Scientist Search for Clues to the Formula for Roman Concrete

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One of the mysteries that continue to baffle scientists and engineers is how the ancient Romans produced the strongest concrete in the world.  Typically modern concrete buildings last about 50 to 60 years while ancient Roman concrete structures have survived through 2,000 years of environmental damage.

We know that the formula used to produce the ancient concrete is unique but no one knows for sure why it is so durable, but a group of scientists thinks they may soon find some answers.  Geologists and biologists will travel to the Surtsey Island in Iceland to see if they are right.

Since ancient Roman concrete was made from volcanic ash and seawater, Surtsey is a good place for answers as the entire island is made of volcanic ash and seawater caused by an underwater volcanic eruption in 1963.  In 1979, researchers drilled a hole 181 meters (593 feet) deep into the volcanic rock in order to study the microbial life.  The hole has been monitored since it was drilled and temperatures have cooled from 140 °C to about 130 °C.

On their upcoming trip they plan to drill two more holes, one that is parallel to the original hole and another at an angle.  The new holes will be deeper that the one from 1979 and is expected to penetrate 190 meters (623 feet) down to the original ocean floor before the eruption.

The scientists plan to study the rock and mineral formation of the volcano and try to determine what makes the volcanic material so durable.  Researchers explain that Surtsey is “unique because when it formed the mixture of heat, volcanic material, and seawater created hydrothermal minerals that strengthened the rock.”  The island is much more durable than other volcanic islands as the volcanic rock is less porous and almost impervious to erosion.  The hope is that by analyzing the rock from Surtsey, it may provide clues to the volcanic ash that went into ancient Roman concrete.

The Conco Companies are a leading supplier of concrete services for the Western U.S.  We got our start in the Bay Area in 1959 by offering clients the best value on a wide range of concrete services and products.  Since that time, we have taken a leading role as one of the top concrete contractors in the region. We have four regional offices serving California, Nevada, Washington, Oregon and Colorado.

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