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Research Grants

Society, Space and Culture

Environmental Change

Surface modification by algae changing temperature response during active thermography

Climate Change, Stone Surface Modification and Subsurface Response: Complex Behaviour of Historic Sandstone in response to Shifting Climatic Trends

Historic Scotland ‘Heritage Science’ Fellowship (March 2012 – February 2013)

Stephen McCabe

Recent research carried out within the School of GAP has proposed that environmental controls on stone decay processes could change significantly in response to projected climate change. Summer dryness and winter wetness are both set to increase, the latter linked to projected precipitation increases in autumn and spring months. If so, this could increase the time that stone structures remain wet and also the depth of moisture penetration – building stone in Northern Ireland has already responded to this by an increased incidence of algal ‘greening’.

Current and projected climatic trends have aesthetic, physical and chemical implications that are not currently built into our models of sandstone decay, especially with respect to the role played by deep-seated wetness on sandstone deterioration and decay progression and the feedbacks associated with, for example surface modification by algal growth. In particular it is proposed that algal biofilms may aid moisture retention and further facilitate moisture and dissolved salt penetration to depth (though this is, as yet, largely untested). Thus, whilst the outer surface of stone may continue to experience frequent wetting and drying associated with individual precipitation events, the latter is less likely to be complete and the interiors of building blocks may in fact only experience wetting/drying in response to seasonal cycling. A possible consequence of deeper salt penetration could be a delay in the onset of surface deterioration, but more rapid and effective retreat once it commences as decay mechanisms ‘tap into a reservoir of deep salt’. Fresh stone has been monitored at the Derrygonnelly stone decay test facility (run by the WRG, QUB, funded by EPSRC), but this initial-stage monitoring has not taken into account how surface modification may impact subsurface patterns of moisture, temperature and salt (in, for example, historic stone), and has not investigated how feedbacks set-up by surface change may alter behaviour.

Many historic sandstones have already undergone surface modification, so this research is specifically targeted at understanding how stone with a long and complex exposure history respond to climate change (in terms of subsurface response).

Overall aims

1. To understand how shifting climatic trends drive surface modification, and how surface modification, in turn, alters subsurface patterns of temperature, moisture and salt distribution (including feedbacks)

2. To produce protocols for managing historic sandstone under wet conditions to prolong service life and value

Specific Objectives

1. Catalogue historic sandstone buildings and monuments in the NWUK impacted by wetter winters and potentially drier summers (and associated surface modification or decay forms)

2. Continue environmental monitoring of surface and subsurface conditions at Derrygonnelly stone decay test facility – specifically to investigate how surface alteration may set up feedbacks that influence subsurface response (temperature and moisture profiles) – not a consideration in this set-up until now

3. Elucidating the potential synergy of wet winters and damage by de-icing salts

4. Set up laboratory simulation experiments to investigate

i. How changing albedo may influence subsurface temperature response

ii. How deep wetting followed by rapid drying may influence subsurface distribution of salts

iii. How surface decay may alter subsurface patterns of temperature and moisture, and progress while the stone interior is still wet

iv. How surface treatments may alter subsurface response

v. How deeply salts may penetrate by diffusion over a 6-month period (simulating the October to March ‘wet’ period)

5. Develop models of surface modification / subsurface response influenced by climate change, validate simulation results with real-world historic sandstone structures using catalogue complied (objective 1)

6. Work with end-users to develop protocols for management of historic stone under wet winter / dry summer conditions

Linguistic Geographies – the Gough Map of Great Britain and its making (April 2010 to June 2011),
in collaboration with King’s College London and Bodleian Library, Oxford (AHRC ‘Beyond Text’ programme), £141,000: AHRC

  • PI Keith Lilley (QUB)
  • CI Nick Millea (Oxford)
  • CI Paul Vetch (KCL)

Linguistic Geographies aims to help explain how maps were produced in the Middle Ages. Very little is known of the processes that were involved in medieval map-making, yet as visual objects maps such as the one which is the focus of this study – the Gough Map of Great Britain – they continue to fascinate and mystify modern audiences. The Gough Map is the earliest to show the whole of Britain in geographically-recognizable form, and is conventionally dated to c.1360.

Yet, despite its appearance in television programmes, book covers, learned articles and so forth, the Gough Map’s origins are uncertain, including who made it, how, where and why? This project seeks to address these questions by using an innovative approach to explore the map’s ‘linguistic geographies’, that is the writing used on the map by the (unknown) scribes who created it. This technique involves specialist palaeographic and linguistic skills that are normally applied to text manuscripts, but with this project they are being tried on a map manuscript, somewhat experimentally, with the aim of not only finding more about the Gough Map’s making but also the transferability of particular methods from linguistic to cartographic history. The project involves a group of researchers from across three UK HEIs, each bringing distinctive skills and expertise to bear. Each has an interest in maps and mapping, though from differing disciplinary perspectives, from geography, cartography and history. Their aim is to learn more about the Gough Map, specifically, but more generally to contribute to ongoing intellectual debates about how maps can be read and interpreted; about how maps are created and disseminated across time and space; and about technologies of collating and representing geographical information in visual, cartographic form.

The project’s focus on a map, as opposed to a conventional written text, will also open up theoretical and conceptual issues about the relationships between ‘image’ and ‘text’ – for maps comprise both – and about maps as objects and artifacts with a complex and complicated ‘language’ of production and consumption. Far from being geared simply to academic questions, however, the project team is keen to ensure that their findings reach the widest possible audience, not least because maps are enduringly popular objects and always capture the imagination; medieval maps especially.

To this end one of the main project outcomes is a web-resource through which the Gough Map will be made more widely accessible (it currently resides in the Bodleian Library), and through which the data and findings of this project will be made freely available. This will help others to develop the research, whether in academic or non-academic sectors. As well as the web-resource, the project will provide the basis for a public exhibition on the Gough Map, to be held at the Bodleian Library, Oxford, at which a colloquium will provide a forum for discussion on the language and linguistics of medieval maps and mapping.

 For more information, please contact Keith Lilley ( and/or see the project website:


The Gough Map © The Bodleian Library


[Canadian] Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Programme Development Grant

Mineral Prospecting, Financial Speculation & Regulating Grounds for Belief

Dr Niall Majury
Dr Jennifer McKinley
Dr Stephen Royle
Dr Alastair Ruffell

Through the QUB Centre of Canadian Studies
The project draws upon multidisciplinary academic expertise to investigate dimensions of Canada’s economic development and competitiveness associated with scientific innovation, the resource extraction industries and mining finance. It seeks to understand how new types of scientific knowledge produced by Canadian mining firms are mobilised as the firms extend the reach of their exploration activities globally and assess the significance for the pursuit of Canadian advantage in this sector of Canada’s standards of disclosure for mineral projects (National Instrument 43-101). This project is being developed in collaboration with colleagues at the University of Alberta and University of British Columbia



Mineral extraction near Calgary, Alberta, October 2008 (Steve Royle)

Company, Crown and Colony: The Hudson¹s Bay Company on Vancouver Island

Steve Royle is The Eccles Centre Visiting Fellow in North American Studies

This award was made for the 'best proposal in research at the British Library' by the British Association for American Studies together with the British Association for Canadian Studies and the Eccles Centre at the British Library.

The project is to study the Hudson's Bay Company on Vancouver Island, Canadafrom 1843 when they set up a trading post at Fort Victoria through to and following on from the 1849-1859 period when the Company ruled the island under licence from the British Crown.  The tensions between the operation of a commercial company and the same people forming a colonial government were exquisite, to say nothing of the constant strife between the Europeans and the First Nations as the local indigenous people were not called then.

The photographs are of the crest of the Hudson's Bay Company (which still exists and runs The Bay department stores), the British Library and the researcher posing beside a cardboard cut-out of Governor James Douglas, from 1851-59 Governor and Vice-Admiral of the short-lived Vancouver Island Colony as well as being a Chief Factor of the Hudson's Bay Company. That photograph was taken outside the British Columbia Archives in the city of Victoria, the modern counterpart of the log-built stockade of 1843.


A new AHRC Research Network

Under the umbrella of the joint AHRC/EPSRC initiative on Heritage Science, Prof. Bernard Smith, together with Dr John Hughes (University of the West of Scotland) and Dr Martin Lee (University of Glasgow) have been funded to set up and run a one-year research network during 2009 entitled:

Transformation and resilience of our cultural landscapes, archaeology and built heritage: defining responses to societal and environmental pressures

Background to the Network

Cultural Heritage will, in the near future, be subject to substantial transformation in response to changing climate. Mitigation and adaptation is affecting economic governance, and introducing sustainability pressures on buildings and landscape (e.g. thermal efficiency, renewables), in addition to direct physical, chemical and organic impacts from the changing environment (e.g. coastal erosion, landslides, material dissolution, microbial colonisation). Affects will occur on a range of scales that will drive changes in conservation needs. We desperately need to understand the resilience of the Cultural Heritage against these transformational pressures, from a material perspective, but also how we can be more effective in decision-making and management from government to citizen level. A complex interaction exists between social and material aspects; scientific understanding and innovation plays a central part in our perceptions and valuation of the Cultural Heritage. In order to meet future challenges there is a need to develop effective, adaptable management and decision-making policies and methodologies, that utilise to best effect the latest scientific and technological developments. The network therefore aims to establish, in a regional context for Scotland and Northern Ireland, a unified and interdisciplinary response to these threats and opportunities for innovation. The programme for the network is based around an examination of the threats posed to three UK World Heritage Sites that encompass a range of heritage types, threats and values. These are The Giant’s Causeway (natural heritage), Orkneys (archaeological heritage) and Edinburgh (built heritage). Three workshops are planned, one at each location, with the one in Edinburgh used to formulate future strategies for managing change at these and similar locations.

The application of geostatistical analysis to the prediction and modelling of the decay dynamics of masonry materials

EPSRC grant EP/E049648/1(£198,464.00)
Jennifer McKinley
Stephen McCabe

Accurate prediction of the behaviour of masonry materials is crucial for building stone conservation and future building strategies. A long established body of research has provided increased understanding of the factors that trigger stone decay and an awareness of the unpredictability of decay dynamics. It is precisely this unpredictability of stone decay processes that can present significant problems when planning conservation and future stone building strategies. Previous research by the Weathering Research Group (WRG) at Queen’s University Belfast, funded through EPSRC projects has centered on surface modification of building stones and feedback mechanisms in the decay of sandstones. This has provided a conceptual model of building stone decay This research aims to quantitatively test the conceptual model through 2D spatial analysis and 3D geostatistical modelling. Data recorded at a series of stages through weathering simulations, designed with the experience of established weathering studies, will be used to investigate trigger factors such as porosity, permeability, mineralogy and the mechanisms that perpetuate stone decay. Weathering simulations will be used to investigate the effect of salt surface concentration, salt penetration and accumulation at depth, to monitor and quantify relationships between variables, to ultimately predict and model the dynamics of stone decay. The field of rock weathering has yet to take full advantage of the field of geostatistics in terms of spatial prediction and simulation. In the light of this the proposed research project is aimed at providing a quantitative basis and predictive potency for the conceptual model of rapid sandstone retreat developed within the WRG and from established weathering studies. Geostatistical techniques will be used, in combination with geological and rock weathering interpretation, to facilitate the prediction and modelling of the dynamics of stone decay.

Overall Aims

  • To compliment and extend the understanding of decay dynamics of masonry materials and complex sandstone weathering decay.
  • To provide a quantitative basis and predictive potency for the conceptual model of rapid sandstone decay.

Specific Objectives

  • To assess the long term spatial variability in decay pathways of stone exposed to weathering regimes.
  • To identify and quantify the impact of salt weathering on the decay dynamics of stone.
  • To use geostatistical analysis to predict, simulate and model the dynamics of stone decay.
  • To produce training images for future weathering experimental trials, stone replacement, new building and stone cladding strategies.





Fresh and simulated stone blocks
Climate Change, ‘greening’ of masonry and implications for built heritage.

Overall Aim

The overall aim is to understand how periods of prolonged, deep-seated wetness impact on the 'greening', deterioration and potential conservation of sandstone masonry, through an interdisciplinary study linking civil engineering, geomorphology, climatology and environmental microbiology with architects and conservators.

Specific objectives

Specific objectives needed to meet the overall aim are listed below.

1. To understand the current greening of sandstone walls typical of that found across the NW UK today and its relationship to climate, air quality and micro-environmental conditions.

2. To monitor the moisture contents of sandstone test walls to quantify 'time of wetness' (both at the surface and at depth) in the west of Northern Ireland and its relationship to greening.

3. To relate wetness regimes in sandstone walls to existing climatic conditions.

4. To determine future wetness regimes in sandstone walls through statistically downscaling climate projections and utilising links between wetness and climatic parameters discovered in objective 3.

5. To investigate the relationship between moisture levels and ion diffusion of key anions and cations within sandstone blocks and their potential significance for sandstone deterioration.

6. To investigate the links between greening (algal colonisation) of sandstone blocks and moisture regimes and deterioration and to develop and test new conceptual models of sandstone deterioration under wetter, 'greener' conditions.

7. To devise practical advice for building with sandstone and managing the greening and deterioration of existing sandstone walls under wet conditions.


3 years


Prof. B.Smith Co-PI for Oxford
Prof. H. Viles


University of Oxford c.£320k
Queen’s University Belfast £392k
CI’s Belfast
Prof M. Basheer,
Dr N. Betts,
Dr J. McAlister
CIs Oxford
Prf. A. Whiteley

Appointments, QUB

1x Postgraduate student

Catastrophic Decay
St Bees sst Penrith
St Marks 1999
St Marks 2001
Thin Sectioning Equipment for Multi-Disciplinary Research in Engineering and the Geosciences


To establish a joint regional facility between SPACE and GAP for the development of sample impregnation techniques, thin section procedures and sample analysis fto allow the examination of traditional and non-traditional materials for Civil Engineering and Geoscience applications


3 years


Dr D. Phillips (SPACE)


EPSRC £187k


Queen’s University Belfast Schools of SPACE and GAP


Prof. B.Smith
Pro. M. Basheer
Dr J. McKinley

Appointments, QUB


Adaptation of non-destructive technologies for building survey


For Consarc Design Ltd and staff in GAP to work together to expand existing building survey capabilities of the company through application of integrated non-destructive testing technologies that will allow detailed condition survey and damage diagnosis of stone structures. Specifically it will integrate laser scanning technologies, ground penetrating radar and probe permeametry to develop protocols for building survey and re-survey that will promote a move away from 'rescue conservation' towards regular survey and pre-emptive intervention.


2 years


Prof. B.Smith


KTP (NERC) £80k
Industry £40k


Consarc Design Ltd
Queen's University Belfast

CI's Belfast

Dr A. Ruffell
Mr J. Meneely

Appointments, QUB


Surge analysis from Belfast tide gauge

NI Environment Agency via the QUERCUS agreement with QUB, are funding (£147k) a study of surge analysis as recorded on the Belfast Harbour tide gauge over the 20th century. Belfast tide gauge has one of the UK’s longest near-consistent record of marine water levels and though this record has been studied for the annual mean sea-level (Fig 1), the study of surges or storm-generated enhanced water elevation has not yet been considered for this site. The 3-year programme under the direction of Prof Julian Orford will undertake a detailed digitization of the old weekly records (Fig 2) to extract 15 min statements of actual water-level, which when differenced from the tidal predicted water-level, allows measurement of the surge element. The study intends to establish a calendar of surge and associated storm events over the 20th century, and then explore the climatology of those events, identified as potentially hazardous for Belfast Lough. Such evidence will be central to forecast the generation and probability of extreme water-levels, which when superimposed on forecasted sea-level rise will establish vertical limits to the future hazardous coastal zone in and around eastern Northern Ireland.
Fig 1

Fig 2

The future of the past: A robust framework for the upgrade and development of the international radiocarbon calibration/comparison curves

This 3 year project is funded by a NERC grant (£420k) held jointly between QUB and Sheffield University. Dr Paula Reimer is responsible for the QUB portion of the project. The project will bring together expertise from geochronology, statistics, and palaeoceanography to construct updated radiocarbon calibration curves, incorporating new data in frequent updates and refining the models used in the construction. Coral radiocarbon (14C) and U/Th measurements targeted for periods of known climatic change will establish marine reservoir variability around Hawaii, a hydrographically simple region where there is little or no upwelling. These measurements will be used to improve parameterizations of the geophysical and statistical models used to provide true marine data for the Holocene and portions of the late glacial. The new calibration curves will replace the widely used IntCal04 and Marine04 curves (Fig. 1) and provide a standard for use in palaeoclimatic, palaeoenvironmental, and geographical studies and archaeological chronologies for the past 50 – 55 ka (thousand years). Project Partners are Dr Jody Webster, University of Sydney, Australia and Dr Christina Gallup, University of Minnesota – Duluth, USA.