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New research commitment to save the Vasa

How should the humidity, temperature, and light be set to preserve the royal warship Vasa for posterity? How much and how quickly are the ship's wood and preservative breaking down, and how is the ship's stability being affected by this?

Researchers are now going to study the degradation processes and test new methods for determine their speed, including the monitoring of how much oxygen is consumed. They will also trying out new methods for removing iron and neutralizing acids to stop the degradation. A major co-financed project will provide SEK 18 million.

Press release from the Swedish Research Council Formas, the Swedish Foundation for Strategic Research, the Swedish Research Council, and VINNOVA (the Swedish Governmental Agency for Innovation Systems), 2008-11-19

The royal warship Vasa is one of Sweden's best known and most frequently visited tourist attractions. The ship and the objects it carried are a source of knowledge about the living conditions, culture, and technology of the 17th century.

"It is urgent and important to contribute to research that can enable us to preserve the ship for posterity," says Rolf Annerberg, director general of the Swedish Research Council Formas, one of the financiers behind the new research project.

A total of SEK 18 million will be committed to the project. Formas will provide SEK 1.6 million, the Foundation for Strategic Research SEK 2 million, VINNOVA SEK 2 million, and the Swedish Research Council SEK 0.9 million. The bulk of the funding, SEK 11.6 million, will come from the Swedish National Maritime Museums, SMM.

The ship which weighs about 1,000 tons, contains some 2 tons of sulfur, 2 tons of iron, and 50 tons of preservative. To a depth of 5-10 millimeters the wood is depleted of cellulose, which bacteria on the bottom of the bay consumed over the 333 years the ship lay there. Sulfur compounds from the brackish water and from the sewage of the city were absorbed by the wood and now exists in various chemical forms, either free or bound to iron or to components of the wood. Iron compounds come from iron bolts that have rusted away and from cannonballs, and they are widely diffused in the wood.

The project will address the issues that remain unanswered: To what extent and how quickly are the various components of the wood and preservative breaking down. How is this degradation affected by access to atmospheric oxygen, the moisture of the wood, the presence of iron compounds and sulfur compounds, and temperature? How can these processes be stopped? How are the properties of the wood and thereby the entire ship's stability impacted by these processes? Among other things, the project will test new methods for analyzing wood, metering gas diffusion, and monitoring oxygen consumption. This is a comprehensive project, and the several thousand objects sometimes require other methods for preservation than those used for the hull.

The project will be carried out in 2009-2011 under the direction of SMM, with the participation of the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, STFI-Packforsk, the National Museum of Denmark, and the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm.

Emilie von Essen | alfa
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