Patina: A microscopic feature of palaeo-environmental and geoheritage significance

Clifford, Penelope1, Semeniuk, Vic1,2

1Notre Dame University, Fremantle, Australia, 2V & C Semeniuk Research Group, ,

Patina is an ultra-thin crust of silica or silica and carbonate that is developed on glass and, while it best developed on anthropogenic glass, it provides important information on products and processes associated with weathering of glasses in general.  It is common in modern environments, though variable in expression dependent on environmental setting, and it has been recorded on pre-Mediaeval and Mediaeval artefacts.  Anthropogenic glass is geochemically unstable and, as such, it corrodes relatively rapidly (within years), generating a variety of weathering crusts of different thicknesses, and various internal structures.  The type of patina that is developed depends on the glass composition, the type of soil it is embedded in, the hydrochemistry of the soil water, climate setting, and whether the glass is located in an inland vadose zone or phreatic zone, a maritime coastal zone, or a submarine environment. The patina crusts are < 10 µm up to 100 µm, thickening with age. The solutional relationship of the patina to the glass varies from straight, undulating, irregular, to cuspate and, internally, shows structures of colloform to undulating lamination, parallel lamination, massive to mottled patterns, micro-brecciation, shrinkage cracks, and infiltrated dust-sized minerals, all reflecting and recording a history of solution and precipitation, and variation in climate. For vadose environments, the main agents in the patination is alternating wet and dry vadose conditions, and alternating acid and alkaline vadose conditions that result in precipitation of an amorphous silica ‘gel’ that forms silica laminae, its layer-parallel shrinkage, and the precipitation of calcite laminae.  While modern patina and historic patina have been documented from the various climate, hydrochemical, and pedogenic environments, the results are widely applicable to understanding and unravelling the weathering of natural materials such as obsidian, chert, and volcanic glasses – in this context, it conforms to the geoheritage category of ‘modern processes’ and provides a record of modern processes and products in the weathering of natural glass and glass-like materials.


Vic Semeniuk is a Director of VCSRG, a Research & Development Corporation. Awarded a PhD from the University of Sydney, a UWA Postdoctoral Fellowship, and the Queens Postdoctoral Fellowship in Marine Science, as a multi-disciplinary research scientist, Vic has over 160 peer-reviewed publications in the geology, geomorphology, and geoheritage, as well as in coastal science, environmental science, and conservation ecology (estuaries, mangrove, wetland, coastal dunes, soldier crabs). Vic arrived in Western Australia 50 years ago, initially with a position at The University of Western Australia, and continues to teach and supervise postgraduate students as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Notre Dame and Murdoch University. Vic is a founding member in 2019 of Geoheritage Australasia, and in 1999 of the Wetlands Research Association. Inc.

About the GSA

The Geological Society of Australia was established as a non-profit organisation in 1952 to promote, advance and support Earth sciences in Australia.

As a broadly based professional society that aims to represent all Earth Science disciplines, the GSA attracts a wide diversity of members working in a similarly broad range of industries.