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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2008

Sulfur accumulation in pinewood (Pinus sylvestris) induced by bacteria in a simulated seabed environment: Implications for marine archaeological wood and fossil fuels

Fors, Yvonne; Nilsson, Thomas; Risberg, Emiliana Damian; Sandström, Magnus; Torssander, Peter


Fresh pinewood blocks were submerged in sulfate and iron(H) containing media, inoculated with bacterial consortia isolated from seawater, aiming to simulate the seabed conditions of the Vasa shipwreck (1628). The consortia contained erosion (EB) and sulfate-reducing bacteria (SRB). Sulfur K-edge X-ray absorption near edge structure (XANES) spectroscopy and scanning X-ray spectromicroscopy images showed that organic sulfur, mainly thiols (R-SH), had accumulated in the lignin-rich middle lamella in EB-degraded parts of the wood. The sulfur content in the wood increased more than 10 times in 2 years. In another series with active inoculums from marine archaeological wood, the sulfur XANES spectra showed, after 4 years of anaerobic treatment, considerable amounts also of inorganic iron sulfides, Fe(1-x)S, which oxidized at atmospheric exposure. A sediment sample from the Vasa's seabed was also rich in iron sulfides, including pyrite, FeS(2). X-ray fluorescence mappings of sulfur and phosphorous distributions indicate that scavenging SRB penetration, producing hydrogen sulfide in situ, is restricted to EB-degraded parts of the wood structure. The sulfur isotope depletion of (34)S from delta(34)S = 21 parts per thousand in marine sulfate to delta(34)S = 6 parts per thousand and 1.8 parts per thousand for fractions of reduced sulfur and sulfate separated from a Vasa wood sample, respectively, suggests bacterial transformation. A fuller understanding of the routes of sulfur accumulation, as reactive iron sulfides and as organic sulfur, has important implications for improving conservation methods of marine archaeological wood. Moreover, the biogenic accumulation of organically bound sulfur, specifically in lignin-rich parts of waterlogged wood, has wider geochemical significance for fossil fuels of marine origin, as lignin-rich humic matter is important for the diagenetic formation of kerogens from anoxic marine sediments. (C) 2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.


Marine archaeological wood; Waterlogged wood degradation; Sulfur accumulation; Consortia; Erosion bacteria; Sulfur reducing bacteria; Sulfur isotope fractionation; Sulfur spectroscopy; Fossil fuels

Published in

International Biodeterioration and Biodegradation
2008, volume: 62, number: 4, pages: 336-347

Authors' information

Fors, Yvonne
Stockholm University
Nilsson, Thomas
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Faculty of Forest Sciences
Risberg, Emiliana Damian
Stockholm University
Sandström, Magnus
Stockholm University
Torssander, Peter
Stockholm University

UKÄ Subject classification

Wood Science

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