I am sure that most of my readers - if not all - are aware of the Mary Rose, Henry VIII's flag ship that capsized and sank in the mid-16th century off the Isle of Wight (in the Solent). She was raised and has been preserved but her continued deterioration has been worrisome to say the least. The following describes a possible solution to her continued preservation.
A gel containing the magnetic nanoparticles — each about 1,000 times smaller than the thickness of a sheet of paper — will be applied to sections of the Mary Rose as a way to neutralize iron atoms in the ship's wood that would otherwise form highly destructive acids.
Preliminary tests of the gel on bits of oak that had been soaked in an iron solution showed that the process was 85 percent effective at removing iron particles.
“It’s kind of a simple idea, so it’s been nice that it has really worked,” said Serena Corr, a University of Glasgow chemist and the leader of the scientific team working on the Mary Rose project. She said the scientists are now poised to test the treatment on wood samples from the Mary Rose itself; if that goes well, the gel could be applied broadly to damaged portions of the ship's hull.
The research effort is based in Portsmouth, England, where the Mary Rose and various artifacts from the shipwreck are displayed at the Mary Rose Museum.
The Mary Rose sank in 1545 off England’s southern coast during the Battle of the Solent, a skirmish with the French fleet of King Francis I.
When marine bacteria feed on submerged wood, they release a chemical that reacts with iron — in cannons and other metal artifacts — to form iron sulfides. As long as the wood stays submerged, the sulfides do no harm. But once a ship is raised and exposed to air, they form wood-destroying acids.
The treatment developed by Corr and her colleagues goes a step further by extracting iron particles from the wood without damaging the ship's structure.
Kenyon, who is not involved with Corr's research, said she is keen to see more results from the new treatment, adding that the magnetic nanoparticles could also be used to help preserve the Queen Anne’s Revenge. “It has certainly garnered interest from us as an alternate solution to common methods,” she said.
There are thousands of other shipwrecks around the world that could be treated with these magnetic nanoparticles, according to the American Chemical Society, and they could also be used to save other historic artifacts.
"There are many collections that could benefit from this technology," said Eleanor Schofield, head of conservation at the Mary Rose Trust, a Portsmouth-based charitable trust that is collaborating on efforts to preserve the warship. "It can be applied to any marine archaeological wood," she said, even materials such as textiles and leather.
That is quite an accomplishment and will surely enhance maritime wreck preservation. Kudos to the University of Glasgow scientists and Serena Corr!
Until next time - and we are keeping the folks in the Carolinas in the U.S. in our thoughts and prayers as they await the arrival of a Cat 4 hurricane.