Is this what geologists mean by the rock cycle?
Okay, very punny. The rock cycle shows how any type of rock can become any other type of rock. Some rocks may stay the same type for a long time, for example, if they're at the base of the crust, but other rocks may relatively rapidly change from one type to another.
The Rock Cycle
, illustrated in
, depicts how the three major rock types – igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic - convert from one to another. Arrows connecting the rock types represent the processes that accomplish these changes.
Rocks change as a result of natural processes that are taking place all the time. Most changes happen very slowly. Rocks deep within the Earth are right now becoming other types of rocks. Rocks at the surface are lying in place before they are next exposed to a process that will change them. Even at the surface, we may not notice the changes. The rock cycle has no beginning or end.
The Rock Cycle.
The Three Rock Types
Rocks are classified into three major groups according to how they form. These three types are described in more detail in other concepts in this chapter, but here is a summary.
form from the cooling and hardening of molten magma in many different environments. The chemical composition of the magma and the rate at which it cools determine what rock forms. Igneous rocks can cool slowly beneath the surface or rapidly at the surface. These rocks are identified by their composition and texture. More than 700 different types of igneous rocks are known.
form by the compaction and cementing together of
, broken pieces of rock-like gravel, sand, silt, or clay. Those sediments can be formed from the weathering and erosion of preexisting rocks. Sedimentary rocks also include chemical
, the solid materials left behind after a liquid evaporates.
form when the minerals in an existing rock are changed by heat or pressure below the surface.
A simple explanation of the three rock types and how to identify them can be seen in this video:
This video discusses how to identify igneous rocks:
This video discusses how to identify a metamorphic rocks:
The Processes of the Rock Cycle
Several processes can turn one type of rock into another type of rock. The key processes of the rock cycle are crystallization, erosion and sedimentation, and metamorphism.
Magma cools either underground or on the surface and hardens into an igneous rock. As the magma cools, different crystals form at different temperatures, undergoing
. For example, the mineral olivine crystallizes out of magma at much higher temperatures than quartz. The rate of cooling determines how much time the crystals will have to form. Slow cooling produces larger crystals.
Erosion and Sedimentation
wears rocks at the Earth’s surface down into smaller pieces. The small fragments are called sediments. Running water, ice, and gravity all transport these sediments from one place to another by
, the sediments are laid down or deposited. In order to form a sedimentary rock, the accumulated sediment must become compacted and cemented together.
When a rock is exposed to extreme heat and pressure within the Earth but does not melt, the rock becomes metamorphosed.
may change the mineral composition and the texture of the rock. For that reason, a metamorphic rock may have a new mineral composition and/or texture.
The three main rock types are igneous, metamorphic and sedimentary.
The three processes that change one rock to another are crystallization, metamorphism, and erosion and sedimentation.
Any rock can transform into any other rock by passing through one or more of these processes. This creates the rock cycle.
Use these resources to answer the questions that follow.
What are the three major types of rocks?
What does the rock cycle mean?
What do wind and water do to rocks at the surface?
How do sedimentary rocks formed?
What must happen to a rock for it to become a metamorphic rock?
When a rock becomes metamorphic does it look the same as it did originally?
What must happen for an igneous rock to form?
What are the two places that a magma can cool?
Is there only one path through the rock cycle?
Review the rock cycle - click a rock to begin.
Test your rock identification skills with this activity:
Name that Rock
What processes must a metamorphic rock go through to become an igneous rock?
What processes must a sedimentary rock go through to become a metamorphic rock?
What types of rocks can become sedimentary rocks and how does that happen?