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Mechanical Weathering

Mechanical weathering breaks down rocks and minerals without changing their chemical composition; for example, by ice wedging.

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Earth's Facial

Earth's Facial


Exfoliating Earth's Skin

Student Exploration

Have you ever received a facial?

During most facials, a scrub is used to exfoliate your skin. The Earth experiences a very similar process during a mechanical weathering process called abrasion!

Think about it. When you walk on the beach on a windy day, it can be a painful experience as the sand grains begin to pelt you. If those sand grains hit a cliff instead of you, they slam into the side of the cliff and begin to smooth out its surface by breaking off pieces of rock. Just like an exfoliating scrub might take the dead skin cells off of your face, these sand grains are scrubbing the surface of the Earth! Awesome landforms are created from this process:

If you splurge on your facial, you might also experience a chemical peel or some other chemical exfoliant that helps you shed the necessary skin cells. Coincidentally, the Earth sometimes splurges for the more intense facial as well! Chemical weathering processes like oxidation, produce results like this:

Extension Investigation

  1. What happened here? Would this be considered mechanical or chemical weathering? Draw a comic strip/flip book showing how this formed. Here is an example: Arctic Frost Wedging
  2. When/where would this process of frost wedging be a problem? For one of the problems that you brainstorm, devise a possible solution.
  3. Scientists have been gathering data from the dissolution of gravestones in cemeteries. GSA's Gravestone Project
    1. Is this chemical or mechanical weathering?
    2. What type of data do you think that they are collecting?
    3. Why would they want to collect this data? What can they interpret from this data?

Resources Cited

Wikimedia. http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/43/Arches3.png http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AHangar_Y_d%C3%A9tail_01.jpg

U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. http://arctic.fws.gov/permcycl.htm

Geological Society of America. http://www.geosociety.org/news/pr/09-70.htm

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