An early warning system to protect our cultural heritage

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Our cultural heritage will decay in museums and historical buildings all over Europe due to different environmental conditions. Until now there has been no early warning system for the breakdown of organic materials of historical value. A new research project funded by EU, MASTER, is designed to develop a inexpensive and easy way to monitor, evaluate and provide new conservation strategies for organic objects in danger.

Norwegian Institute of Air Research (NILU) is co-ordinating the EU-project MASTER. NILU has for many years worked with the issues of the decay of different organic materials, and has developed and secured analytical methods to characterise residential indoor environments, and methods to detect biological deterioration due to fungal growth etc.

Objects in museums, historic buildings and archives are being affected by display or by storage conditions. Unsuitable environmental conditions are a serious cause of decay, frequently made worse because the effects may remain invisible for a long period. By the time the damage is noticed the whole fabric and structure of an item may already be seriously weakened.

An early warning system to protect our cultural heritage
The key to the survival of these objects is achieving an acceptable environment indoor and vital to this is a sustainable management of the cultural property including better preventive conservation strategies.

The MASTER project

The aim of the project is to provide conservation staff in museums, historic buildings and archives with a new preventive conservation strategy for the protection of cultural property, based on an early warning system assessing the environmental impact on organic objects such as fibre materials.

The MASTER project, funded by the European Commission, started in February 2003 and institutions and partners from United Kingdom, Greece, Germany, Poland, Malta and Norway are co-operating in the project. The main co-ordination is undertaken by Norwegian Institute of Air Research (NILU).

An early warning system to protect our cultural heritage

An Early Warning Sensor

An innovative part of the project is the production of a generic sensor that is reactive to a corrosive environment and replicating the conditions for organic objects such as fibre materials. The sensor will function as an early warning sensor for organic materials (EWO-sensor).

The EWO-sensor will measure the risk for decay in 10 European museums and historic buildings during the one year period of research. The museums are placed in different environments from a clean environment in Trondheim, Norway to the contrasted polluted environment in Cracow, Poland.

On a long-term basis the early warning system developed in the MASTER project should become a routine tool for assessment of indoor air quality in museums, based on specific degradation rates, which will support the implementation of EU environmental regulations.

An early warning system to protect our cultural heritage

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