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Veteran Shares USS Arizona Corrosion Findings

Monday, December 12, 2016

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Among this past weekend’s activities commemorating the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, university researchers were on deck to share their findings regarding corrosion and long-term stability of the wreckage of the USS Arizona.

A team from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln undertook the corrosion study under the principle that knowledge gained by studying corrosion on the wreckage might also help prevent environmental hazards worldwide, the school announced.

USS Arizona Memorial Aerial View
US Navy

Since 1999 a team from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln has been studying the effects of corrosion on the USS Arizona, submerged in Pearl Harbor, HI. The team presented its findings at an event during ceremonies commemorating the 75th anniversary of the attack.

"The significance is there have been many sunken ships on the west and east coasts of America and all around the world that contain fuel oil or might be navigation hazards," said Don Johnson, emeritus professor of mechanical and materials engineering, who has been part of the team studying the Arizona since 1998.

According to Your West Valley News, the Nebraska team was scheduled to present its study findings at a National Park Service conference held in connection with the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Memorial, marking the anniversary of the attack as well as the 100-year anniversaries of the launching of the USS Arizona and the NPS.

There, the team planned to discuss what must be done to protect both the Arizona and the environment around it.

Potential for Oil Release

More than 2,400 Americans were killed when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941, sinking or severely damaging five of eight battleships, three destroyers and seven other ships.

But beyond the human toll, ecosystems around the naval base suffered the effects of the thousands of gallons of fuel that spilled into the water and washed onto beaches, the university noted.

The Arizona alone reportedly released more than half of the 6,000 tons of fuel it carried. It sank into the harbor that day in under nine minutes after a bomb dropped from a Japanese dive bomber hit the deck and ignited a supply of ammunition, killing 1,177 sailors on board.

USS Arizona after attack
National Park Service

When the Arizona sank, it reportedly released more than half of the 6,000 tons of fuel it carried; about 500,000 gallons remain submerged and continue to slowly leak from the wreckage, the team said. The ship is shown here after its forward magazines exploded in the Dec. 7, 1941 attack.

An estimated 500,000 gallons of fuel oil remain submerged and continue to slowly leak from the USS Arizona wreckage, the team said.

The Nebraska team has been studying external hull corrosion and environmental effects on the ship since 1999, when the Navy sought their insights regarding potential oil release.

According to Johnson, “The reason we’re doing all this work is the National Park System is responsible for the ship out there and they want to be able to report to the Navy what the condition of the ship is at any one time.”

Evaluating the Corrosion Process

In the 18 years of its work, the group has reportedly reached a better understanding of the corrosion process and how it is developing.

“The biggest thing that we’ve learned is there’s an accumulation of biofouling on the ship,” Johnson said about the Arizona.

Johnson related the process to a term used by archeologists, concretion, because the organisms begin to harden into a concrete-like material as they accumulate on the ship’s metal. This has made “a big difference in the rate of deterioration of the ship,” he said.

"(Concretion) creates a barrier so oxygen access and resulting corrosion rate is somewhat lower. That's been a surprise because concretion accumulation has very likely contributed to extended structural integrity of the ship," Johnson explained.

Underwater diver at USS Arizona
National Park Service / Photo by Brett Seymour

Team member Don Johnson reported that the accumulation of biofouling on the Arizona has made a big difference in the rate of deterioration, and “has very likely contributed to extended structural integrity of the ship.”

Based on their collected data, the researchers developed a mathematical formula—named the Weins Number—to estimate the corrosion rate based on the effects of water temperature, oxygen concentration and thickness of concretion.

The formula is named after Bill Weins, a former professor of mechanical engineering who was part of the research team until his death in 2001.

"What we've found so far, with the Weins Number, we believe the ship is going to remain quite stable for the next 150 to 200 years."

'Sense of Duty'

As a metallurgist, engineer and veteran, Johnson said he was looking forward to being able to present data during the 75th anniversary ceremonies. Since the war ended before he was shipped to service in the Pacific, Johnson said he he doesn’t consider himself a “full-fledged World War II veteran.” However, "I served in the Navy and the Army (the Corps of Engineers), and feel a sense of duty to this project,” he noted.

"The fact that I could look at the Arizona and relate its history to the corrosion and some of the problems that exist out there right now has been a great experience and opportunity to serve the U.S. Park Service and other government agencies," Johnson said.

The research team also includes Jim Carr, emeritus professor of chemistry, and Nebraska graduates Dana Medlin and John Makinson.

Financial support for travel to the ceremonies was provided by the university’s Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, as well as the United States National Park Service, which oversees the USS Arizona Memorial.


Tagged categories: Asia Pacific; Colleges and Universities; Corrosion; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Historic Structures; Latin America; Marine; Monuments; North America; Program/Project Management; Research and development; Rust

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