The role of fieldwork in rock decay research: Case studies from the fringe

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Dorn, R. I. ; Gordon, S. J. ; Allen, C. D. ; Cerveny, N. ; Dixon, J. C. ; Groom, K. M. ; Hall, K. ; Harrison, E. ; Mol, L. ; Paradise, T. R. ; Sumner, P. ; Thompson, T. ; Turkington, A. V. (2013)

Researchers exploring rock decay hail from chemistry, engineering, geography, geology, paleoclimatology, soil science, and other disciplines and use laboratory, microscopic, theoretical, and field-based strategies. We illustrate here how the tradition of fieldwork forms the core knowledge of rock decay and continues to build on the classic research of Blackwelder, Bryan, Gilbert, Jutson, King, Linton, Twidale, and von Humboldt. While development of nonfield-based investigation has contributed substantially to our understanding of processes, the wide range of environments, stone types, and climatic variability encountered raises issues of temporal and spatial scales too complex to fit into attempts at universal modeling. Although nonfield methods are immensely useful for understanding overarching processes, they can miss subtle differences in factors that ultimately shape rock surfaces. We, therefore, illustrate here how the tradition of fieldwork continues today alongside laboratory and computer-based investigations and contributes to our understanding of rock decay processes. This includes the contribution of fieldwork to the learning process of undergraduates, the calculation of activation energies of plagioclase and olivine dissolution, the high Arctic, the discovery of a new global carbon sink, the influence of plant roots, an analysis of the need for protocols, tafoni development, stone monuments, and rock coatings. These compiled vignettes argue that, despite revolutionary advances in instrumentation, rock decay research must remain firmly footed in the field.
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