Extreme durability in ancient Roman concretes

By revealing the secrets hidden within ancient Roman architectural and marine concrete structures and young basalt at Surtsey volcano, Iceland, our investigations in cementitious materials science are opening new opportunities to develop concrete formulations with improved durability and service life.  These are mimicking the reactions that produce mineral cements in volcanic glass deposits with the objective of developing innovative materials to aid ailing concrete infrastructures and address materials encapsulation needs.

Roman concrete structures. a) The Tomb of Caecilia Metella, Rome (ca. 30 BCE), b) Sebastos Harbor in Caesarea, Israel (ca. 22–10 CE), c) Trajan’s Markets (ca. 100 CE), Museo dei Fori Imperiali, Rome. Roman concrete prototypes that grow strätlingite and Al-tobermorite mineral cements could potentially reduce greenhouse gas emissions, enhance resilience and self-healing properties, conserve resources, and greatly extend the service life of cementitious materials in concrete infrastructure and marine environments, in addition to providing long term encapsulations for hazardous wastes.
Fracture analysis of reproduction of Trajan’s Markets mortar. a) P. Brune performs a fracture testing experiment in the Winter Laboratory at Cornell University. X-ray tomography results for fractures at (b) 28 days or (c) 180 days of hydration. Well-consolidated C-A-S-H binder and strätlingite crystals form obstacles for microcrack propagation in the cementing matrix and interfacial zones of volcanic scoriae, and the cracks create segmented structures at 180 days hydration. A slow gain in strength is counterbalanced by growth of a self-reinforcing system of resilient strätlingite plates and fibers that traverse and partially fill pore spaces.


Surtsey volcano in Iceland (a, b) is the location of the 2017 International Continental Scientific Drilling Program SUSTAIN project. c) Scanning electron microscope-secondary electron image of Al-tobermorite from SE-03 core at 124°C and a 147-m inclined depth below the surface. Mineralogical and geochemical studies of the basaltic tuff over a wide range of temperatures and fluid compositions are providing new insights into beneficial corrosion reactions in concretes with glass aggregates.

Marie D. Jackson1, John P. Oleson2, Juhyuk Moon3, Yi Zhang4, Heng Chen5, and Magnus T. Gudmundsson6

1 Department of Geology and Geophysics, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah   . Juhyuk Moon is assistant pro-fessor in the a. Heng Chen and Yi Zhang are Ph.D. students in the  and ,

2 Department of Greek and Roman Studies, University of Victoria, Canada

3 Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Seoul National University, South Korea

4 Singapore National University, Singapore

5 Department of Civil Engineering, Southeast University, Nanjing, China

6 Institute of Earth Sciences, University of Iceland, Reykjavik, Iceland

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