The rock components of the crust are slowly but constantly being changed from one form to another and the processes involved are summarized in the rock cycle (Figure 3.1.1). The rock cycle is driven by two forces:
- Earth’s internal heat engine, which moves material around in the core and the mantle and leads to slow but significant changes within the crust, and
- the hydrological cycle, which is the movement of water, ice, and air at the surface, and is powered by the sun.
Types of Rocks
Magma can either cool slowly within the crust (over centuries to millions of years) — forming intrusive igneous rock, or erupt onto the surface and cool quickly (within seconds to years) — forming extrusive igneous rock. Intrusive igneous rock typically crystallizes at depths of hundreds of metres to tens of kilometres below the surface. To change its position in the rock cycle, intrusive igneous rock has to be uplifted and exposed by the erosion of the overlying rocks.
Through the various plate-tectonics-related processes of mountain building, all types of rocks are uplifted and exposed at the surface. Once exposed, they are weathered, both physically (by mechanical breaking of the rock) and chemically (by weathering of the minerals), and the weathering products — mostly small rock and mineral fragments — are eroded, transported, and then deposited as sediments. Transportation and deposition occur through the action of glaciers, streams, waves, wind, and other agents, and sediments are deposited in rivers, lakes, deserts, and the ocean.
Exercise 3.1 Rock around the Rock-Cycle clock
Referring to the rock cycle (Figure 3.1.1), list the steps that are necessary to cycle some geological material starting with a sedimentary rock, which then gets converted into a metamorphic rock, and eventually a new sedimentary rock.
A conservative estimate is that each of these steps would take approximately 20 million years (some may be less, others would be more, and some could be much more). How long might it take for this entire process to be completed?