Rocks and Weathering

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The rock cycle is never-ending. It is constantly changing the landscape we see around us using a range of different processes. Scientists use knowledge about the formation, weathering, and erosion of rocks to study the planet's history. Fossils, found in rocks, have allowed us to learn more about how life evolved on Earth.

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Rock Cycle

The rock cycle is a series of processes by which rocks are recycled over millions of years. Weathering and erosion are processes that break rocks into smaller pieces. These rock particles are transported by rivers and seas and deposited in new locations. Sedimentation occurs when layers of sediment build up. Over time, compaction and cementation squishes the layers and sticks them together, creating a sedimentary rock. As these layers move underground, heat and pressure changes the rock, creating metamorphic rock. If this rock gets heated further and melts, it becomes magma. If the rock is pushed out of the ground through volcanoes and cools on the surface, it becomes extrusive igneous rock. If the rock cools underground, then intrusive igneous rock forms. When layers of rocks are pushed upwards, it is known as uplift. The rocks that are made are then weathered and eroded to start the process again.

Check out the teacher guide on the Structure of the Earth for other activities!

Rocks are normally separated into three main types: sedimentary, igneous, and metamorphic.

Sedimentary Rocks

Sedimentary rocks are formed over millions of years, when smaller pieces of other rocks are transported by rivers. Over time, this rock builds up in layers, a process known as sedimentation. As more and more layers build up, the lower layers are compressed together, which is known as compaction. Water gets squeezed out from between the particles. The particles form a sort of cement that glues the particles together. This is known as cementation. Fossils are mostly found in sedimentary rock. Fossils are the preserved remains or impression of living things from history found in rock. Fossils have allowed scientists to study and understand extinct living things from history.

Sedimentation → Compaction → Cementation

Sedimentary Rock Examples

Igneous Rocks

Igneous rocks are formed due to the heat that exists inside of the Earth. This heat can be hot enough to melt rocks. These molten rocks, known as magma, cool down and solidify, which creates igneous rocks. The size of the crystals that appear in the rocks depend on the time it took the rocks to cool. If the rocks cool quickly, small crystals will form. If the rock cools slowly, large crystals will form. Igneous rocks can be further separated into intrusive and extrusive rocks. Intrusive rocks form underground, and extrusive rocks form above ground after volcanic eruptions.

Igneous Rock Examples

Metamorphic Rocks

Metamorphic rocks are changed due to pressure and heat over long periods of time. This heat and pressure that exists deep inside the Earth changes the chemical composition. It is important to note that these rocks don’t melt; rocks that melt form igneous rocks.

Metamorphic Rock Examples

Weathering is the breaking down of larger rocks into smaller pieces. There are different ways in which this can happen. These methods can be put into three categories: biological, chemical, and physical. Biological weathering occurs due to plants, animals, and other living things. Trees often have huge root systems and over time, these roots can break and split up rocks. When chemicals weather rocks, this is known as chemical weathering. Acid rain is formed when pollutants in the air are dissolved in water, causing the pH of the water to reduce. Acid rain can react with some rocks, such as limestone. Physical weathering is caused by physical changes. Temperature changes can cause rocks to expand and contract. Over time, these expansions and contractions can cause bits of rock to fall off. Freeze-Thaw is another method of physical weathering, where water found in the cracks in rocks freezes and expands, causing the crack to grow larger. The ice then thaws, and the process can happen again when temperatures get cold enough. Waves, rain, and wind can also physically weather rocks.

Erosion is the process by which rocks and rock particles are moved. There are four agents of erosion: water, ice, wind, and gravity. Water can move rock fragments through rivers, streams, and oceans. Ice can move these particles using glaciers. Glaciers are huge masses of ice that very slowly move over the land. Glaciers are sometimes called “ice rivers.” Wind can carry sand and dust over large distances. Sand from the Sahara Desert can be carried across the Atlantic Ocean, sometimes as far away as Florida. Gravity causes rock particles to fall away from where they are weathered. An example of this can be rock piles found at the bottom of a cliff. When these rock particles stop moving or are dropped, it is called deposition.

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•   (English) Rocks and Weathering   •   (Español) Rocas y Meteorización   •   (Français) Roches et Intempéries   •   (Deutsch) Felsen und Verwitterung   •   (Italiana) Rocce e Agenti Atmosferici   •   (Nederlands) Rotsen en Verwering   •   (Português) Rocks and Weathering   •   (עברית) סלעים ובליה   •   (العَرَبِيَّة) الصخور والتجوية   •   (हिन्दी) चट्टानों और मौसम   •   (ру́сский язы́к) Скалы и Выветривание   •   (Dansk) Klipper og Vejrforhold   •   (Svenska) Rocks och Weathering   •   (Suomi) Kalliot ja Sateinen   •   (Norsk) Rocks og Weathering   •   (Türkçe) Kayalar ve Hava Şartları   •   (Polski) Skały i Wietrzenie   •   (Româna) Rocks and Weathering   •   (Ceština) Skály a Povětrnostní   •   (Slovenský) Skaly a Poveternostné Podmienky   •   (Magyar) Sziklák és Időjárás   •   (Hrvatski) Stijene i Vremenske Prilike   •   (български) Скалите и Атмосферните Влияния   •   (Lietuvos) Rocks and Weathering   •   (Slovenščina) Rocks in Weathering   •   (Latvijas) Rocks and Weathering   •   (eesti) Rocks and Weathering