Special Issue

Environmental Earth Sciences

, Volume 63, Issue 7, pp 1565-1572

First online:

Flaw propagation and buckling in clay-bearing sandstones

  • Timothy P. WanglerAffiliated withInstitute for Technology in Architecture, ETH ZürichEmpa Swiss Federal Institute for Materials Testing and Research
  • , Alisa StratulatAffiliated withDepartment of Materials, University of Oxford
  • , Philippa DuffusAffiliated withDepartment of Materials, University of Oxford
  • , Jean H. PrévostAffiliated withDepartment of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Princeton University
  • , George W. SchererAffiliated withDepartment of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Princeton University Email author 

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Many historically and culturally significant buildings have sandstones that contain swelling clay inclusions in the binding phase. Differential strains that evolve during wetting and drying cycles can generate stresses that are on the order of the strength of the stone, leading to degradation. Most damage observed in the field is surface delamination and buckling of the stone over a flaw, indicating that the damage is occurring during wetting. Classical buckling theory predicts buckling to occur at a particular aspect ratio, or flaw size. The results of this study confirm buckling theory experimentally. Through finite-element simulation and experiment, the study then explores a potential flaw propagation mechanism whereby nonuniform wetting patterns generate stress intensities capable of flaw propagation. As a result, small natural flaws can grow to the critical size necessary for buckling.


Clay Swelling Stress Finite-element analysis Crack growth Buckling Cultural heritage