Three huts the Discovery hut, the Cape Royds hut and the Cape Evans hut --were built in Antarctica the early 20th century and were used to shelter men and equipment for several years during scientific investigations and explorations in the South Pole region. These huts, now international historic sites, have begun to exhibit wood degradation over the past several decades.
"It is a great misconception that the cold, dry polar climate protects organic material from decomposition and significant deterioration has occurred in the 90 to 100 years since the huts were built," say the researchers. "Nonbiological deterioration of wood from the huts and artifacts caused by salt corrosion has resulted in significant damage. Microbial degradation of wood at these historic sites may also occur, but nothing is known about the organisms responsible."
In the study, samples of wood were taken from three expedition huts built between 1901 and 1911 and transported to Antarctica. Several species of Cadophora fungi were identified in two of the three samples and researchers determined the cause to be moisture in the ground from extreme melting and thawing during certain seasons.
"The presence of Cadophora species, but only limited decay, suggests there is no immediate threat to structural integrity of the huts," say the researchers. "These fungi, however, are widely found in wood from the historic huts and have the capacity to cause extensive soft rot if conditions that are more conducive to decay become common."