Rock cycle
Overview
 
The rock cycle is a fundamental concept in geology
Geology
Geology is the science comprising the study of solid Earth, the rocks of which it is composed, and the processes by which it evolves. Geology gives insight into the history of the Earth, as it provides the primary evidence for plate tectonics, the evolutionary history of life, and past climates...

 that describes the dynamic transitions through geologic time among the three main rock
Rock (geology)
In geology, rock or stone is a naturally occurring solid aggregate of minerals and/or mineraloids.The Earth's outer solid layer, the lithosphere, is made of rock. In general rocks are of three types, namely, igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic...

 types: sedimentary, metamorphic
Metamorphic rock
Metamorphic rock is the transformation of an existing rock type, the protolith, in a process called metamorphism, which means "change in form". The protolith is subjected to heat and pressure causing profound physical and/or chemical change...

, and igneous. As the diagram to the right illustrates, each of the types of rocks are altered or destroyed when it is forced out of its equilibrium conditions. An igneous rock such as basalt
Basalt
Basalt is a common extrusive volcanic rock. It is usually grey to black and fine-grained due to rapid cooling of lava at the surface of a planet. It may be porphyritic containing larger crystals in a fine matrix, or vesicular, or frothy scoria. Unweathered basalt is black or grey...

 may break down and dissolve when exposed to the atmosphere
Earth's atmosphere
The atmosphere of Earth is a layer of gases surrounding the planet Earth that is retained by Earth's gravity. The atmosphere protects life on Earth by absorbing ultraviolet solar radiation, warming the surface through heat retention , and reducing temperature extremes between day and night...

, or melt as it is subducted
Subduction
In geology, subduction is the process that takes place at convergent boundaries by which one tectonic plate moves under another tectonic plate, sinking into the Earth's mantle, as the plates converge. These 3D regions of mantle downwellings are known as "Subduction Zones"...

 under a continent
Continent
A continent is one of several very large landmasses on Earth. They are generally identified by convention rather than any strict criteria, with seven regions commonly regarded as continents—they are : Asia, Africa, North America, South America, Antarctica, Europe, and Australia.Plate tectonics is...

.
Discussions
Encyclopedia
The rock cycle is a fundamental concept in geology
Geology
Geology is the science comprising the study of solid Earth, the rocks of which it is composed, and the processes by which it evolves. Geology gives insight into the history of the Earth, as it provides the primary evidence for plate tectonics, the evolutionary history of life, and past climates...

 that describes the dynamic transitions through geologic time among the three main rock
Rock (geology)
In geology, rock or stone is a naturally occurring solid aggregate of minerals and/or mineraloids.The Earth's outer solid layer, the lithosphere, is made of rock. In general rocks are of three types, namely, igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic...

 types: sedimentary, metamorphic
Metamorphic rock
Metamorphic rock is the transformation of an existing rock type, the protolith, in a process called metamorphism, which means "change in form". The protolith is subjected to heat and pressure causing profound physical and/or chemical change...

, and igneous. As the diagram to the right illustrates, each of the types of rocks are altered or destroyed when it is forced out of its equilibrium conditions. An igneous rock such as basalt
Basalt
Basalt is a common extrusive volcanic rock. It is usually grey to black and fine-grained due to rapid cooling of lava at the surface of a planet. It may be porphyritic containing larger crystals in a fine matrix, or vesicular, or frothy scoria. Unweathered basalt is black or grey...

 may break down and dissolve when exposed to the atmosphere
Earth's atmosphere
The atmosphere of Earth is a layer of gases surrounding the planet Earth that is retained by Earth's gravity. The atmosphere protects life on Earth by absorbing ultraviolet solar radiation, warming the surface through heat retention , and reducing temperature extremes between day and night...

, or melt as it is subducted
Subduction
In geology, subduction is the process that takes place at convergent boundaries by which one tectonic plate moves under another tectonic plate, sinking into the Earth's mantle, as the plates converge. These 3D regions of mantle downwellings are known as "Subduction Zones"...

 under a continent
Continent
A continent is one of several very large landmasses on Earth. They are generally identified by convention rather than any strict criteria, with seven regions commonly regarded as continents—they are : Asia, Africa, North America, South America, Antarctica, Europe, and Australia.Plate tectonics is...

. Due to the driving forces of the rock cycle, plate tectonics
Plate tectonics
Plate tectonics is a scientific theory that describes the large scale motions of Earth's lithosphere...

 and the water cycle
Water cycle
The water cycle, also known as the hydrologic cycle or H2O cycle, describes the continuous movement of water on, above and below the surface of the Earth. Water can change states among liquid, vapor, and solid at various places in the water cycle...

, rocks do not remain in equilibrium and are forced to change as they encounter new environments. The rock cycle is an illustration that explains how the three rock types are related to each other, and how processes change from one type to another over time.

Historical development

The original concept of the rock cycle is usually attributed to James Hutton
James Hutton
James Hutton was a Scottish physician, geologist, naturalist, chemical manufacturer and experimental agriculturalist. He is considered the father of modern geology...

, from the eighteenth century father of geology. The rock cycle was a part of Hutton's uniformitarianism
Uniformitarianism (science)
In the philosophy of naturalism, the uniformitarianism assumption is that the same natural laws and processes that operate in the universe now, have always operated in the universe in the past and apply everywhere in the universe. It has included the gradualistic concept that "the present is the...

and his famous quote: no vestige of a beginning, and no prospect of an end, applied in particular to the rock cycle and the envisioned cyclical nature of geologic processes. This concept of a repetitive non-evolutionary rock cycle remained dominant until the plate tectonics revolution of the 1960s. With the developing understanding of the driving engine of plate tectonics
Plate tectonics
Plate tectonics is a scientific theory that describes the large scale motions of Earth's lithosphere...

, the rock cycle changed from endlessly repetitive to a gradually evolving process. The Wilson cycle (a plate tectonics based rock cycle) was developed by J. Tuzo Wilson during the 1950s and 1960s.

The cycle

Transition to igneous

When rocks are pushed deep under the Earth
Earth
Earth is the third planet from the Sun, and the densest and fifth-largest of the eight planets in the Solar System. It is also the largest of the Solar System's four terrestrial planets...

's surface, they may melt into magma
Magma
Magma is a mixture of molten rock, volatiles and solids that is found beneath the surface of the Earth, and is expected to exist on other terrestrial planets. Besides molten rock, magma may also contain suspended crystals and dissolved gas and sometimes also gas bubbles. Magma often collects in...

. If the conditions no longer exist for the magma to stay in its liquid state, it will cool and solidify into an igneous rock. A rock that cools within the Earth is called intrusive or plutonic and will cool very slowly, producing a coarse-grained texture. As a result of volcanic activity, magma (which is called lava when it reaches Earth's surface) may cool very rapidly while being on Earth's surface exposed to the atmosphere
Earth's atmosphere
The atmosphere of Earth is a layer of gases surrounding the planet Earth that is retained by Earth's gravity. The atmosphere protects life on Earth by absorbing ultraviolet solar radiation, warming the surface through heat retention , and reducing temperature extremes between day and night...

 and are called extrusive or volcanic rocks. These rocks are fine-grained and sometimes cool so rapidly that no crystals can form and result in a natural glass
Glass
Glass is an amorphous solid material. Glasses are typically brittle and optically transparent.The most familiar type of glass, used for centuries in windows and drinking vessels, is soda-lime glass, composed of about 75% silica plus Na2O, CaO, and several minor additives...

, such as obsidian
Obsidian
Obsidian is a naturally occurring volcanic glass formed as an extrusive igneous rock.It is produced when felsic lava extruded from a volcano cools rapidly with minimum crystal growth...

. Any of the three main types of rocks (igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rocks) can melt into magma and cool into igneous rocks.

Post-volcanic changes

Rock masses of igneous origin have no sooner cooled than they begin to change. The gases with which the magma is charged are slowly dissipated, lava flows often remain hot and steaming for many years. These gases attack the components of the rock and deposit new minerals in cavities and fissures. The zeolite
Zeolite
Zeolites are microporous, aluminosilicate minerals commonly used as commercial adsorbents. The term zeolite was originally coined in 1756 by Swedish mineralogist Axel Fredrik Cronstedt, who observed that upon rapidly heating the material stilbite, it produced large amounts of steam from water that...

s are largely of this origin. Even before these "post-volcanic" processes have ceased, atmospheric decomposition or weathering
Weathering
Weathering is the breaking down of rocks, soils and minerals as well as artificial materials through contact with the Earth's atmosphere, biota and waters...

 begins as the mineral
Mineral
A mineral is a naturally occurring solid chemical substance formed through biogeochemical processes, having characteristic chemical composition, highly ordered atomic structure, and specific physical properties. By comparison, a rock is an aggregate of minerals and/or mineraloids and does not...

 components of volcanic and igneous rocks are not stable under surface atmospheric conditions. Rain, frost, carbonic acid
Carbonic acid
Carbonic acid is the inorganic compound with the formula H2CO3 . It is also a name sometimes given to solutions of carbon dioxide in water, because such solutions contain small amounts of H2CO3. Carbonic acid forms two kinds of salts, the carbonates and the bicarbonates...

, oxygen and other agents operate continuously, and do not cease until the whole mass has crumbled down and most of its ingredients have been resolved into new products or carried away in aqueous solution. In the classification of rocks these secondary changes are generally considered unessential: rocks are classified and described as if they were ideally fresh, though this is rarely the case in nature.

Secondary changes

Epigenetic change (secondary processes) may be arranged under a number of headings, each of which is typical of a group of rocks or rock-forming minerals, though usually more than one of these alterations will be found in progress in the same rock. Silicification, the replacement of the minerals by crystalline or crypto-crystalline silica, is most common in felsic
Felsic
The word "felsic" is a term used in geology to refer to silicate minerals, magma, and rocks which are enriched in the lighter elements such as silicon, oxygen, aluminium, sodium, and potassium....

 rocks, such as rhyolite
Rhyolite
This page is about a volcanic rock. For the ghost town see Rhyolite, Nevada, and for the satellite system, see Rhyolite/Aquacade.Rhyolite is an igneous, volcanic rock, of felsic composition . It may have any texture from glassy to aphanitic to porphyritic...

, but is also found in serpentine, etc. Kaolinization is the decomposition of the feldspar
Feldspar
Feldspars are a group of rock-forming tectosilicate minerals which make up as much as 60% of the Earth's crust....

s, which are the most common minerals in igneous rocks, into kaolin (along with quartz and other clay minerals
Clay minerals
Clay minerals are hydrous aluminium phyllosilicates, sometimes with variable amounts of iron, magnesium, alkali metals, alkaline earths, and other cations. Clays have structures similar to the micas and therefore form flat hexagonal sheets. Clay minerals are common weathering products and low...

); it is best shown by granite
Granite
Granite is a common and widely occurring type of intrusive, felsic, igneous rock. Granite usually has a medium- to coarse-grained texture. Occasionally some individual crystals are larger than the groundmass, in which case the texture is known as porphyritic. A granitic rock with a porphyritic...

s and syenite
Syenite
Syenite is a coarse-grained intrusive igneous rock of the same general composition as granite but with the quartz either absent or present in relatively small amounts Syenite is a coarse-grained intrusive igneous rock of the same general composition as granite but with the quartz either absent or...

s. Serpentinization is the alteration of olivine
Olivine
The mineral olivine is a magnesium iron silicate with the formula 2SiO4. It is a common mineral in the Earth's subsurface but weathers quickly on the surface....

 to serpentine (with magnetite
Magnetite
Magnetite is a ferrimagnetic mineral with chemical formula Fe3O4, one of several iron oxides and a member of the spinel group. The chemical IUPAC name is iron oxide and the common chemical name is ferrous-ferric oxide. The formula for magnetite may also be written as FeO·Fe2O3, which is one part...

); it is typical of peridotite
Peridotite
A peridotite is a dense, coarse-grained igneous rock, consisting mostly of the minerals olivine and pyroxene. Peridotite is ultramafic, as the rock contains less than 45% silica. It is high in magnesium, reflecting the high proportions of magnesium-rich olivine, with appreciable iron...

s, but occurs in most of the mafic
Mafic
Mafic is an adjective describing a silicate mineral or rock that is rich in magnesium and iron; the term is a portmanteau of the words "magnesium" and "ferric". Most mafic minerals are dark in color and the relative density is greater than 3. Common rock-forming mafic minerals include olivine,...

 rocks. In uralitization secondary hornblende
Hornblende
Hornblende is a complex inosilicate series of minerals .It is not a recognized mineral in its own right, but the name is used as a general or field term, to refer to a dark amphibole....

 replaces augite
Augite
Augite is a single chain inosilicate mineral, 2O6. The crystals are monoclinic and prismatic. Augite has two prominent cleavages, meeting at angles near 90 degrees.-Characteristics:Augite is a solid solution in the pyroxene group...

; this occurs very generally in diabase
Diabase
Diabase or dolerite is a mafic, holocrystalline, subvolcanic rock equivalent to volcanic basalt or plutonic gabbro. In North American usage, the term diabase refers to the fresh rock, whilst elsewhere the term dolerite is used for the fresh rock and diabase refers to altered material...

s; chloritization is the alteration of augite (biotite or hornblende) to chlorite
Chlorite group
The chlorites are a group of phyllosilicate minerals. Chlorites can be described by the following four endmembers based on their chemistry via substitution of the following four elements in the silicate lattice; Mg, Fe, Ni, and Mn....

, and is seen in many diabases, diorite
Diorite
Diorite is a grey to dark grey intermediate intrusive igneous rock composed principally of plagioclase feldspar , biotite, hornblende, and/or pyroxene. It may contain small amounts of quartz, microcline and olivine. Zircon, apatite, sphene, magnetite, ilmenite and sulfides occur as accessory...

s and greenstones
Greenschist
Greenschist is a general field petrologic term applied to metamorphic or altered mafic volcanic rock. The term greenstone is sometimes used to refer to greenschist but can refer to other rock types too. The green is due to abundant green chlorite, actinolite and epidote minerals that dominate the...

. Epidotization
Epidosite
Epidosite is a highly altered epidote and quartz bearing rock. It is the result of slow hydrothermal fluid alteration of basalt that occurs below the black smokers within mid-oceanic ridge spreading centers. Similar altered rocks have been identified within ophiolite complexes and associated...

 occurs also in rocks of this group, and consists in the development of epidote
Epidote
Epidote is a calcium aluminium iron sorosilicate mineral, Ca2Al2O, crystallizing in the monoclinic system. Well-developed crystals are of frequent occurrence: they are commonly prismatic in habit, the direction of elongation being perpendicular to the single plane of symmetry. The faces are often...

 from biotite, hornblende, augite or plagioclase feldspar.

Transition to metamorphic

Rocks exposed to high temperatures and pressures can be changed physically or chemically to form a different rock, called metamorphic. Regional metamorphism refers to the effects on large masses of rocks over a wide area, typically associated with mountain building events within orogenic belts
Orogeny
Orogeny refers to forces and events leading to a severe structural deformation of the Earth's crust due to the engagement of tectonic plates. Response to such engagement results in the formation of long tracts of highly deformed rock called orogens or orogenic belts...

. These rocks commonly exhibit distinct bands of differing mineralogy and colors, called foliation
Foliation (geology)
Foliation is any penetrative planar fabric present in rocks. Foliation is common to rocks affected by regional metamorphic compression typical of orogenic belts. Rocks exhibiting foliation include the standard sequence formed by the prograde metamorphism of mudrocks; slate, phyllite, schist and...

. Another main type of metamorphism is caused when a body of rock comes into contact with an igneous intrusion that heats up this surrounding country rock. This contact metamorphism results in a rock that is altered and re-crystallized by the extreme heat of the magma and/or by the addition of fluids from the magma that add chemicals to the surrounding rock (metasomatism
Metasomatism
Metasomatism is the chemical alteration of a rock by hydrothermal and other fluids.Metasomatism can occur via the action of hydrothermal fluids from an igneous or metamorphic source. In the igneous environment, metasomatism creates skarns, greisen, and may affect hornfels in the contact...

). Any pre-existing type of rock can be modified by the processes of metamorphism.

Transition to sedimentary

Rocks exposed to the atmosphere
Earth's atmosphere
The atmosphere of Earth is a layer of gases surrounding the planet Earth that is retained by Earth's gravity. The atmosphere protects life on Earth by absorbing ultraviolet solar radiation, warming the surface through heat retention , and reducing temperature extremes between day and night...

 are variably unstable and subject to the processes of weathering
Weathering
Weathering is the breaking down of rocks, soils and minerals as well as artificial materials through contact with the Earth's atmosphere, biota and waters...

 and erosion
Erosion
Erosion is when materials are removed from the surface and changed into something else. It only works by hydraulic actions and transport of solids in the natural environment, and leads to the deposition of these materials elsewhere...

. Weathering and erosion break the original rock down into smaller fragments and carries away dissolved material. This fragmented material accumulates and is buried by additional material. While an individual grain of sand is still a member of the class of rock it was formed from, a rock made up of such grains fused together is sedimentary. Sedimentary rocks can be formed from the lithification of these buried smaller fragments (clastic sedimentary rock), the accumulation and lithification of material generated by living organism
Organism
In biology, an organism is any contiguous living system . In at least some form, all organisms are capable of response to stimuli, reproduction, growth and development, and maintenance of homoeostasis as a stable whole.An organism may either be unicellular or, as in the case of humans, comprise...

s (biogenic sedimentary rock - fossil
Fossil
Fossils are the preserved remains or traces of animals , plants, and other organisms from the remote past...

s), or lithification of chemically precipitated material from a mineral bearing solution due to evaporation (precipitate sedimentary rock). Clastic rocks can be formed from fragments broken apart from larger rocks of any type, due to processes such as erosion
Erosion
Erosion is when materials are removed from the surface and changed into something else. It only works by hydraulic actions and transport of solids in the natural environment, and leads to the deposition of these materials elsewhere...

 or from organic material, like plant remains. Biogenic and precipitate rocks form from the deposition of mineral
Mineral
A mineral is a naturally occurring solid chemical substance formed through biogeochemical processes, having characteristic chemical composition, highly ordered atomic structure, and specific physical properties. By comparison, a rock is an aggregate of minerals and/or mineraloids and does not...

s from chemicals dissolved from all other rock types.

Plate tectonics

In 1967, J. Tuzo Wilson published an article in Nature describing the repeated opening and closing of ocean basins, in particular focusing on the current Atlantic Ocean
Atlantic Ocean
The Atlantic Ocean is the second-largest of the world's oceanic divisions. With a total area of about , it covers approximately 20% of the Earth's surface and about 26% of its water surface area...

 area. This concept, a part of the plate tectonics revolution, became known as the Wilson cycle. The Wilson cycle has had profound effects on the modern interpretation of the rock cycle as Plate tectonics became recognized as the driving force for the rock cycle.

Spreading ridges

The start of the cycle can be placed at the mid-ocean divergent boundaries
Mid-ocean ridge
A mid-ocean ridge is a general term for an underwater mountain system that consists of various mountain ranges , typically having a valley known as a rift running along its spine, formed by plate tectonics. This type of oceanic ridge is characteristic of what is known as an oceanic spreading...

 where new magma
Magma
Magma is a mixture of molten rock, volatiles and solids that is found beneath the surface of the Earth, and is expected to exist on other terrestrial planets. Besides molten rock, magma may also contain suspended crystals and dissolved gas and sometimes also gas bubbles. Magma often collects in...

 is produced by mantle upwelling and a shallow melting zone. This new or juvenile basalt
Basalt
Basalt is a common extrusive volcanic rock. It is usually grey to black and fine-grained due to rapid cooling of lava at the surface of a planet. It may be porphyritic containing larger crystals in a fine matrix, or vesicular, or frothy scoria. Unweathered basalt is black or grey...

ic magma is the first phase of the igneous portion of the cycle. It should be noted that the least dense magma phases tend to be favored in eruptions. As the ridge spreads and the new rock is carried away from the ridge, the interaction of heated circulating seawater
Seawater
Seawater is water from a sea or ocean. On average, seawater in the world's oceans has a salinity of about 3.5% . This means that every kilogram of seawater has approximately of dissolved salts . The average density of seawater at the ocean surface is 1.025 g/ml...

 through crevices starts the initial retrograde metamorphism of the new rock.

Subduction zones


The new basaltic oceanic crust
Oceanic crust
Oceanic crust is the part of Earth's lithosphere that surfaces in the ocean basins. Oceanic crust is primarily composed of mafic rocks, or sima, which is rich in iron and magnesium...

 eventually meets a subduction
Subduction
In geology, subduction is the process that takes place at convergent boundaries by which one tectonic plate moves under another tectonic plate, sinking into the Earth's mantle, as the plates converge. These 3D regions of mantle downwellings are known as "Subduction Zones"...

 zone as it moves away from the spreading ridge. As this crust is pulled back into the mantle, the increasing pressure and temperature conditions cause a restructuring of the mineralogy of the rock, this metamorphism alters the rock to form eclogite
Eclogite
Eclogite is a mafic metamorphic rock. Eclogite is of special interest for at least two reasons. First, it forms at pressures greater than those typical of the crust of the Earth...

. As the slab of basaltic crust and some included sediments are dragged deeper, water and other more volatile
Volatility (chemistry)
In chemistry and physics, volatility is the tendency of a substance to vaporize. Volatility is directly related to a substance's vapor pressure. At a given temperature, a substance with higher vapor pressure vaporizes more readily than a substance with a lower vapor pressure.The term is primarily...

 materials are driven off and rise into the overlying wedge of rock above the subduction zone which is at a lower pressure. The lower pressure, high temperature, and now volatile rich material in this wedge melts and the resulting buoyant magma rises through the overlying rock to produce island arc
Island arc
An island arc is a type of archipelago composed of a chain of volcanoes which alignment is arc-shaped, and which are situated parallel and close to a boundary between two converging tectonic plates....

 or continental margin
Continental margin
The continental margin is the zone of the ocean floor that separates the thin oceanic crust from thick continental crust. Continental margins constitute about 28% of the oceanic area....

 volcanism
Volcanism
Volcanism is the phenomenon connected with volcanoes and volcanic activity. It includes all phenomena resulting from and causing magma within the crust or mantle of a planet to rise through the crust and form volcanic rocks on the surface....

. This volcanism includes more silicic lavas the further from the edge of the island arc or continental margin, indicating a deeper source and a more differentiated magma.

At times some of the metamorphosed downgoing slab may be thrust up or obducted
Obduction
Obduction is the overthrusting of continental crust by oceanic crust or mantle rocks at a convergent plate boundary. It can occur during an orogeny, or mountain-building episode....

 onto the continental margin. These blocks of mantle peridotite
Peridotite
A peridotite is a dense, coarse-grained igneous rock, consisting mostly of the minerals olivine and pyroxene. Peridotite is ultramafic, as the rock contains less than 45% silica. It is high in magnesium, reflecting the high proportions of magnesium-rich olivine, with appreciable iron...

 and the metamorphic eclogite
Eclogite
Eclogite is a mafic metamorphic rock. Eclogite is of special interest for at least two reasons. First, it forms at pressures greater than those typical of the crust of the Earth...

s are exposed as ophiolite complexes.

The newly erupted volcanic material is subject to rapid erosion depending on the climate conditions. These sediments accumulate within the basins on either side of an island arc. As the sediments become more deeply buried lithification begins and sedimentary rock results.

Continental collision

On the closing phase of the classic Wilson cycle, two continental or smaller terranes meet at a convergent zone. As the two masses of continental crust
Continental crust
The continental crust is the layer of igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rocks which form the continents and the areas of shallow seabed close to their shores, known as continental shelves. This layer is sometimes called sial due to more felsic, or granitic, bulk composition, which lies in...

 meet, neither can be subducted as they are both low density silicic rock. As the two masses meet, tremendous compressional forces distort and modify the rocks involved. The result is regional metamorphism within the interior of the ensuing orogeny
Orogeny
Orogeny refers to forces and events leading to a severe structural deformation of the Earth's crust due to the engagement of tectonic plates. Response to such engagement results in the formation of long tracts of highly deformed rock called orogens or orogenic belts...

 or mountain building event. As the two masses are compressed, folded and faulted into a mountain range by the continental collision the whole suite of pre-existing igneous, volcanic, sedimentary and earlier metamorphic rock units are subjected to this new metamorphic event.

Accelerated erosion

The high mountain ranges produced by continental collisions are immediately subjected to the forces of erosion. Erosion wears down the mountains and massive piles of sediment are developed in adjacent ocean margins, shallow seas, and as continental deposits. As these sediment piles are buried deeper they become lithified into sedimentary rock. The metamorphic, igneous, and sedimentary rocks of the mountains become the new piles of sediments in the adjoining basins and eventually become sedimentary rock.

An evolving process

The plate tectonics rock cycle is an evolutionary process. Magma generation, both in the spreading ridge environment and within the wedge above a subduction zone, favors the eruption of the more silicic and volatile rich fraction of the crustal or upper mantle material. This lower density material tends to stay within the crust and not be subducted back into the mantle. The magmatic aspects of plate tectonics tends to gradual segregation within or between the mantle and crust. As magma forms, the initial melt is composed of the more silicic phases that have a lower melting point. This leads to partial melting and further segregation of the lithosphere
Lithosphere
The lithosphere is the rigid outermost shell of a rocky planet. On Earth, it comprises the crust and the portion of the upper mantle that behaves elastically on time scales of thousands of years or greater.- Earth's lithosphere :...

. In addition the silicic continental crust is relatively buoyant and is not normally subducted back into the mantle. So over time the continental masses grow larger and larger.

The role of water

The presence of abundant water on Earth is of great importance for the rock cycle. Most obvious perhaps are the water driven processes of weathering
Weathering
Weathering is the breaking down of rocks, soils and minerals as well as artificial materials through contact with the Earth's atmosphere, biota and waters...

 and erosion
Erosion
Erosion is when materials are removed from the surface and changed into something else. It only works by hydraulic actions and transport of solids in the natural environment, and leads to the deposition of these materials elsewhere...

. Water in the form of precipitation and acid
Acid
An acid is a substance which reacts with a base. Commonly, acids can be identified as tasting sour, reacting with metals such as calcium, and bases like sodium carbonate. Aqueous acids have a pH of less than 7, where an acid of lower pH is typically stronger, and turn blue litmus paper red...

ic soil
Soil
Soil is a natural body consisting of layers of mineral constituents of variable thicknesses, which differ from the parent materials in their morphological, physical, chemical, and mineralogical characteristics...

 water and groundwater
Groundwater
Groundwater is water located beneath the ground surface in soil pore spaces and in the fractures of rock formations. A unit of rock or an unconsolidated deposit is called an aquifer when it can yield a usable quantity of water. The depth at which soil pore spaces or fractures and voids in rock...

 is quite effective at dissolving minerals and rocks, especially those igneous and metamorphic rocks and marine sedimentary rocks that are unstable under near surface and atmospheric conditions. The water carries away the ion
Ion
An ion is an atom or molecule in which the total number of electrons is not equal to the total number of protons, giving it a net positive or negative electrical charge. The name was given by physicist Michael Faraday for the substances that allow a current to pass between electrodes in a...

s dissolved in solution and the broken down fragments that are the products of weathering. Running water carries vast amounts of sediment in rivers back to the ocean and inland basins. The accumulated and buried sediments are converted back into rock.

A less obvious role of water is in the metamorphism processes that occur in fresh seafloor volcanic rocks as seawater, sometimes heated, flows through the fractures and crevices in the rock. All of these processes, illustrated by serpentinization
Serpentinite
Serpentinite is a rock composed of one or more serpentine group minerals. Minerals in this group are formed by serpentinization, a hydration and metamorphic transformation of ultramafic rock from the Earth's mantle...

, are an important part of the destruction of volcanic rock.

The role of water and other volatiles in the melting of existing crustal rock in the wedge above a subduction zone is a most important part of the cycle. Along with water, the presence of carbon dioxide
Carbon dioxide
Carbon dioxide is a naturally occurring chemical compound composed of two oxygen atoms covalently bonded to a single carbon atom...

 and other carbon compounds from abundant marine limestone
Limestone
Limestone is a sedimentary rock composed largely of the minerals calcite and aragonite, which are different crystal forms of calcium carbonate . Many limestones are composed from skeletal fragments of marine organisms such as coral or foraminifera....

 within the sediments atop the downgoing slab is another source of melt inducing volatiles. This involves the carbon cycle
Carbon cycle
The carbon cycle is the biogeochemical cycle by which carbon is exchanged among the biosphere, pedosphere, geosphere, hydrosphere, and atmosphere of the Earth...

as a part of the overall rock cycle.

External links

The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.
 
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