Building sandstone surface modification by biofilm and iron precipitation: emerging block-scale heterogeneity and system response

Stephen McCabe, Daniel McAllister, Patricia A. Warke, Miguel Gomez-Heras

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


Stone surfaces are sensitive to their environment. This means that they will often respond to exposure conditions by manifesting a change in surface characteristics. Such changes can be more than simply aesthetic, creating surface/subsurface heterogeneity in stone at the block scale, promoting stress gradients to be set up as surface response to, for example, temperature fluctuations, can diverge from subsurface response. This paper reports preliminary experiments investigating the potential of biofilms and iron precipitation as surface-modifiers on stone, exploring the idea of block-scale surface-to-depth heterogeneity, and investigating how physical alteration in the surface and near-surface zone can have implications for subsurface response and potentially for long-term decay patterns. Salt weathering simulations on fresh and surface-modified stone suggest that even subtle surface modification can have significant implications for moisture uptake and retention, salt concentration and distribution from surface to depth, over the period of the experimental run. The accumulation of salt may increase the retention of moisture, by modifying vapour pressure differentials and the rate of evaporation.
Temperature fluctuation experiments suggest that the presence of a biofilm can have an impact on energy transfer processes that occur at the stone surface (for example, buffering against temperature fluctuation), affecting surface-to-depth stress gradients. Ultimately, fresh and surface-modified blocks mask different kinds of system, which respond to inputs differently because of different storage mechanisms, encouraging divergent behaviour between fresh and surface modified stone over time.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)112-122
Number of pages11
JournalEarth Surface Processes and Landforms
Issue number1
Early online date06 Nov 2014
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2015


  • Sandstone
  • surface modification
  • salt weathering
  • thermal stress


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