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Fjords Play a Large Function in Storing CO2

Lengthy, deep and often surrounded by breathtaking cliffs, a fjord begins as a U-shaped trough, gouged out by an advancing glacier. When the glacier retreats, rising seas enter these trenches, ultimately forming finger-shaped, steep-sided inlets, generally greater than 1,000 toes deep.

Fjords, due to this fact, will be regarded as arms of the ocean which are stretching out; and most of those beautiful limbs have been crafted by glaciers.

Whereas they comprise a mere 0.1 % of the floor space of the ocean, fjords punch far above their weight of their potential to tug carbon from the ambiance and retailer it within the mud; in reality, they sequester an outsized 11 to 12 % of the carbon saved within the ocean. In different phrases, they sock away 18 million tons of carbon throughout interglacial durations (just like the one we’re in now), though they take up the equal area of a speck of zest on an orange.

And scientists realized of this small-but-mighty function that fjords play in our world solely lately.


Lengthy, deep fjords attain far into each the east and west coasts of Greenland in complicated programs, providing magnificent surroundings. In Tasillaq Fjord, giant chunks of ice break off from glaciers and slide into the water as icebergs.

Discovering fjords

Alaska, Greenland, New Zealand and Norway are just some of the locations which are famend for his or her lovely fjords.

For instance, Kenai Fjords in south-central Alaska is a 607,000-acre nationwide park on the Kenai Peninsula. The park’s dramatic landscapes embody jaw-dropping mountains with nice glaciers flowing down between them to the ocean, in addition to mile-deep fjords that present a habitat for 1000’s of nesting seabirds and small marine mammals, similar to harbor seals, sea lions and sea otters.

The Ilulissat Icefjord on the west coast of Greenland is situated 155 miles north of the Arctic Circle. The fjord, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage website, runs 25 miles from the Greenland ice sheet to Disko Bay, making it one of many few locations the place ice from the Greenland ice cap—within the type of the Sermeq Kujalleq glacier—enters the ocean. The world across the head of the fjord is a tremendous spot, the place icebergs from one of many world’s most energetic and quickest shifting glaciers (130 toes per day) create implausible surroundings.

Uncertain Sound, New Zealand, was so named as a result of in 1770, Captain James Cook dinner determined if he and his crew ventured into the fjord, it might be “uncertain” whether or not they would be capable of sail again out in opposition to the westerly wind. ©gmoorenator, flickr

In New Zealand, Milford Sound—additionally recognized by its Maori title, Piopiotahi—lies on the most northern and accessible finish of Fiordland Nationwide Park (an space that has held UNESCO World Heritage standing since 1986) on the South Island. This mighty fjord fashioned by historic glacial motion is among the nation’s most treasured pure landmarks. It provides a few of the world’s most staggering coastal surroundings with its dramatic peaks and dark-blue waters. The world’s frequent downpours solely improve the fjord’s attraction, sending quite a few waterfalls cascading down the cliffs. The pristine surroundings additionally gives an ideal habitat for birdlife and a haven for dolphins, endangered penguins and fur seals.

Norway, referred to as “the land of fjords,” has an abundance of those pure wonders. Sognefjord, as an example, is the most important fjord within the nation and the third longest on the planet. It stretches for 127 miles inland till it reaches the small village of Skjolden. At one level, this spectacular fjord descends 4,291 toes beneath the ocean. And Geirangerfjord, a UNESCO World Heritage website, is surrounded by snowcapped mountains 5,250 toes excessive, with thundering waterfalls dropping nearly perpendicular into the waters that go 820 toes deep. That makes Geirangerfjorden as deep because the Grand Canyon.

It’s no surprise that Norwegians contemplate fjords their very image.


Fjords symbolize Norway: the nation has greater than a 1,000 of them. These lovely landscapes evoke photographs of the nation’s previous: a time when folks lived as farmers in impossibly steep and rocky environment. In some locations, they nonetheless do.

Determining fjords

In 2015, an ocean geochemist and professor on the College of Florida, Thomas Bianchi, and certainly one of his graduate college students pioneered analysis, printed within the journal Nature Geosciences, that first opened the world’s eyes to the highly effective function that fjords play in international carbon storage.

However for years after Bianchi’s groundbreaking research, a vexing query grew to become an itch that marine scientists couldn’t scratch: are fjords the carbon storage present that retains on giving, or is their potential to retailer carbon-rich sediments deep of their bellies momentary? And additional, what’s going to occur to that locked-away warehouse of carbon through the subsequent glacial interval when it’s once more uncovered to oxygen because the ice returns and the waters recede?

Answering these questions would require an understanding of how reactive the carbon in fjord sediments is in comparison with the carbon buried in different ocean reservoirs, similar to on the backside of the center of the ocean, distant from the coasts. A novel instrument, referred to as the Ramped Pyrox C-14 System—in any other case affectionately referred to as “the dust burner”—was indispensable in fixing the thriller.

Knight Inlet in British Columbia, Canada, is a part of the wildlife-filled Nice Bear Rain Forest and is the longest fjord alongside the British Columbia Coast. ©Frank Martens, flickr

A paper printed in November 2022 in Science Advances reveals a brand new understanding of the function of fjords within the international carbon cycle. The underside line is that they act as each carbon sink and supply.

The authors of the paper collected sediment samples from 25 fjords world wide, positioned them within the dust burner, step by step elevated the temperature, recorded when and how briskly the natural matter broke down after which turned that right into a “response power” equal. Briefly, the fjord sediments had been extremely reactive.

What that reactivity means is that the rock-star potential of fjords to retailer carbon is transitory, not everlasting. Fjords are carbon sinks throughout interglacial durations and grow to be carbon sources throughout glacial durations.


Small however mighty, fjords—similar to this one in Iceland—are planetary “thermostats.” Their function within the international carbon cycle is each sink and supply, proving as soon as once more that measurement doesn’t matter.

So, akin to the thermostat in your house, fjords assist regulate temperature. They counterbalance the cooling of the planet in glacial durations by including roughly 50 elements per million of carbon dioxide again to the ambiance.

Fancying fjords

In British Columbia, Canada, a community of fjords is located instantly northwest of Vancouver. On this labyrinth, lush, forested peaks protrude proper from the ocean and type staggering terrain in Howe Sound, the southernmost and most accessible fjord in North America. Howe Sound was designated as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 2021.

In Iceland, Bulandstindur, or Pyramid Mountain, within the East Fjords area, is believed to have supernatural therapeutic powers. Reached through the well-known Ring Highway, Bulandstindur is beloved by locals and vacationers as a spot to expertise unspoiled nature and recent air and to hike on mystical land.


In sure fjords in Patagonia, glaciers nonetheless grasp from the mountainsides, ghosts of a Pleistocene previous.

Heading into the Southern Hemisphere, southernmost Patagonia is a wilderness of twisting fjords and towering glaciers, the place the frosty Andes lastly slope into the ocean. On this distant space, ice has scoured its manner between the mountains, creating the remoted islands and hidden bays that make up the distinctive fjord panorama of Chile. Snowcapped mountains and steep valleys distinction with verdant coastlines which are wealthy in wildlife. Andean condors, sea lions and several other fowl species that may solely be discovered right here reside in relative tranquility.

For a very long time, fjords had been missed by local weather scientists and the remainder of us merely due to their measurement relative to the huge ocean basin. However whereas fjords take up only a small quantity of area, they play a big function in modulating temperature swings from glacial to interglacial durations. Human-caused warming of the planet interrupts the heartbeat of pure glacial–interglacial cycles, making our understanding of fjords and different sizzling spots of carbon storage essential.

And apart from, they’re awfully fairly to have a look at.

Right here’s to discovering your true locations and pure habitats,





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