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    The Rock Cycle (KS3)| Rock Cycle Processes| Weathering| Physical Weathering

    Physical Weathering

    Physical weathering is caused by the effects of changing temperature on rocks, causing the rock to break apart. The process is sometimes assisted by water.

    There are two main types of physical weathering:

    Freeze-thaw occurs when water continually seeps into cracks, freezes and expands, eventually breaking the rock apart.

    Exfoliation occurs as cracks develop parallel to the land surface a consequence of the reduction in pressure during uplift and erosion.

    Where does it occur?

    Physical weathering happens especially in places places where there is little soil and few plants grow, such as in mountain regions and hot deserts.

    How does it occur?

    Either through repeated melting and freezing of water (mountains and tundra) or through expansion and contraction of the surface layer of rocks that are baked by the sun (hot deserts).

    Freeze-thaw

    Find out more about freeze-thaw.

    Exfoliation

    Find out more about exfoliation.

    Source : www.geolsoc.org.uk

    weathering

    RESOURCE LIBRARY

    ENCYCLOPEDIC ENTRY

    weathering

    Weathering describes the breaking down or dissolving of rocks and minerals on the surface of the Earth. Water, ice, acids, salts, plants, animals, and changes in temperature are all agents of weathering.

    GRADES 6 - 12+ SUBJECTS

    Earth Science, Geology, Geography, Physical Geography

    CONTENTS 13 Images

    For the complete encyclopedic entry with media resources, visit: http://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/weathering/

    Weathering describes the breaking down or dissolving of rocks and minerals on the surface of the Earth. Water, ice, acids, salts, plants, animals, and changes in temperature are all agents of weathering.

    Once a rock has been broken down, a process called erosion transports the bits of rock and mineral away. No rock on Earth is hard enough to resist the forces of weathering and erosion. Together, these processes carved landmarks such as the Grand Canyon, in the U.S. state of Arizona. This massive canyon is 446 kilometers (277 miles) long, as much as 29 kilometers (18 miles) wide, and 1,600 meters (1 mile) deep.

    Weathering and erosion constantly change the rocky landscape of Earth. Weathering wears away exposed surfaces over time. The length of exposure often contributes to how vulnerable a rock is to weathering. Rocks, such as lavas, that are quickly buried beneath other rocks are less vulnerable to weathering and erosion than rocks that are exposed to agents such as wind and water.

    As it smoothes rough, sharp rock surfaces, weathering is often the first step in the production of soils. Tiny bits of weathered minerals mix with plants, animal remains, fungi, bacteria, and other organisms. A single type of weathered rock often produces infertile soil, while weathered materials from a collection of rocks is richer in mineral diversity and contributes to more fertile soil. Soils types associated with a mixture of weathered rock include glacial till, loess, and alluvial sediments.

    Weathering is often divided into the processes of mechanical weathering and chemical weathering. Biological weathering, in which living or once-living organisms contribute to weathering, can be a part of both processes.

    Mechanical Weathering 

    Mechanical weathering, also called physical weathering and disaggregation, causes rocks to crumble.

    Water, in either liquid or solid form, is often a key agent of mechanical weathering. For instance, liquid water can seep into cracks and crevices in rock. If temperatures drop low enough, the water will freeze. When water freezes, it expands. The ice then works as a wedge. It slowly widens the cracks and splits the rock. When ice melts, liquid water performs the act of erosion by carrying away the tiny rock fragments lost in the split. This specific process (the freeze-thaw cycle) is called frost weathering or cryofracturing.

    Temperature changes can also contribute to mechanical weathering in a process called thermal stress. Changes in temperature cause rock to expand (with heat) and contract (with cold). As this happens over and over again, the structure of the rock weakens. Over time, it crumbles. Rocky desert landscapes are particularly vulnerable to thermal stress. The outer layer of desert rocks undergo repeated stress as the temperature changes from day to night. Eventually, outer layers flake off in thin sheets, a process called exfoliation.

    Exfoliation contributes to the formation of bornhardts, one of the most dramatic features in landscapes formed by weathering and erosion. Bornhardts are tall, domed, isolated rocks often found in tropical areas. Sugarloaf Mountain, an iconic landmark in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, is a bornhardt.

    Changes in pressure can also contribute to exfoliation due to weathering. In a process called unloading, overlying materials are removed. The underlying rocks, released from overlying pressure, can then expand. As the rock surface expands, it becomes vulnerable to fracturing in a process called sheeting.

    Another type of mechanical weathering occurs when clay or other materials near rock absorb water. Clay, more porous than rock, can swell with water, weathering the surrounding, harder rock.

    Salt also works to weather rock in a process called haloclasty. Saltwater sometimes gets into the cracks and pores of rock. If the saltwater evaporates, salt crystals are left behind. As the crystals grow, they put pressure on the rock, slowly breaking it apart.

    Honeycomb weathering is associated with haloclasty. As its name implies, honeycomb weathering describes rock formations with hundreds or even thousands of pits formed by the growth of salt crystals. Honeycomb weathering is common in coastal areas, where sea sprays constantly force rocks to interact with salts.

    Haloclasty is not limited to coastal landscapes. Salt upwelling, the geologic process in which underground salt domes expand, can contribute to weathering of the overlying rock. Structures in the ancient city of Petra, Jordan, were made unstable and often collapsed due to salt upwelling from the ground below.

    Plants and animals can be agents of mechanical weathering. The seed of a tree may sprout in soil that has collected in a cracked rock. As the roots grow, they widen the cracks, eventually breaking the rock into pieces. Over time, trees can break apart even large rocks. Even small plants, such as mosses, can enlarge tiny cracks as they grow.

    Source : www.nationalgeographic.org

    Four Types of Physical Weathering

    Plants and animals, water and ice, all cause physical weathering of rocks and minerals, creating erosion.

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    Four Types of Physical Weathering

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    RELATED

    What Are Examples of Mechanical Weathering?

    Updated April 20, 2018

    By Rachel Pancare

    Physical weathering, also known as mechanical weather, is the process of rocks and minerals on Earth's surface breaking down or dissolving as a result of water, ice, salt, plants, animals or changes in temperature. Physical weathering does not change the chemical composition of the rock, just cracks and crumbles it into smaller pieces. After a rock has weathered, erosion occurs, transporting bits and pieces away. Finally a deposition process deposits the rock particles in a new place.

    Weathering From Water

    Water can weather rocks in a variety of ways. Moving water can lift and carry rocks from the bottom of a river or stream. When the rocks return to the ground under water, they can hit other rocks and break apart. Water can also weather a rock by affecting the material around it. For instance, clay that surrounds a rock can absorb water, swell and then push against the rock, causing it to break. Saltwater can cause another kind of weathering after it evaporates. When saltwater seeps into rock pores and then evaporates, crystals are left behind. The crystals grow and put pressure on the rock, which eventually causes it to break apart. Saltwater weathering is common along coastlines.

    Weathering From Ice

    When water sinks into cracks in a rock and the temperature drops low enough, the water freezes into ice. The ice expands and forms wedges in the rock that can split the rock into smaller fragments. Ice wedging usually occurs after water repeatedly freezes and melts inside small rock crevices over time. You can see the result of this type of weathering on street sidewalks in the winter. Ice wedges often cause potholes in roads and streets. Ice forms in the cracks of streets, expands and pushes on the surrounding rock or pavement, widening the cracks until they split and break apart.

    Weathering From Plants

    Plants can cause physical weathering as their roots grow. Seeds of plants or trees can grow inside rock cracks where soil has collected. The roots then put pressure on the cracks, making them wider and eventually splitting the rock. Even small plants can cause this kind of weathering over time.

    Weathering From Animals

    Animals that burrow underground, such as moles, gophers or even ants, can also cause physical weathering by loosening and breaking apart rocks. Dens and tunnels are signs of this type of weathering. Other animals dig and trample rock on the Earth's surface, causing rock to slowly crumble apart. This process exposes new parts of the rock to the elements, making them susceptible to other types of weathering, such as chemical weathering.

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    References

    American Geoscience Institute: What Is Physical Weather?

    National Geographic: Weathering and Erosion: Sculpting Nature

    About the Author

    Rachel Pancare taught elementary school for seven years before moving into the K-12 publishing industry. Pancare holds a Master of Science in childhood education from Bank Street College and a Bachelor of Arts in English from Skidmore College.

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