Soil formation and the impact on various materials

Texture
Some rocks consist exclusively of minerals, the crystals of which have grown together, they are crystalline substances. However, there are also rocks that consist of fragments of minerals or dead organisms. Such fragments are called claws and these rocks are called clastic rocks. Examples are sand (and sandstone), clay, conglomerate or breccy. Some clastic rocks consist of very different claws: pieces of different types of rocks or minerals, fragments of shells, plant remains or fossils. However, there are also clastical rocks in which all or most of the claws have the same composition.

An important concept when describing rocks is the texture of a rock. This refers to the external properties on a small scale, which are present everywhere in the rock. In the case of a crystalline rock, this includes, for example, the size and shape of the crystals; in the case of clastic rocks, this includes the size and shape of the cliffs. Also important is how much volume is taken up by claws and how much by the matrix (all the material in between the claws).

Some rocks have minerals or cliffs that are predominantly in a certain direction. Whether and how strong this is the case is called the “fabric” of the rock. The product is part of the texture of a rock.

Rock destruction

A soil profile indicating soil horizons. The O-Horizont consists of organic material, which has become humus in the A-Horizont. Due to leaching from the upper O-horizont there is little left of the parent rock in the B-horizont; in the C-horizont the parent rock is still visibly present, although it is weathered. Under the C horizont is then the bare parent rock (R).

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Weathering

The natural degradation of rocks is called weathering. Weathering occurs through chemical, physical and biological processes. Physical weathering includes, for example, rock fragmentation due to freezing of water (frost weathering). It does not change the chemical composition of the rock, but causes it to disintegrate into smaller pieces. Chemical weathering occurs when rocks come into contact with the atmosphere or ground water so that chemical reactions take place and the chemical composition of the rock changes. Certain components of the rock can be dissolved and removed. Biological weathering is all weathering caused by the activity of organisms. Biological weathering can be either physical (e.g. due to the growth of plant roots) or chemical (e.g. due to bacteria) in nature.

Soil formation
The crumbled material created by weathering is called regolite, unweathered rock is called bedrock. Mother rock can also be found on the surface of the earth, especially in areas with a higher relief. However, if there is regolite above the parent rock, a bottom can form. A soil contains soil moisture, organic matter, soil fauna, air, and minerals (the term ‘mineral’ has a different meaning in the jargon of soil science than in geology) that are found in the regolite. Soils are very important for life on Earth: without soil formation, no plants could grow.

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Organic material ends up on the earth’s surface where a process of biodegradation begins. The resulting material, humus, is rich in nutritive salts that are indispensable for plant growth, which are rinsed into the soil by water flowing down. A soil usually has a leaching layer above, from which the components are rinsed out, and an infusion layer underneath. Further down, enrichment and biological activity are reduced and the parent rock, from which weathering has not penetrated, is located. Particularly in areas where the parent rock is made up of unconsolidated material, this limit is difficult to define.

Soil formation is fastest in wet and warm climates, where biological activity is higher. In such climates, soils can reach to greater depths. In addition to the climate, the slope, the type of parent rock and the nature and quantity of organic matter that ends up in the soil are also important. All these factors influence the rate of soil formation and the type of soil formed.

Different styles of erosion and weathering in two types of volcanic rock. The lower unit is a volcanic breccy that weathers in blocks, the upper unit is a lava flow that wears out in columns. Location: Cabo de Gata, southeast of Spain.
Erosion and landform

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