Weathering in rocks is a geochemical phenomenon that concerns decomposition or disintegration of rocks and soils into finer particles. Through the process of Weathering, the surface of rocks breaks down and the minerals attached to the rock surface loosens such that these minerals and fragments can be carried away by erosional agents like ice, water and wind. The key difference between erosion and weathering is that weathering affects rocks and boulders without requiring any movement. Weathering can be of two main types which are mechanical or physical weathering and chemical weathering. Mechanical or physical weathering involves disintegration of the rock into several fragments and every one of these fragments consist of the same properties characteristic of the original rock. These kind of weathering usually occurs because of changes in pressure and temperatures. Chemical weathering on the other hand involves consumption of a chemical compound like carbon dioxide or CO2. This CO2 dissolves with the rainwater to form carbonic acid which again dissolves calcite and other minerals present in the rocks thereby changing the chemical composition of rocks.
There are several factors that affect the rate at which weathering can occur on rocks and soils. These can range from bacteria, climate, surface area, rock composition, pollution among others. Out of these two of the factors that plays an important role in speeding up the rate of chemical reactions and weathering are given below:
The amount of water level present in the surrounding air along with the regions temperature constitute the climate. The moisture amount present in the surrounding air ends up speeding the process of weathering. Thus weathering takes place at the quickest rates in the wet hot climatic conditions. However if these conditions are hot but dry, then the process of weathering happens very at a substantially slower pace. Furthermore, if there is no changes in the temperature of the region, the activity of ice wedging fails to take place. In the coldest and driest areas also, the weathering process is very slow. With the rise in concentrations of carbon dioxide which is a greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, the climate ends up being warmer than usual. This warmer climate then increases the rate at which chemical weathering can take place. The simple reason behind this is that when the chemical weathering process consumes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, it results in a sudden cooling by eliminating the factor contributing to the greenhouse effect.
Thus, climate becomes a significant factor in this role of breaking down of rocks and boulders into smaller rocks, rock fragments, sediment and soil through the process of weathering. In the regions located nearer to the equator in between the tropics which are prone to tremendous heat from the sun and consistently experience thunderstorms and rain. Thus, these rocks of the equatorial climate being witness to substantial rain, humid weather, heat waves and sudden cooling, experience weathering at rates way faster than that of equivalent rocks which are present in the colder drier regions of the world.
When it comes to role of climatic conditions in mechanical or physical weathering, it is found that colder climates are more favourable for this kind of weathering. This is mainly because of minerals present among the rocks expand or contract at differing speeds, when they get heated or are cooled. Repeating cycles of heating up and cooling down ends up resulting in the rocks to generate cracks. These newly generated cracks gradually grow wider over time and in this way leads to breakdown of rocks into smaller rock fragments. The climatic conditions characteristic of deserts and mountainous regions involve wide variations in temperature from extremely high temperatures during the day times to significantly lower temperatures during the night times. Thus, this is called mechanical or physical weathering and it is different from chemical weathering because unlike chemical weathering, no change in chemical composition of rocks occur.
High pollution levels speed up the process of weathering of rocks and boulders in all regions of the world. The factories and plants as well as vehicles emit tonnes of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide along with other poisonous gases in the earth’s atmosphere. As a result, the global temperature rises thus speeding up the weathering process. Furthermore, some places also end up witnessing acid rain. Acid rain composes of sulphuric and nitric acids and these acids can result in dissolving rocks and their mineral composition at a faster pace. Therefore, it is evident that pollution mostly leads to chemical weathering. This is because the weathering caused by pollution the chemical composition of the rocks get changed as different acids like carbonic acid, nitric acid and sulphuric acid sip through the rock and soil and dissolves several of the minerals they come in contact with. There are rocks that can easily get weathered by these kind of weathering phenomena like chalks and limestone. Then there are some rocks which cannot easily be weathered down through chemical processes. Examples can be hard rocks like gabbro and granite. Though some minerals of these rocks also react with the acids present in rainwater from acid rain forming newer, weaker rock fragments which easily disintegrate and are washed away.
Acid rain can even corrode metal which are used to support buildings. Acid rain causes equally significant damages to metal as acids have on metal in general. Metal TMT bars present in the pillars of buildings can get weathered when rainwater from acid rain sips into the building walls. Thus, when the foundation of the buildings turn weaker and weaker, the building eventually collapses. This is one of the few instances of physical weathering that be occur from pollution through acid rain.
It is known that rocks are mostly made up of beddings and joints present in them. When these are exposed to rains which are in turn affected by pollution for example carbonic rain and acid rain the joints and linings in these rocks deepen and widen. As a result, the smooth surface of these rocks starts developing clints and grykes. Carbonic rain contains of carbonic acid resulting from the excess CO2 present in the air. In this way the original shape of the rock gets altered. The common rocks which get affected by carbonic acid are chalks and limestone as they are composed of the mineral calcite which can easily be dissolved by this acid. Hence, clints and grykes are characteristic of limestone.
When air pollution is significant and there is excess amounts of nitric and sulphur oxides along with carbon dioxide, the rain water gets further acidic. This is because when the moisture in the air dissolves the gases acids of these respective gases are formed. Needless to say sulphuric acid is far more reactive and dangerous than carbonic acid and can damage even metals. This high corroding strength of stronger acid rains dramatically increase the rate at which rocks get weathered.
This kind of chemical weathering of rocks plays an important role in formation of caverns and mines and caves. This way carbonation of rocks has led to rare natural occurrences like sink holes, stalagmites, stalactites and karst topography.
Significant degradation of stone can be observed at Cologne cathedral. To be more specific, the “Drachenfels” trachyte that has been the building material for construction during the medieval period exhibits substantial degradation as also huge formations of gypsum crusts. When the volcanic rock, sandstone and limestone from Cologne as well as Altenberg and the Xanten cathedrals get studied, the buildings started to show deteriorations in different levels as they are located in different locations being exposed to differing pollution in rural, industrial and urban regions. Crusts formed on calcareous and silicate stone can be black framboidal or thin laminar. Absence of substantial sulphur and the intrinsic calcium and sulphur source for the forming of gypsum crusts on “Drachenfels” trachyte probably indicate significant extrinsic impact to the environmental like sufficient offer of SO 2 from the various pollutant fluxes along with external sources of calcium like pollution, neighbouring, mortars and calcite stones. Analysis of the Chemical processes show strong a strong gypsum enrichment among these crusts along with high concentrations of lead and others like antimony, arsenic, antimony, bismuth among others and these are generally linkable to the vehicular traffic and industry. When it comes to weathering crust formations in the industrial environments, it is clearly distinguishable from what can be witnessed in the rural areas. Thin scale weathering crusts are up to 2-3 mm thick and ends up getting detached from the stone. As for the gypsum, these are not just present in the crusts but can also be present deep inside the original stone blocks. The characteristic features of “Drachenfels” trachyte are contour scaling, flaking and exfoliation and these can lead to granular disintegration of stones which makes the stone blocks crumble down.
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