Podcast Transcript: Lessons Learned From Corrosion in Antarctica

Materials Performance (MP) Technical Editor Jack Tinnea recently joined our MP podcast series to discuss his environmental analysis of corrosion in Antarctica and the Southern Hemisphere, as well as provide key takeaways and lessons learned for other areas throughout the world. In the episode, Jack also offers topical tips for future MP submissions.

After listening to the podcast and/or reading the transcript below, check out his recent MP technical article entitled "Antarctica—Corrosion in a Polar Desert" for further information. 

[introductory comments]

Ben DuBose: Jack, good morning. How are you?

Jack Tinnea: I’m great. How about yourself?

BD: Doing pretty well. Glad to get you on the show. What we do as far as the MP podcast, for any new listeners, we talk to various experts within the corrosion control field. I certainly think Jack is one of those. He helps coordinate our technical articles in the MP magazine. That’s one thing that we want to do as far as the MP interview series: go into some of these technical articles, get a little bit more background and depth for those of you that are listeners. Hopefully some of you are readers as well.

Jack recently wrote an article for us. He typically helps compile these, but he also writes some from time to time. He had one recently about corrosion in Antarctica. We we’re going to be talking about that in a little bit. But before we get to the article itself, I want to give Jack an opportunity — for anyone who doesn’t know him already — to give a little bit of background about his career and recent times in corrosion. Jack, aside from your role as the MP technical editor, give our audience some background about your history in the field.

JT: My background academically is in physical chemistry, but my first real job after graduation was I got hired by the Civil Engineering Department at my alma mater, Illinois, to do research on cement chemistry. It was about the same time that the state of Illinois discovered that bringing potions to the highways of Illinois in the form of deicing salts coming off the back of trucks during the wintertime was not only corroding out the chassis of the Chevys and Fords, but was also tearing up the bridges. That is how I got involved in corrosion a long time ago and have basically been dealing with the crumbling infrastructure ever since. I chaired the first NACE technical committee that wrote the first standard on applying cathodic protection to steel and concrete.


BD: I know you’ve looked at corrosion in a number of environments, and today’s discussion is a pretty unique one, in my opinion. You don’t see that many articles about corrosion in Antarctica. We’re talking about, as you called it, corrosion in a polar desert. For anyone who wants to call it up, go to www.materialsperformance.com. You can find it under Topics à Material Selection and Design. It was also in one of our recent MP print issues, so if you want to read it, again while you're listening or after you listen, that’s how you can find it. Jack, before we go into the article itself, tell some background about why you wanted to dive into this topic. It’s such a unique region. There’s probably not a ton of articles out there about it. How did this idea come to you?

JT: The idea came to me a long time back from a person who preceded me as chair of the NACE Publications Committee. That was something else I did some years back. Frank Ansuini, who had been chair of the Publications Committee. He had taken a trip down to Antarctica, and that had initially piqued my interest. Luck of the draw, dealing with crumbling infrastructure, it has allowed me to travel to the other six continents on the planet. So I had one left to go. I said, “Well, let’s go down and see what’s happening in Antarctica.”


BD: One of the interesting parts of your article, you mention that, to control corrosion, it’s very helpful to categorize the environment. When we’re talking about the polar desert and this particular subject, what are the types of environments that need to be considered in your analysis?

JT: Well, you have the macro environment, which would be a large scale. A macro environment could be the city of Houston or the city of Seattle. We’ll call that the macro environment. If I go to the northern suburbs of Houston, I don’t see a lot of salt spray that I would if I get right down to the water. The same thing in Seattle. If I move to the other side of the hills here, which are as high as Dallas’ in Texas — where I’m sitting right now, I’m 20 blocks from sea level but I’m already 840 feet in the air — we don’t get much salt spray here.

But down at the waterfront, they do. That would get into the micro environment. The I would go to a particular location on a dock, and that would be the nano environment. You have to consider all of those, rather than — in this particular environment, there’s plenty of different environments corrosion-wise within a city. If we go down to a single pier, there’s going to be nano environments on that particular pier. But you're going to have problems of why we see corrosion here but we don’t see it over there.


BD: How much variance is there based on the location? For example, you mentioned, and it’s right there in the headline, about this being a polar desert. Yet a lot of your infrastructure in Antarctica is near a more coastal location. Typically, people associate coastal locations with a certain degree of corrosion due to the moist conditions. How much variance was there, depending on where you're looking, on that continent?

JT: You would definitely, where you get to the coast, the continent is essentially a desert. It’s quite fascinating, considering the vast majority of freshwater on the planet is in Antarctica between glaciers and ice. But it’s a desert. They get less than 10 inches of precipitation a year. But if I’m on the coast, then because of the wind, you could get aspiration from the waves of getting seawater into the air, and that can be problematic. Likewise, because it’s a desert, you have the penguin colonies down there. Penguins, like most birds, poop. In a desert, it dries. Then it dries, turns to dust, and blows. Then you get this corrosion fertilizer, if you will, being carried that normally would not be the case if there was sufficient rain to wash it off and take it away.


BD: That’s pretty interesting. I would never have thought of that component to it. I think that’s one thing that’s, at least for me, a little bit surprising. Was there anything that surprised you in your analysis when you really dove into these angles?

JT: Some of it was just simply seeing it. I had seen algae impacting snow down in California. In some of the glaciers, it shows up down there. But down in Antarctica, there’s just all this watermelon snow. And really it does, it looks like watermelon. What’s causing it is algae that’s being fertilized by the penguin poop getting blown. But that same thing goes and it’s stuck on the water tanks that are used and the equipment that are used at facilities that are down there trying to do research and gets into crevices and what have you. Then if you do get a little moisture in there, then you're at party time, corrosion-wise. Especially when you're on the coast. You’ve not only got the organics and the nitrates that are coming off of the penguins. You also get sulfates coming off of the sea that’s also immediately adjacent. So you’ve got penguins that are right in the middle of the research facility.


BD: Are there any lessons learned from this that are applicable to regions outside of Antarctica? Because I’m sure there’s a lot of people listening in our audience that certainly corrosion in a polar desert is an interesting topic, yet at the same time it would not seem to be directly applicable to areas in the much more populated world. When you look at your findings in this article, are there certain components that might be applicable to corrosion needs for other areas?

JT: Absolutely. Take, for example, Alaska. One of the things folks think about in Alaska is they have very big tides. Well, they do in southeast Alaska. But if we go to Nome, they have very small tides. They aren’t very big at all. There, you have to deal with, you’re doing cathodic protection to a bridge, which we did in Nome. We don’t have to deal with the tides being problematic. We have to deal with ice floes being problematic. So the equipment that you have to put in — essentially it’s a large steel channel to run your cables down because the ice would rip conduit right off the pipe piles.

BD: That’s very interesting. I hadn’t considered that.

JT: You have to consider your environment, and each environment is going to be different. But you have to make sure that you ask all the questions and hold deep in your heart that the most stupid question is the one that doesn’t get asked. I’ve seen all sorts of stuff that I wouldn’t have expected. Corrosion is a major problem in Lima, Peru, and you would think, “Why would it be there? It’s a desert.” It’s a desert, but it’s a very foggy desert. Which sounds sort of contradictory, but it’s the nature of Lima. They have specific corrosion problems, say like on power towers and other things, due to the fact that they’re constantly sitting in the fog.


BD: Just from a human interest perspective, how enjoyable was the trip? I’m guessing it was a pretty great and unique place to go, right?

JT: It was fantastic. We went on a thing with — I don't know if I can say it — it was with National Geographic. The people who basically took us out… had Master’s or PhDs in relevant fields, whether it was marine biology, whales, geography, glaciers, and they were quite fascinated. What to me was quite interesting was the fact that, myself, but also almost all the other folks who were there on the cruise, leaned very heavily to folks who were in science or engineering or technology, who asked really amazingly deep questions. On a cruise ship! We didn’t quite get into having calculus questions being asked, but the questions were very deep and very serious.


BD: I bet. Again, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime trip, it sounds like. Many of us won’t get to go, but for those that do, it’s certainly a great opportunity, it sounds like.

JT: And just going there, to get there, I had to go through Chile and Argentina. So I got to stop and visit and actually meet with some folks that I’ve learned — through NACE in Chile — can learn more about their specific corrosion problems but at a firsthand and an arms-length basis rather than just emails between Seattle and Valparaiso, Chile, which is a pretty long distance.


BD: Is there anything particularly unique with the Southern Hemisphere? While we’re talking about it — I’m just thinking out loud — but is there anything with regards to, I know you mentioned Chile, Argentina — anything particularly distinctive there that you might not see in the Northern Hemisphere?

JT: Well, yes. One of the things that they have to deal with in some of their mining areas up north, it’s a desert area. Again, you would think, “This wouldn’t be particularly corrosive.” But the soil resistivity in that desert is less than what you get in seawater because it’s almost solid salt. But that’s where our lithium comes from — and other minerals — so that was quite interesting. Chile is the largest producer of copper on the planet, which is something that’s used a lot. They have their own unique copper corrosion issues, and got to take a trip down to one of the copper mines and get to see some of that firsthand, again because of this trip to Antarctica got me in touch with friends down there who were working on corrosion problems in copper mines which provide copper for the world.


BD: Very interesting. I would love to go back. I went to Argentina a little over six years ago on our honeymoon. We went to Buenos Aires, and it was a fantastic trip. A great, beautiful country. Certainly very different than here. It makes sense that they would have some relatively unique corrosion problems as well.

JT: Oh yes, because we jumped off on the voyage from Ushuaia, Argentina, which is at the very tip end of the South American continent. It’s basically the furthest south city on the planet. It’s glaciers and conifers, but so much of Argentina is fairly arid pampas, and it’s great for raising cows. You know, you don’t see so many fir trees and glaciers.


BD: Right. That’s interesting. Jack, before we close out the podcast, for anyone listening that’s interested in submitting their own technical article — we have lots of people who I’m sure they do their travels, they have their types of analysis — besides your own corrosion career, you're the MP technical editor. Tell anyone listening that’s interested in potentially being an author for MP what the process is like and what some of the initial steps would be.

JT: We have our site online for submitting the papers, and that gets into what the length is and the number of references and some of the more mundane things on there. But topically, anything. I would like to see a few more ones which would be perhaps a bit more basic that would be helpful for our technicians as they’re moving through their various NACE certifications, to help them on that process, that it all doesn’t have to be writing for somebody with a master’s or PhD. Write it for somebody who’s got a community college education and is working as a technician on an offshore platform. I would love to see those as well as the ones that are a bit more pedigreed, shall we say.


BD: That makes a lot of sense. I think that’s probably the direction that would make the most universal benefit to our readers at MP. For those interested, if you want to learn how to do that and see some other steps, go to www.materialsperformance.com and on the top bar you’ll see “Submit Manuscript.” You can open that up and then you’ll see within that a link for “Submit Your Paper Online.” That’s our precise paper tracker system that we use for technical articles. Then of course, for articles already published, such as the one we’ve been talking about, Jack Tinnea’s “Antarctica: Corrosion in a Polar Desert,” you can go underneath Topics. You can segment it by Coatings & Linings, Cathodic Protection, Chemical Treatment, Material Selection, so on and so forth. Jack’s article that we’ve been talking about today is under Material Section & Design, and you can read all about the corrosion in the polar desert of Antarctica. Jack, thank you so much for the time, and I look forward to having you back again sometime soon.

JT: Great. Thanks so much, Ben. Have a great day.

BD: No problem.

JT: And the rest of you out there, have a great day and stay safe.

BD: Always good advice these days.

[closing statements]