Mapping recession risk for cultural heritage stone in Mexico City due to dry and wet deposition of urban air pollutants

Javier Omar Castillo-Miranda, Ricardo Torres-Jadón, José Agustín García-Reynoso, Bertha E. Mar-Morales, Francisco Javier Rodríguez-Gómez, Luis Gerardo Ruiz-Suárez


Air pollution is a threat to cultural heritage because it accelerates the natural deterioration of monuments, palaces, churches, and archaeological ruins, which have an irreplaceable value. In the Mexico City Metropolitan Area (MCMA), there are 19 968 buildings registered as archaeological, historic, or artistic monuments. Some are built with calcareous rocks (limestone and marble) but many of them are made with andesite, tezontle and tuff stone. This paper reports for the first time the spatial distribution of the potential risk of deterioration on calcareous rocks in terms of surface recession with regard to Mexican cultural heritage in the MCMA for the base year 2007. The risk estimate was performed using Lipfert’s damage function, only applicable to carbonate stones of medium and low porosity. These include mainly medium/high density limestone and marble. Carrara white marble has a density of 2.69 g cm–3 and a porosity of 0.37%, and limestone has a density of 2.2-2.6 g cm–3 and a porosity of 5-20%. For high porosity (low density) limestone the function would be applicable with a potential under-estimation. In this function, annual recession rate is a function of annual averages of precipitation, pH, and dry deposition of SO2 and HNO3. Data from several meteorological monitoring networks, the MCMA air quality and acid deposition monitoring networks, and a 3D air quality model (MCCM) were interpolated in a GIS in order to obtain map layers for these variables. These overlaid maps were used to apply the Lipfert functions at the specific coordinates of a small sample of relevant historic or artistic monuments. The complexity of climate gradients, wind patterns, and emissions distribution within the Mexico Megacity leads to gradients as large as 50% in estimated recession rates using the Lipfert function at nearby sites made of the same type of building materials. The Comisión Ambiental de la Megalópolis (Environmental Commission of the Megacity) divides the MCMA into five sectors. Differences in recession rates between them were, in 1990, as large as those between estimated values for Oviedo, Paris, and Prague in Europe for the period 1980-2000. Recession rates decreased by about 50% from 1990 to 2007, the base year for this report, due to the success of air pollution control actions focused on the protection of public health. Nevertheless, strong recession gradients are still expected for carbonate stone within the MCMA. The recession values reported in this work must be taken as conservative estimates due to the not yet optimal performance of 3D air quality models in urban meteorology and the high degree of uncertainty in modeling emissions inventories. Most notable is the SO2 emissions inventory. These maps call for a program of experimental determination of recession rates for building materials that comprise a very large part of Mexico’s unique cultural heritage. These maps should also be added to the critical level maps obtained for human exposure, crops, and ecosystems in order to properly estimate the actual cost of air pollution in the MCMA and the area under its influence.


Cultural heritage; air pollution; MCMA; Mexico Megacity; recession rates

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Atmósfera, vol. 30, issue 3, July-September 2017, is a quarterly journal published by the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México via the Centro de Ciencias de la Atmósfera, Circuito de la Investigación Científica s/n, Ciudad Universitaria, Delegación Coyoacán, 04510 CDMX, phone number (+52 55) 5622-4240, ext. 81888,, Editor in Chief: Jorge Zavala Hidalgo. ISSN 2395-8812. Person in charge of the last update of this issue: Claudio Mario Amescua García, Editorial Office of the Centro de Ciencias de la Atmósfera. Last modification: July 1, 2017.

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