Moisture dynamics in walls: response to micro-environment and climate change

Christopher Hall, Andrea Hamilton, William D. Hoff, Heather A. Viles, Julie A. Eklund

Abstract

A coupled sharp-front (SF) liquid transport and evaporation model is used to describe the capillary rise of moisture in monoliths and masonry structures. This provides a basis for the quantitative engineering analysis of moisture dynamics in such structures, with particular application to the conservation of historic buildings and monuments. We show how such a system responds to seasonal variations in the potential evaporation (PE) of the immediate environment, using meteorological data from southern England and Athens, Greece. Results from the SF analytical model are compared with those from finite-element unsaturated-flow simulations. We examine the magnitude and variation of the total flow through a structure as a primary factor in long-term damage caused by leaching, salt crystallization and chemical degradation. We find wide seasonal variation in the height of moisture rise, and this, together with the large estimated water flows, provides a new explanation of the observed position of salt-crystallization damage. The analysis also allows us to estimate the effects of future climate change on the capillary moisture dynamics of monoliths and masonry structures. For example, for southern England, predicted increases in PE for the period 2070–2100 suggest substantial increases in water flux, from which we expect increased damage rates.

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