Wood submerged beneath Lake Volta could be a “genius solution” to rebuild the word-famous Notre-Dame Cathedral of Paris. The 12th-century monument was destroyed in a fire in April 2019 during the on-going renovation work.
A massive forest of rot-resistant tropical trees, such as wawa, odum, and ebony, went underwater when Lake Volta came into existence in 1965. It is estimated that the inundated forest has 14 million cubic meters of hardwoods. Kete Krachi Timber Recovery, the concessionaire for harvesting the wood beneath the lake, has made a submission to the France ministry of culture in this regard.
If agreed, the timber company will win a contract worth $50m to supply wood required for Notre-Dame’s rebuilding. According to a law passed by the French Parliament, the reconstruction of the medieval cathedral must be on the original lines.
The iconic frame and spire of the cathedral required more than 1,300 giant oak trees when it was built. Today, the same number of trees would create massive deforestation covering an area of at least 52 acres. Also, France lacks such a massive forest of trees with the required size and maturity to be used in the reconstruction.
Bog oaks underwater Lake Volta are similar in size, durability, and strength to oaks originally used to build Notre Dame. With exposure to water for a long period of time, the wood becomes sturdier and hard-wearing. The shortage of oxygen saves the trunk from decay and the fossilization process only makes it significantly resilient. Evidence suggests extensive use of this type of wood in making furniture and other constructions in the medieval era.
The proposal could be a win-win situation for all. Experts in sustainable architecture practice term it a “genius solution.” African wood, such as iroko, is a great timber for the rebuilding of the cathedral and it will save the felling of hundreds of over-ground trees elsewhere. This will also provide a boost to the economy of a poorer country.
The option is also environmentally friendly, as this includes using trees that have started to fossilize and is going to prevent cutting down new trees.
“Whereas underneath the lake, you have typical African hardwoods that are similar to oak trees – their density may range from 650kg to 900kg per cubic meter, claims Kete Krachi chairman Francis Kalitsi, “they are structural timbers which could be useful in the reconstruction.”
The company retrieves and exports underwater timber to Europe. The French government is yet to take a final call on “the material to rebuild the frame.”
Local environmentalists, who are opposing pulling trees from Lake Volta, fear about the potential impact on the ecosystem. They argue that wood harvesting may affect aquatic organisms and endanger the local fishery industry that employs 300,000 families and generates considerable foreign currency for the country.
Extracting trees and sending them to France may also contribute to a “significant” carbon footprint.
However, the wood from the lake is much in demand in the market for their use as hardwood floors and the removal of trees will improve the navigation and safety in the lake.