Environmental Earth Sciences

, Volume 63, Issue 7–8, pp 1691–1700 | Cite as

A commentary on climate change, stone decay dynamics and the ‘greening’ of natural stone buildings: new perspectives on ‘deep wetting’

  • B. J. Smith
  • S. McCabe
  • D. McAllister
  • C. Adamson
  • H. A. Viles
  • J. M. Curran
Special Issue


Environmental controls on stone decay processes are rapidly changing as a result of changing climate. UKCP09 projections for the 2020s (2010–2039) indicate that over much of the UK seasonality of precipitation will increase. Summer dryness and winter wetness are both set to increase, the latter linked to projected precipitation increases in autumn and spring months. If so, this could increase the time that stone structures remain wet and possibly the depth of moisture penetration, and it appears that building stone in Northern Ireland has already responded through an increased incidence of algal ‘greening’. This paper highlights the need for understanding the effects of climate change through a series of studies of largely sandstone structures. Current and projected climatic trends are therefore considered to have aesthetic, physical and chemical implications that are not currently built into our models of sandstone decay, especially with respect to the role played by deep-seated wetness on sandstone deterioration and decay progression and the feedbacks associated with, for example surface algal growth. In particular, it is proposed that algal biofilms will aid moisture retention and further facilitate moisture and dissolved salt penetration to depth. Thus, whilst the outer surface of stone may continue to experience frequent wetting and drying associated with individual precipitation events, the latter is less likely to be complete, and the interiors of building blocks may only experience wetting/drying in response to seasonal cycling. A possible consequence of deeper salt penetration could be a delay in the onset of surface deterioration, but more rapid and effective retreat once it commences as decay mechanisms ‘tap into a reservoir of deep salt’.


Sandstone Climate change Moisture Biofilms 



The research was funded by EPSRC grant EP/G01051X/1. Thanks to Gill Alexander for the preparation of figures. We thank two anonymous reviewers, who have helped to improve this paper.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • B. J. Smith
    • 1
  • S. McCabe
    • 1
  • D. McAllister
    • 1
  • C. Adamson
    • 1
  • H. A. Viles
    • 2
  • J. M. Curran
    • 3
  1. 1.School of Geography, Archaeology and PalaeoecologyQueen’s University of BelfastBelfastUK
  2. 2.School of Geography and the EnvironmentOxford University Centre for the EnvironmentOxfordUK
  3. 3.Consarc Design GroupBelfastUK

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