Thirty years of erosion and declining atmospheric pollution at St Paul's Cathedral, London

R. J. Inkpen*, H. A. Viles, C. Moses, B. Baily, P. Collier, S. T. Trudgill, R. U. Cooke

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (journal)peer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)


The relationship between limestone deterioration (in the form of recession or erosion rates) and changing air quality has been the subject of much debate. A 30-year record of limestone erosion rates from the balustrade of St Paul's Cathedral, London, UK has been obtained from five micro-erosion meter (MEM) sites (last remeasured in September 2010) providing a unique, long-term dataset with which to examine the nature and causes of changing deterioration, particularly the existence of a memory effect. Whilst atmospheric sulphur dioxide concentrations fell from a daily average of 80 ppb in the early 1980s to less than 3 ppb by the late 2000s, erosion rates (measured as surface lowering or recession) only declined from 0.049 mm a -1 to 0.035 mm a -1 over the same period. A more conservative measure of the rate of surface change (which includes both lowering and raising of the surface) fell from 0.044 mm a -1 to 0.026 mm a -1 over the same period. The rates of surface change and erosion were significantly higher in the 1980-1990 measurement period compared to the 1990-2000 measurement period, whilst the average rates for the 1990-2000 measurement period were approximately the same as those for the 2000-2010 measurement period. There is no clear evidence for a memory effect, and rates of erosion and surface change now approach those found on natural karst surfaces.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)521-529
Number of pages9
JournalAtmospheric Environment
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2012


  • Atmospheric pollution
  • Erosion rates
  • Limestone erosion
  • London
  • Sulphur dioxide


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