Plate tectonics (Part 4): More on the rock cycle

Helen Gould (UK) In Plate tectonics (Part 3): The rock cycle, I presented an overview of the relationship between the rock cycle and plate tectonics, and then went on to look more closely at igneous rocks. This time, I want to discuss sedimentary and metamorphic rocks, and review the occurrence of the rock cycle in the Solar System. Sedimentary rocks Sedimentary rocks, by contrast with igneous and metamorphic rocks, have no crystalline structure, being made up of little lumps of non-crystalline material derived from weathering other rocks. However, where they have been built up in horizontal layers, they may contain large-scale structures such as bedding. What are bedding planes? When sedimentary rocks deposited underwater (for example, limestones), they may be periodically exposed to the atmosphere due to tectonic uplift or a fall in sea level, perhaps because water is locked up on land as ice. The fact that it may take a thousand years to deposit a centimetre’s-worth of limestone places bedding planes into a context of millions of years. Fig. 1. Garnet micashist. Fig. 2. Garnet. Limestones are deposited in shallow seas, forming from the rain of billions of shells of sea animals onto the seafloor. Deposition stops if the area is exposed to the air and restarts when the sea covers it again, so a gap (bedding plane) forms. Many sedimentary rocks are laid down underwater and may contain bedding planes. In addition, the grain size, the fossils that are present and other lithological features all may vary … Read More

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