Influence of ion exchange processes on salt transport and distribution in historic sandstone buildings

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Colleges, School and Institutes


Crystallisation of salts in the pores of stone is a major concern in the preservation of heritage buildings, monuments and sculptures, but the mechanism of transport and distribution of salts is still not properly understood. The fractionation and distribution of salts in the porous matrix has, in building material research, conventionally been attributed to the solubility and concentration of salts present in the groundwater. We propose another mechanism contributing to the control of the salt distribution based on the interaction of ions in the salt solution with the charged mineral phases within the stone. The transport of mixed salt solutions was studied in laboratory simulated flow-through experiments on two fluvial sandstones – a Permo-Triassic red bed sandstone and a Carboniferous sandstone, both from the UK. The experiments were carried out under non-evaporative conditions, eliminating the possibility of solubility-dependent crystallisation. The results indicate that the process of ion exchange significantly controls the transport of ions in the pores and leads to fractionation of solutes in the course of transport even in the absence of evaporation and crystallisation. The sandstones behave like a chromatographic column and retention of various ionic species is significantly controlled by ion exchange processes. A quantitative estimation of cation exchange capacity (CEC) indicates that sandstones with higher CEC have greater influence on retention and fractionation of salts in the course of capillary transport than those with lower CEC. Simple scoping calculations using a geochemical modelling code and the ion exchange properties based on those determined in the laboratory experiments, demonstrate that ion exchange can have a significant effect on mineral precipitation during evaporation.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)176-183
JournalApplied Geochemistry
Early online date24 Jul 2014
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2014