Research on the microbes attacking the historic woods at Fort Conger and the Peary huts on Ellesmere Island

Few people realize that important historic sites from U.S. expeditions to the Arctic in the late 1800's and early 1900's still exist in the Canadian high Arctic. The sites are a remarkable view into past history and represent extraordinary cultural heritage from the Heroic Era of Arctic exploration. These important structures and artifacts need to be preserved. Our current investigations in cooperation with Parks Canada and Quttinirpaaq National Park are assessing the deterioration taking place in the historic structures, studying the microbes causing decay, monitoring environmental conditions at the site and within the historic structures and providing information for use in developing successful conservation plans for preservation.

The remains of Fort Conger and several huts built by Robert Peary during his expeditions to the North Pole are located on the shores of Lady Franklin Bay, northern Ellesmere Island in Nunavut, Canada. Fort Conger was built in 1881 by the U.S. expedition led by Adolphus Greely. This large wooden fort housed 25 men for several years during their explorations and scientific studies of the North Polar Region. The remains of Fort Conger and thousands of artifacts can be found at the site. In 1900 Robert Peary with Matthew Henson and others established a winter base at the site during one of their expeditions to the North Pole. They built several huts out of the wood from Fort Conger. Two of these huts are still standing and the roofless remains of a third are at the site. Also at this site are artifacts from The British Arctic Expedition of 1875-76 when the HMS Discovery wintered at the site

The Peary huts and remains of Fort Conger are deteriorating. Wood decay fungi are destroying the wooden structures and artifacts causing serious concern. Salt deterioration and wind erosion is also taking a toll on the exterior woods. Our research investigations have provided new information on the fungi attacking the Peary Huts and wood remaining from Fort Conger. A warming climate is accelerating degradation by these unusual soft rot fungi found in the High Arctic. A new publication provides the report:

Blanchette, R. A., B. W. Held, J. Jurgens, A. Stear and C. Dupont. 2021. Fungi attacking historic wood of Fort Conger and the Peary Huts in the High Arctic. PLOS ONE 16(1): e0246049.

Another publication from our research in the Arctic reports decgradation in archaeological woods from 11 sites from 2500BC to 1450AD (from Indigenous sites and Norse settlers) in Greenland:

Pedersen, N. B., H. Matthiesen, R. A. Blanchette, G. Alfredsen, B. W. Held, A. Westergaard-Nielsen and J. Hollesen. 2020. Fungal attack on archaeological wooden artefacts in the Arctic - implications in a changing climate. Nature: Scientific Reports 10:14377: