Rock and boulder surfaces are often exposed to weathering and/or rock-breakdown processes for extremely long time periods. This is especially true for arid environments on Earth and on planetary bodies such as Mars. One important, but largely unexplored, gap in knowledge is the influence of past stress histories on the operation of present rock-breakdown processes. Do rocks in the same area with different stress histories respond equally to newly imposed environmental conditions? This study investigates the influence of different physical and chemical stress histories on the response of basalt to salt weathering. We designed a four-stage approach of pre-treatment, field exposure, weathering simulation, and post-treatment: (1) physical, chemical, or no pre-treatment in the laboratory; (2) 3 yr exposure in either a hyper-arid sandy or salt-pan environment in the Namib desert (Namibia); (4) 60 cycles of a hot desert salt weathering simulation; and (4) desalination. Salt uptake and rock breakdown was assessed at each stage through comparison with baseline observations of mass, internal strength (Dynamic Young's modulus) and surface morphology (three-dimensional microscopy). Clear differences in block responses were found. Physically pre-treated blocks (especially those left in the salt-pan environment) experienced the highest loss of strength overall, chemically pre-treated blocks showed the greatest mass loss in the sandy environment, and freshly cut blocks gained strength during exposure in the desert and maintained this during the experiment. These results imply that stress history matters for predicting breakdown rates, with humid, arid, and saline legacies influencing subsequent breakdown in distinctive ways.

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