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Faculty of Biology, Chemistry & Earth Sciences

Chair of geomorphology - Professor Dr. Oliver Sass

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Rock Weathering

We investigate weathering processes both on stone walls and on cultural monuments in natural rock. Rock decay in rock face areas is the starting point of geomorphological process cascades and the resulting rockfall is a natural hazard for man and infrastructure. Weathering causes considerable financial damage and the loss of cultural assets to buildings and rock art sites. Our special focus is on mechanical weathering caused by environmental changes (e.g. rock moisture, heat, cold).
We use a combination of rock sensors (temperature and humidity), infrared thermography, near-surface geophysics (electrical resistance, seismics), salt extraction and analysis as well as crack meters and joint meters to monitor the triggering factors and the resulting movement during rock weathering. Furthermore, we simulate the underlying processes in our weathering laboratory. We use humidity and temperature simulation software to model rock humidity and temperature conditions and the resulting processes.



  • Draebing, D., Krautblatter, M. and T. Hoffmann (2017): Thermo-cryogenic controls of fracture kinematics in permafrost rockwalls. Geophysical Research Letters 44(8), 3535-3544.
  • Egartner, I. & Sass, O. (2016): Using paper pulp poultices in the field and laboratory to analyse salt distribution in building limestones. Heritage Science 4: 41, DOI: 10.1186/s40494-016-0110-5.
  • Rode, M., Schnepfleitner, H. & Sass, O. (2016): Simulation of moisture content in alpine rock walls during freeze-thaw events. Earth surface processes and landforms 41: 1937–1950, DOI: 10.1002/esp.3961
  • Schnepfleitner, H., Sass, O., Fruhmann, S., Viles, H. & Goudie, A. (2016): A multi-method investigation of temperature, moisture and salt dynamics in tafoni (Tafraoute, Morocco). Earth Surface Processes and Landforms 41 (4): 473–485. DOI: 10.1002/esp.3838.
  • Sass, O. & Viles, H.A. (2010): 2D resistivity surveys of the moisture contents of historic limestone walls in Oxford, UK:  Implications for understanding catastrophic stone deterioration. In: Smith, B.J., Gomez Heras, M., Viles, H.A. and Cassar, J. (eds.): Limestone in the built environment: Present day challenges for preservation of the past. Geological Society of London Special Publication 331, p. 237-249.
  • Sass, O. & Viles, H.A. (2010): Wetting and drying of masonry walls:  2D-resistivity monitoring of driving rain experiments on historic stonework in Oxford, UK. Journal of Applied Geophysics 70: 72-83.
  • Sass, O. (2005): Rock moisture measurements: techniques, results, and implications for weathering. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms 30: 359-347.
  • Sass, O. (2004): Rock moisture fluctuations during freeze-thaw cycles - preliminary results derived from electrical resistivity measurements. Polar Geography 28 (1): 13-31.

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