The impact of erosion on landforming

The natural degradation of rocks is called weathering. Weathering takes place through chemical, physical and biological processes. Physical weathering includes, for example, the crushing of rock as a result of freezing water (frost weathering). It does not change the chemical composition of the rock, but causes it to disintegrate into smaller pieces. Chemical weathering occurs when rocks come into contact with the atmosphere or ground water so that chemical reactions take place and the chemical composition of the rock changes. Certain components of the rock can be dissolved and removed. Biological weathering is all weathering caused by the activity of organisms. Biological weathering can be either physical (e.g. due to the growth of plant roots) or chemical (e.g. due to bacteria) in nature.

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Soil formation
The crumbled material created by weathering is called regolite, unweathered rock is called bedrock. Mother rock can also be found on the surface of the earth, especially in areas with a higher relief. However, if there is regolite above the parent rock, a bottom can form. A soil contains soil moisture, organic matter, soil fauna, air, and minerals (the term ‘mineral’ has a different meaning in the jargon of soil science than in geology) that are found in the regolite. Soils are very important for life on Earth: without soil formation, no plants could grow.

Organic material ends up on the earth’s surface where a process of biodegradation begins. The resulting material, humus, is rich in nutritive salts that are indispensable for plant growth, which are rinsed into the soil by water flowing down. A soil usually has a leaching layer above, from which the components are rinsed out, and an infusion layer underneath. Further down, enrichment and biological activity are reduced and the parent rock, from which weathering has not penetrated, is located. Particularly in areas where the parent rock is made up of unconsolidated material, this limit is difficult to define.

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Soil formation is fastest in wet and warm climates, where biological activity is higher. In such climates, soils can reach to greater depths. In addition to the climate, the slope, the type of parent rock and the nature and quantity of organic matter that ends up in the soil are also important. All these factors influence the rate of soil formation and the type of soil formed.

Different styles of erosion and weathering in two types of volcanic rock. The lower unit is a volcanic breccy that weathers in blocks, the upper unit is a lava flow that wears out in columns. Location: Cabo de Gata, southeast of Spain.

Erosion and landform
The loose material formed by weathering can also be discharged over time by water, ice or wind or as a result of gravity. This ‘natural transport’ is called erosion. The means of transport and the type of parent rock determine the degree and shape of erosion. The extent to which a river erodes rocks, for example, depends on the flow velocity. A fast-flowing river will erode mainly in the depths and wear out a deep V-valley in the landscape. A slow-flowing river is more likely to erode sideways, resulting in a meandering river course over a wide valley floor.

Erosion is mainly limited to the land. Hardly any erosion takes place in the seas and oceans, with the exception of coasts and submarine canyons.

Weathering and erosion affect the weak spots in a rock. A rock with a clear stratification will erode along this stratification. A preferred area along which the rock breaks up is called fission. Coagulation rocks have no stratification, but when they cool down, diaclogical bubbles may have formed in the rock.

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The extent to which a rock is resistant to erosion is called the competence. Competent layers can form backs in the landscape, round intrusion bodies of granite form concentric mountain massifs.

Coagulation and volcanism

At great depths in the Earth, rocks can melt. Melted rock is called magma. When magma solidifies, minerals crystallize and a crystalline rock forms. The rock formed in this way is called igneous rock. The minerals that make up the igneous rock depend on the composition of the magma from which it was formed. Also important is whether the cooling and crystallization went fast or slow. With rapid cooling, crystals will hardly tickle the skin.

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