Assessing Potential Acidification of Marine Archaeological Wood Based on Concentration of Sulfur Species

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The presence of sulfur in marine archaeological wood presents a challenge to conservation. Upon exposure to oxygen, sulfur compounds in waterlogged wooden artifacts are being oxidized, producing sulfuric acid. This speeds the degradation of the wood, potentially damaging specimens beyond repair. Sulfur K-edge x-ray absorption spectroscopy was used to identify the species of sulfur present in samples from the timbers of the Mary Rose, a preserved 16th century warship known to undergo degradation through acidification. The results presented here show that sulfur content varied significantly on a local scale. Only certain species of sulfur have the potential to produce sulfuric ... continued below

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Creator: Unknown. June 22, 2011.

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The presence of sulfur in marine archaeological wood presents a challenge to conservation. Upon exposure to oxygen, sulfur compounds in waterlogged wooden artifacts are being oxidized, producing sulfuric acid. This speeds the degradation of the wood, potentially damaging specimens beyond repair. Sulfur K-edge x-ray absorption spectroscopy was used to identify the species of sulfur present in samples from the timbers of the Mary Rose, a preserved 16th century warship known to undergo degradation through acidification. The results presented here show that sulfur content varied significantly on a local scale. Only certain species of sulfur have the potential to produce sulfuric acid by contact with oxygen and seawater in situ, such as iron sulfides and elemental sulfur. Organic sulfurs, such as the amino acids cysteine and methionine, may produce acid but are integral parts of the wood's structure and may not be released from the organic matrix. The sulfur species contained in the sample reflect the exposure to oxygen while submerged, and this exposure can differ greatly over time and position. A better understanding of the species pathway to acidifications required, along with its location, in order to suggest a more customized and effective preservation strategy. Waterlogged archaeological wood, frequently in the form of shipwrecks, is being excavated for historical purposes in many countries around the world. Even after extensive efforts towards preservation, scientists are discovering that accumulation of sulfate salts results in acidic conditions on the surfaces of the artifacts. Sulfuric acid degrades structural fibers in the wood by acid hydrolysis of cellulose, accelerating the decomposition of the ship timbers. Determining the sulfur content of waterlogged wood is now of great importance in maritime archaeology. Artifact preservation is often more time consuming and expensive than the original excavation; but it is key to the availability of objects for future study as well as maintaining the integrity of historical data and preserving the value of museum pieces. Sulfur occurs in a wide number of oxidation states from -2 to +6, and appears in numerous organic and inorganic compounds in nature. However, it is a very minor component of wood. Sulfur K-edge x-ray absorption spectroscopy (XAS) is a valuable technique because it has the ability to detect very low concentrations of sulfur in the specimen. XAS is also sensitive to differences in oxidation states, as well as long and short range order in molecules.

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  • Report No.: SLAC-TN-11-006
  • Grant Number: AC02-76SF00515
  • DOI: 10.2172/1017223 | External Link
  • Office of Scientific & Technical Information Report Number: 1017223
  • Archival Resource Key: ark:/67531/metadc829872

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  • June 22, 2011

Added to The UNT Digital Library

  • May 19, 2016, 3:16 p.m.

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  • Nov. 22, 2016, 7:46 p.m.

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Assessing Potential Acidification of Marine Archaeological Wood Based on Concentration of Sulfur Species, report, June 22, 2011; United States. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc829872/: accessed December 13, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.