The limited penetration of wood by light explains why the weathering of wood exposed outdoors is a surface phenomenon. Wood is rapidly degraded by short-wave-length UV radiation, but the penetration of light into wood is positively correlated with its wavelength. Hence, subsurface degradation is likely to be caused by longer-wavelength light that still has sufficient energy to degrade wood. In this paper we test this hypothesis and determine the wavelengths of visible light that extend photo-degradation into wood beyond the zone affected by UV radiation. Sugi (Cryptomeria japonica) earlywood was exposed to UV and visible light with narrow band gaps (20 nm) and the penetration of light into the wood was measured using a photodetector. Photodegradation was depth-profiled using FT-IR microscopy. There was a positive correlation between the penetration of light into sugi earlywood and the wavelength of the incident radiation within the range 246–496 nm. The depth of photodegradation also increased with wavelength up to and including the violet region (403 nm) of the visible spectrum. Blue light (434–496 nm) penetrated wood to a greater extent than violet light and was capable of bleaching the wood, but it did not significantly modify lignin, and hence it was not responsible for sub-surface photodegradation of wood. We conclude that violet light is the component of the visible spectrum that extends photodegradation into wood beyond the zone affected by UV radiation. Accordingly, surface treatments designed to protect wood used outdoors should shield wood from the effects of violet light.
Kataoka, Yutaka; Kiguchi, Makoto; Williams, R. Sam; Evans, Philip D. 2007. Violet light causes photodegradation of wood beyond the zone affected by ultraviolet radiation. Holzforschung. Vol. 61 (2007): pages 23-27.