Whether viewed from above or below the surface of the water, whether they are alive or dead, they stand like apparitions, almost supernatural in appearance by dint of the fact that they should not be there. Trees, common sense tells us, were designed to climb into the air rooted in solid ground, not water, and they certainly weren't meant to be found submerged beneath lakes, slowly rotting away like skeletons of their former selves.
The term submerged forest generally describes the remains of trees – especially stumps – that have been flooded by sea level rise. They are found around the coast of Britain, north-west France and Denmark, and have usually been buried in mud, peat or sand for several millennia before being uncovered by sea level change and erosion. Yet other sunken forests can also be found further inland in lakes – some of our own making, some of Nature's – and these are our focus.
1. Lake Kaindy, Kazakhstan
Kazakhstan's Lake Kaindy is one of a kind. Located 2,000 meters above sea level, this 400 metre-long lake reaches depths approaching 30 metres in some places. What makes this body of water truly remarkable, however, are the tall, dried-out trunks of submerged Schrenk's Spruce trees that rise above the water's surface from the bottom of the lake like the masts of mysterious sunken ships.
Midst icy depths: The drowned conifers of Lake Kaindy
In the winter months, Kaindy freezes over, but this doesn't deter some brave souls. As these pictures show, ice divers are drawn to the freezing waters, captivated by the sight of tree trunks encased in a sheet of ice and the strange beauty of the underwater world hidden beneath. During the summer, Kaindy could hardly offer a more contrasting picture, its waters a warm shade of green and turquoise.
Sunnier scenes: Kaindy's trees rise up like the masts of ships
Lake Kaindy is very young, geologically speaking, having only been born last century. It was created due to an enormous limestone landslide. Water flooded the resulting basin and the natural rocky embankment that formed in the middle of the lake partitioned it with a natural dam. Not yet decayed, the drowned trees rise out of the cold waters, offering a refuge for tired swimmers.
2. Lake Bezid, Romania
Situated in Romania's Transylvania region, Lake Bezid hardly needs added reason to carry haunting connotations, but its appearance sure provides one. The gnarled stumps of once lofty trees emerge from the surface of the water like wizened hands, presenting a scene by turns bleak and beautiful. Adding to the air of mystery, the reservoir also conceals a sunken village in its watery midst.
Drowned forest and town: The trees and church tower remains of Bezid
Bezid was artificially created after the entire village of Bezid was flooded, leaving the houses at the bottom of the lake and only the local church tower and trees still visible, looming over the lake. Apparently, a dam was built around 25 years ago to prevent the recurrent flooding of the river valley. Needless to say, the inhabitants of the old village had to be moved away when their homes were drowned.
3. Periyar Lake, India
Periyar Lake in the Indian state of Kerala is another sunken cemetery for trees whose putrefying trunks rise out of the water as if clawing for divine mercy. Covering an area of a 55 km², the lake is fed by the Periyar River and in turn supplies water for the Vaigai River in Tamil Nadu via a tunnel through the Western Ghats. Still, the dead trees betray the lake's recent past as a living forest.
Haunting beauty: Sun striking a cormorant's nest and fog-cloaked trees in Periyar
Periyar Lake is actually an artificial reservoir, a flooded area that was created in 1895 by the building of the Mullaperiyar Dam. The tree stumps are the remnants of the forest that once was, yet the lake curves around the contours of the wooded hills, providing a permanent source of water for the local wildlife, and this is said to be one of the few places where a dam has been good for an ecosystem.
4. Udawalawe Reservoir, Sri Lanka
The twisted, closely-packed boughs standing in Sri Lanka's Udawalawe Reservoir are similar visual reminders of the extent of the forest cover that lay here before the construction of the dam that brought this body of water into being. The deep reservoir is constantly replenished by the never-drying Walawe river, which itself draws most of its water from wooded higher ground and plains.
Submerged forest: Branches emerge from the waters of Udawalawe
In the Udawalawe, as everywhere in nature, where there is death so too is there life. The reservoir may feature the weather-bleached skeletons of thousands of jungle trees, killed off by the dammed water, and it's true wild animals were displaced by its construction; yet despite this, elephants are now attracted to the reservoir, a variety of water birds visit, and important fish species are also found.
5. Lake Volta, Ghana
Myriad dead trees emerge from Ghana's Lake Volta, which has the largest surface area of any reservoir on earth. The lake was formed by the Akosomba hydroelectric Dam, which provides power for much of the country. Completed in 1965, it forced the relocation of 78,000 people to new settlements, along with 200,000 of their animals, while some 120 buildings and countless small residences were destroyed.
Afloat over a former forest: Ebony, teak and mahogany all lie deep in Lake Volta
Lake Volta is again being touted as a resource, but this time for its hidden cache of dead trees: Ghana is seeking to harvest the 14 million cubic meters of submerged timber, though not without controversy. Tropical hardwoods preserved by the lack of oxygen in the water might be worth a fortune, but opponents say underwater logging could be a threat to fishing and upset the lake's ecological balance.
6. Lake Caddo, Texas
This mysterious, even mystical looking swampy scene differs from the others we have so far seen in that the trees growing from their semi-submerged setting are of course not dead but very much alive. The verdant canopy reflected in the still waters beneath is that of Cypress trees, for this is Lake Caddo on the Texas-Louisiana border, home to the world's largest Cypress forest.
Floating forest: Steamy Cypress swamp in Uncertain, TX
Conifers native to the southeastern United States, Cypress trees thrive in humid habitats, and some individuals can live for over 1,000 years. Baldcypresses, which thrive in swampy habitats, have peculiar growths called cypress knees, woody projections above the water that are part of the root system and provide structural support and stabilisation – in flood-prone sites like this one, for example.
7. Kampong Pluk, Cambodia
In Cambodia can be found another floating forest made up of trees growing out of a lake, their tangled roots concealed underwater. The water-dwelling trees of Kampong Pluk are mangroves, and their flooded jungle habitat is home to a variety of wildlife, including crab-eating macaques, as well as humans who harvest shrimp and live in houses that tower in the air atop stilts.
Floating forest, part II: Gnarled trunks rise from the waters of Kampong Pluk
Mangroves are the ultimate survivors in waterlogged environments, growing profusely in saline habitats in the tropics and subtropics where they often dominate the coastlines. Where other trees may soon die when drowned by a deluge of water, the hardy mangroves positively prosper.