Environmental Earth Sciences

, Volume 72, Issue 6, pp 1789–1799 | Cite as

Alteration kinetics of natural stones due to sodium sulfate crystallization: can reality match experimental simulations?

  • Teresa Diaz GonçalvesEmail author
  • Vânia Brito
Original Article


Salt decay is a very destructive mechanism that affects frequently the porous building materials of our architectural heritage. Sodium sulfate is one of the salts found in this context. It usually demonstrates high destructive power in salt crystallization tests because it can crystallize not only during evaporative processes but also when the temperature drops or when the salt solution comes into contact with pre-existing crystals. However, the use of extreme temperatures or successive wet/dry cycles also makes these tests unrepresentative of reality. To verify whether sodium sulfate can also be so destructive in field conditions, we have performed crystallization tests consisting of a single isothermal drying event. Three natural stones, relevant for the architectural heritage, were used for the purpose: Bentheimer sandstone, Ançã limestone, and a current Portuguese limestone of low porosity. The stones gave rise to distinct salt decay patterns: efflorescence, multilayer delamination and unilayer delamination, respectively. These morphological alterations were characterized at the micrometer scale by a new method based on what we have called the alteration kinetics curve. Such curve is calculated from topographic profiles obtained by a non-contact optical technique. The multilayer and unilayer delamination decay were also monitored by time-lapse photography. The work led us to conclude that sodium sulfate can indeed be also very destructive in field-representative conditions. Moreover, it showed that the optical method can be a valuable aid in the development of more realistic salt crystallization tests.


Architectural heritage Salt decay Salt crystallization Sodium sulfate Natural stone Optical profilometry 



This work was performed under the research project DRYMASS (ref. PTDC/ECM/100553/2008) which is supported by national funds through the Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (FCT) and the Laboratório Nacional de Engenharia Civil (LNEC). We are grateful to Tiago Enes Dias for carrying out the time-lapse photography. We would like to acknowledge also the contributions, in different aspects of the work, of Silvia Pereira, José Delgado Rodrigues, Veerle Cnudde, Timo G. Nijland, Manuel Francisco Pereira, Leo Pel, João Palma, Luís Nunes, José Costa and Graça Tomé.

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.National Laboratory for Civil EngineeringLisbonPortugal

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