough. If, as global warming denialsts harp on, the MWP was global and warmer than the current warming trend then how can those 13th Century ships be there?

  • Wil

    The author of this piece is a lieing, immature, irresponsible, simpleton fool.

    There is no such thing as man-made global warming.

    What in the world would it take to get past your yearning for total planetary genocide, so that pure, noble Nature could not be harmed by horrible, dirty, corrupt mankind?

    I’m only asking.

  • Fatkid

    Horrible dirty corrupt mankind caused the dust bowl, created miles wide dead zones in our oceans, and blew a hole through the ozone, exposing parts of the world to an epidemic of skin cancer. Whether or not we contribute to global warming is irrelevant. We need to stop being such a blight on the Earth.

    This is Discover Magazine for Crikes sake. Why don’t you dirty sheep go bleat on the Fox News website? I’m sure their corperate sponsors would like to see who they paid for.

  • James E.

    [edit] Deleted

  • http://www.hotellrumstockholm.se/ Hotellrum Stockholm

    Looking for a budget hotel in Stockholm. We have listing of most of the hotels in Swedens capital Stockholm.

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