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International Journal of the Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and Technology of Wood

Editor-in-Chief: Faix, Oskar

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Volume 68, Issue 6


Impact of iron(II) and oxygen on degradation of oak – modeling of the Vasa wood

Shahin Norbakhsh
  • Department of Chemistry and Biotechnology, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Uppsala, Sweden
  • Other articles by this author:
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/ Ingela Bjurhager / Gunnar Almkvist
  • Corresponding author
  • Department of Chemistry and Biotechnology, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Uppsala, Sweden
  • Email
  • Other articles by this author:
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Published Online: 2014-01-18 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/hf-2013-0197


In the wood of the Swedish 17th century warship Vasa, iron (Fe)-catalyzed chemical degradation has taken place after the salvation in 1961, which is manifested in increased acidity accompanied by cellulose degradation and reduced strength in the oak hull. Model studies on fresh oak impregnated with Fe(II) also led to tensile strength (TS) reduction in the same order of magnitude as observed in the wood of the Vasa. In the present study, further experiments have been performed concerning the Fe-catalyzed wood degradation. Namely, the degree of wood degradation was monitored quantitatively by measurement of the O2 consumption of Fe(II)-impregnated oak, kept in closed vials with different relative humidities (RH), as a function of time. The initial O2 consumption was high and declined with time. After 200 days, the accumulated O2 consumption was 0.3–0.4 mmol g-1 wood. Degradation products with low molecular weight were analyzed. The release of CO2 and oxalic acid (OA) was positively correlated with RH (0.235 and 0.044 mmol g-1, respectively, at RH98% after 200 days). Samples kept for 1500 days at RH54% had accumulated 0.044 mmol OA g-1 wood, which is equal to the average OA content in the interior of Vasa oak (corresponding to 4 mg g-1). Oak samples, from which extractives had been removed prior to Fe(II) impregnation, did not change their O2 consumption or TS reduction compared to the nonextracted samples, indicating that extractives are not essential for cellulose degradation in this context.

Keywords: degradation; iron compounds; oxalic acid; oxygen consumption; polyethylene glycol; Vasa; waterlogged wood


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About the article

Corresponding author: Gunnar Almkvist, Department of Chemistry and Biotechnology, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Uppsala, Sweden, e-mail:

Received: 2013-10-10

Accepted: 2013-12-19

Published Online: 2014-01-18

Published in Print: 2014-08-01

Citation Information: Holzforschung, Volume 68, Issue 6, Pages 649–655, ISSN (Online) 1437-434X, ISSN (Print) 0018-3830, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/hf-2013-0197.

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