Changing climate, changing process: implications for salt transportation and weathering within building sandstones in the UK

S. McCabe, B. J. Smith, J. J. McAlister, M. Gomez-Heras, D. McAllister, P. A. Warke, J. M. Curran, P. A. M. Basheer

Research output: Contribution to journalSpecial issuepeer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)


Salt weathering is a crucial process that brings about a change in stone, from the scale of landscapes to stone outcrops and natural building stone facades. It is acknowledged that salt weathering is controlled by fluctuations in temperature and moisture, where repeated oscillations in these parameters can cause re-crystallisation, hydration/de-hydration of salts, bringing about stone surface loss in the form of, for example, granular disaggregation, scaling, and multiple flaking. However, this ‘traditional’ view of how salt weathering proceeds may need to be re-evaluated in the light of current and future climatic trends. Indeed, there is considerable scope for the investigation of consequences of climate change on geomorphological processes in general. Building on contemporary research on the ‘deep wetting’ of natural building stones, it is proposed that (as stone may be wetter for longer), ion diffusion may become a more prominent mechanism for the mixing of molecular constituents, and a shift in focus from physical damage to chemical change is suggested. Data from ion diffusion cell experiments are presented for three different sandstone types, demonstrating that salts may diffuse through porous stone relatively rapidly (in comparison to, for example, dense concrete). Pore water from stones undergoing diffusion experiments was extracted and analysed. Factors controlling ion diffusion
relating to ‘time of wetness’ within stones are discussed, (continued saturation, connectivity of pores, mineralogy, behaviour of salts, sedimentary structure), and potential changes in system dynamics as a result of climate change are addressed. System inputs may change in terms of increased moisture input, translating into a greater depth of wetting front. Salts are likely to be ‘stored’ differently in stones, with salt being in solution for longer periods (during prolonged winter wetness). This has myriad implications in terms of the movement of ions by diffusion and the potential for chemical change in the stone (especially in more mobile constituents), leading to a weakening of the stone matrix/grain boundary cementing. The ‘output’ may be mobilisation and precipitation of elements leading to, for example, uneven cementing in the stone. This reduced strength of the stone, or compromised ability of the stone to absorb stress, is likely to make crystallisation a more efficacious mechanism of decay when it does occur. Thus, a delay in the onset of crystallisation while stonework is wet does not preclude exaggerated or accelerated material loss when it finally happens.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1225-1235
Number of pages11
JournalEnvironmental Earth Sciences
Issue number4
Early online date08 Feb 2013
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2013

Bibliographical note

Thematic Issue: Urban use of rocks-The Bernard-Smith-Volume

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Geology
  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Pollution
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Soil Science


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