Significant deterioration to the historic expedition huts of the Ross Sea region of Antarctica has occurred during the past decades from exposure to the polar environment. One type of deterioration that has affected all of the huts is a chemical attack resulting in a defibration of wood. Wood surfaces have a rough, fuzzy appearance and consist of white to yellow-brown masses of detached fibers. The damage is commonly associated with areas where water with dissolved salts is absorbed by wood. As moisture evaporates from the wood surface, exceedingly high concentrations of salt accumulate. Chemical reactions within the wood cause a corrosive degradation on the middle lamella region of the woody cell wall (the area located between cells that cements them together) and may gradually degrade all cell-wall layers. As the deterioration progresses, cells continue to separate and the wood is converted into masses of detached and eroded wood fibers. In advanced stages of attack, the wood structure and integrity is severely compromised. This paper describes the defibration process, reports locations on Ross Island where the damage is severe, and discusses methods to control the problem. Successful preservation of these important historic structures and cultural objects depends on a more complete understanding of the unique deterioration processes underway and on implementation of effective strategies to conserve the huts.
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We thank Nigel Watson and conservators of the Antarctic Heritage Trust for their support and cooperation during this study. We also thank David Harrowfield for reviewing the manuscript and for helpful discussions, and Joel Jurgens, Shona Duncan, and Joanne Thwaites for their assistance working at the historic huts. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation grant 9909271. The authors thank the personnel of Scott Base for their assistance in carrying out this research.