Whither weathering? Challenges for rock weathering research in the 21st century

Patricia A. Warke, Stephen McCabe, Daniel McAllister, Jim P. McGreevy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The ultimate goal of any science as defined by Trofimov and Phillips (1992) is to be able to predict the behaviour of systems. However, when we measure the 'maturity' of rock weathering science against this goal then it still falls short. Despite this, our understanding of the complexities of rock weathering and ways of explaining weathering forms and processes have advanced significantly in the last 100 years and now provide a solid platform for confronting research challenges in the 21st century. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries ways of explaining weathering features tended to be descriptive, based on observation and sometimes anecdote with a tendency to infer process from form. Since the mid-20th century rock weathering science has become increasingly sophisticated with the focus on better understanding the material properties of rock and how these properties influence response to weathering processes. Prof. Eiju Yatsu, through his work and publications in the 1970s and 1980s, made a major contribution to driving the science forward through his focus on rock property and process interactions. With greater recognition of the complexity of material properties, combined with the many technological advances of the time (e.g., Scanning Electron Microscopy; Laser Scanning), researchers were able to be more precise in the measurement of change and micro-scale observation of the impact of weathering processes on different rock types. Such technologies undoubtedly enabled ever greater precision in the measurement of weathering-related change but this has not brought us any closer to being able to predict system behaviour. In recent decades the limitations of deterministic approaches to experimental design and model development has led to the recognition that much laboratory derived weathering simulation data do not reflect the complexities of 'real world' system behaviour. A better understanding could potentially be achieved through the adoption of more complex probabilistic approaches to modelling in which the incorporation of 'random' system perturbations might enable more accurate predictions of system behavior or at least aid in identifying the probability of a system behaving in a particular way. Computer simulation tools can incorporate 'uncertainty' into system behaviour and produce probable outcomes that can be judged against 'real world' rock weathering response. However, such technologies (e.g., WUFI® - a hygrothermal simulation tool) require 'new' or different skills not widely possessed by process geomorphologists. Nevertheless, geomorphologists have always been open to adopting new technologies and learning new skills that may eventually enable attainment of Trofimov and Phillips' (1992) goal of being able to predict the behaviour of 'real world' rock weathering systems in the 21th century.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)279-297
JournalChikei/Transactions, Japanese Geomorphological Union
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 01 Jul 2019


  • Hygrothermal models
  • Prediction
  • Rock weathering
  • Simulations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth-Surface Processes


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