Honeycomb weathering is a common surface phenomenon affecting a variety of rocks in a range of environments. It develops on building stones and it shapes ocean cliffs, rocks in hot deserts, and Arctic landscapes. Honeycomb weathering may also help alter rocks on other planets, such as Mars. Although first noted in the nineteenth century, its origins are still not well understood, and a dearth of laboratory experiments testing the many theories proposed for its development has added to the ambiguity. Incipient honeycomb weathering in a homogeneous limestone has been experimentally reproduced by wind exposure and salt crystallization. Our experiments show that heterogeneous wind flow over a stone surface is important in the development of this weathering pattern. Wind promotes evaporative salt growth between grains on a stone surface, resulting in the development of small, randomly distributed cavities. A reduction in air pressure within the cavities results in increased wind speed and rapid evaporation. A high evaporation rate and evaporative cooling of the saline solution in the cavity leads to more rapid and greater granular disintegration than in the surrounding areas. It seems that this local supersaturation and subsequent buildup of salt crystallization pressure ultimately result in the formation of honeycomb features. For the first time, these experimental results demonstrate the close relationship between salts, wind, and honeycomb weathering. They also offer new ways to understand the genesis of this striking and sometimes harmful weathering pattern.

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