Delaminated Granite Headstone in Ft. Morgan Cemetery

The front of this headstone in Ft. Morgan Cemetery exhibits severe loss and staining

Investigating the Harmful Effects of Irrigation Systems on Granite

Families value visiting their passed on loved ones in a scenic park-like setting full of towering trees, reflecting ponds, and floral arrangements. While cemetery groundkeepers diligently work to maintain the landscaping, they are unintentionally harming headstones with their tools and maintenance practices.

The severe delimitation of granite headstones in the Western United States, particularly in Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and Nevada has been brought to our attention. Memorialists located in Colorado contacted NCPTT regarding the issue and provided a plethora of photo documentation, as well as actual scale samples. They explained that many of the granite headstones (from a variety of different quarries) located in the Ft. Morgan Cemetery have attracted an overwhelming amount of complaints about their appearance. The stones are weathered, stained, cracked, and covered in mineral deposits; some of the granite headstones were already exhibiting delimitation after only four years.

Rosario Cemetery, Santa Fe, NM

Staining on a Granite Headstone in Rosario Cemetery in Santa Fe, New Mexico

After visiting the cemetery and assessing our data, we surmise a couple factors have contributed to the rapid deterioration of the stones. Factor #1: The cemetery’s irrigation system. The use of a broadcast sprinkler system during the day supplied with well water. Factor #2: The water used in Ft. Morgan Cemetery. The water in this particular area of Colorado is rich with minerals such as calcium, silica, and other magnesium carbonates. This build-up of alkaline in the water can leave mineral deposits under proper conditions.

These issues are problematic alone, but together, create a perfect storm effect. The thermal shock between well water and sun baked granite combined with mineral rich water is causing major effects to the longevity of the stones.

A combination of preventative maintenance practices as well as cleaning treatments should be taken into consideration to protect these stones and restore their original appearance. The amount of water the granite is exposed to should first be addressed.

Delaminated Headstone

Example of surface loss due to scaling in Ft. Morgan Cemetery

NCPTT is currently conducting testing to determine all of the factors that have contributed to damaging the granite in the Western United States. Water as well as granite scale samples from the Ft. Morgan cemetery are being analyzed using Ion Chromatography, pXRF, XRD, and other techniques. Updates with our findings will be posted periodically on our website, so stay tuned!

Can you tell us about any other sites where the delimitation of granite headstones or historical monuments is problematic?

Continue reading about this project in our follow-up blog post titled: Hard Water Effects on Granite Phase 2

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National Center for Preservation Technology and Training
645 University Parkway
Natchitoches, LA 71457

Email: ncptt[at]nps.gov
Phone: (318) 356-7444
Fax: (318) 356-9119