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Weathering

One topic looked at in GCSE Geography is weathering. This is the natural process which causes the breakdown of rocks and minerals by chemical, biological or physical agents and is not to be confused with erosion. Erosion is the process in which material is moved whereas weathering occurs in situ.

Weathering is the breakdown of rocks, soil and naturally occurring minerals, as well as all the artificial minerals that have been made by human activity, such as bricks and concrete. Weathering is the process that eventually turns mountains into grains of sand on a beach.

Various factors influence the rate of weathering, including:

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  • Geology - softer rocks, rocks with more cracks, and the chemical composition of the rocks will all influence the amount and type of weathering. Granite is one of the harder rocks that weathers much more slowly than sedimentary rocks.
  • Vegetation - whilst areas with a high biological load will suffer from rapid biological weathering, the rocks there may be protected by the vegetation from rapid changes in temperature and also be subjected to less attack by water. Vegetation also stabilises river banks preventing hydraulic attack.
  • Climate - rainfall, temperature range and the amount of sunshine will all influence the amount of weathering.
  • Shape of the land - steep areas will suffer different types of weathering to shallow or flat lands. The steep areas will be more exposed to types of physical weathering, but may have reduced chemical attack.
  • Human Impact - we can influence all forms of weathering whether chemical, biological or physical. Deforestation, putting more corrosive chemicals into the atmosphere and waterways, physically moving across landscapes; all of these can breakdown more rock, whilst protective measures can decrease weathering in localised areas.

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  1. Weathering is normally studied as the first stage in a two stage process - weathering and erosion. What is the key difference between weathering and erosion?
    When rock has been weakened and broken up by weathering, erosion can then occur. Erosion happens when material is moved to another place by water, gravity, ice or wind
  2. What are the three types of weathering?
    The three types of weathering are broadly grouped into chemical, biological (also called organic) and physical (also called mechanical)
  3. In temperate regions freeze-thaw weathering, also known as frost shattering, is a major source of weathering. What are the conditions required for freeze-thaw weathering to occur?
    This is a great question if you get it in the exam. The clue is in the name - freezing and thawing needs temperatures low enough to freeze and high enough to thaw the ice back to water
  4. How does freeze-thaw weathering occur?
    Think of the things freeze-thaw weathering requires: diurnal temperature range, available water and cracks in the rocks. This is so the water can fill the cracks and, as ice forms, expand
  5. Areas such as Scotland have large amounts of freeze-thaw weathering but why doesn’t freeze-thaw weathering occur in very cold locations such as the Polar regions?
    The polar regions are also known as the polar deserts. They are so cold that all the fresh water and a huge amount of the salt water is tied up as ice and never thaws. This means that there is no liquid water to allow freeze-thaw weathering
  6. Which of the following is not an example of physical weathering?
    Hydration is a chemical process where certain rocks absorb water into their structure. It is a type of chemical weathering
  7. Which of the following types of weathering has the correct label attached?
    Biological weathering is sometimes classified as a type of physical weathering, but anything done by living things can be classified as biological weathering
  8. Rocks containing iron often show a red colouration. This is a type of chemical weathering. What is occurring to make the rocks turn red?
    Iron is one of the major elements found in many types of rock
  9. Which of the following is not a reason for tropical areas having higher rates of weathering than temperate zones?
    In tropical areas, higher levels of rainfall, warmer conditions and better light all lead to a higher rate of vegetation growth which in turn leads to increased weathering. The rainfall and heat also cause weathering themselves
  10. When rocks are heated and expand, and then cool and contract, thin slivers of rock tend to flake off at the surface. What is the name given to this weathering process?
    Exfoliation is the process in which the top layer of rocks is gradually removed via expansion and contraction caused by temperature differences

Author: Ruth M

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