Near-surface temperature cycling of stone and its implications for scales of surface deterioration

Bernard Smith, S. Srinivasan, M. Gomez-Heras, Muhammed Basheer, H.A. Viles

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Citations (Scopus)


Many previous studies into internal temperature gradients within stone have assumed smooth, exponential increases and decreases in sub-surface temperatures in response, for example, to diurnal patterns of heating and cooling and these have been used to explain phenomena such as large-scale contour scaling. This high-resolution experimental study, in which a porous limestone block was subjected to alternate surface heating and cooling using an infrared lamp, demonstrates that internal temperature gradients in response to short-term environmental cycles (measured in minutes) can in fact be complex and inconsistent. Results confirm the significance of very steep temperature/stress gradients within the outer 10 mm or less of exposed stone. Below this the data indicate complex patterns of temperature reversals, the amplitudes of which are attenuated with depth and which are influenced in their intensity and location by variations in the relative duration of heating and cooling phases. It is suggested that the reversals might represent ‘interference patterns’ between incoming and outgoing thermal waves, but whatever their origin they are potentially important because they occur within the zone in which many stone decay processes, especially salt weathering, operate. These processes invariably respond to temperature and moisture fluctuations, and short-term interruptions to insolation could, for example, trigger these fluctuations on numerous occasions over a day. In particular, the reversals occur at a scale that is commensurate with decay by multiple flaking and could indicate an underlying control on this previously little-researched pattern of weathering. In the context of this publication, however, the main lesson to be learned from this study is that differing scales of behaviour require different scales of enquiry.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)76-82
Number of pages7
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - 01 Jul 2011


  • Experimental weathering; Thermal regimes; Multiple flaking
  • Thermal regimes
  • Multiple flaking

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth-Surface Processes


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