Abstract

Moisture is a well-documented, and crucial, control on the nature of stone decay. The term ‘time of wetness’ has frequently been adopted to describe how long a stone block is wet, with a view to understanding the impact of this on decay processes. Although this term has proved conceptually useful, it has been used in different ways, by different groups to mean very different things. For example, the time of wetness for a stone block surface (the traditional understanding) may be very different from that of a block interior, controlled by the different dynamics of wetting and drying in those zones. Thus, surface wetting will occur regularly (sometimes swiftly followed by drying, depending on the time of year), with block interior wetting requiring the accumulation of surface moisture to penetrate to depth (more likely in autumn and winter months), and drying out much more slowly. This relatively new but important perspective, framed in the context of climate change, is crucial to understanding the length of time stone may remain damp at depth following a period of prolonged precipitation. The nature and speed of drying is also relevant in quantifying time of wetness of both surfaces and the interior of building stones. These ideas related to time of wetness have implications for decay processes, specifically how a prolonged time of deep wetness may re-focus the emphasis of salt weathering in natural building stones toward chemical action. Literature on chemical change is discussed, suggesting that chemical change occurring during periods of prolonged wetness is likely to be significant in itself, with implications for weakening the stone (in terms of, for example, cement dissolution or grain boundary weakening) and exacerbating physical damage from salt crystallization when blocks finally dry out.

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