Rock warming and drying under simulated intertidal conditions, part II: weathering and biological influences on evaporative cooling and near-surface micro-climatic conditions as an example of biogeomorphic ecosystem engineering


Martin A. Coombes, Geography, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter, Tremough Campus, TR10 9EZ, Penryn, UK. E-mail:


The way in which rocks and engineering materials heat-up and dry-out in the intertidal zone is of relevance to both weathering and ecology. These behaviours can be measured in the laboratory under controlled conditions designed to replicate those occurring in the field. Previous studies have demonstrated differences in thermal behaviours between rock types and through time as a result of soiling in terrestrial environments, but the influence of weathering and colonization on rock behaviours in the intertidal zone has not been previously assessed.

We measured the warming and drying of blocks of rock (limestone and granite) and marine concrete during ‘low-tide’ events simulated in the laboratory, before and after a period of exposure (eight months) on rock platforms in Cornwall, UK. As well as differences between the material types, temperatures of control (unexposed) and field-exposed blocks differed in the order of 1 to 2 °C. Drying behaviours were also different after field exposure. Differences during the first few hours of exposure to air and heat were attributed to discolouration and albedo effects. Over longer periods of time, changes in the availability of near-surface pore water as a result of micro-scale bioerosion of limestone and the development of bio-chemical crusts on marine concrete [observed using scanning electron microscopy (SEM)] are suggested as mechanisms enhancing and reducing, respectively, the efficiency of evaporative cooling. The retention of moisture by epilithic biofilms may also influence thermal and drying behaviours of granite.

These observations represent one of the first examples of cross-scalar biogeomorphic linkages in the intertidal zone. The significance of the results for the subsequent efficiency of weathering, and near-surface micro-climatic conditions experienced by colonizing organisms is discussed. The involvement of microorganisms in the creation of more (or less) ecologically stressful conditions through the alteration of substratum geomorphic properties and behaviours is suggested as an example of ‘biogeomorphic ecosystem engineering’. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.