Weathering rates depend on several factors. These include the composition of the rock and the minerals it contains as well as the climate of a region.
Rock and Mineral Type
Different rock types weather at different rates. Certain types of rock are very resistant to weathering. Igneous rocks, especially intrusive igneous rocks such as granite, weather slowly because it is hard for water to penetrate them. Other types of rock, such as limestone, are easily weathered because they dissolve in weak acids.
Rocks that resist weathering remain at the surface and form ridges or hills. Devil’s Tower in Wyoming is an igneous rock from beneath a volcano (figure 1). As the surrounding less resistant rocks were worn away, the resistant center of the volcano remained behind.
Different minerals also weather at different rates. Some minerals in a rock might completely dissolve in water but the more resistant minerals remain. In this case, the rock’s surface becomes pitted and rough. When a less resistant mineral dissolves, more resistant mineral grains are released from the rock.
A region’s climate strongly influences weathering. Climate is determined by the temperature of a region plus the amount of precipitation it receives. Climate is weather averaged over a long period of time. Chemical weathering increases as:
- Temperature increases: Chemical reactions proceed more rapidly at higher temperatures. For each 10oC increase in average temperature, the rate of chemical reactions doubles.
- Precipitation increases: More water allows more chemical reactions. Since water participates in both mechanical and chemical weathering, more water strongly increases weathering.
So how do different climates influence weathering? A cold, dry climate will produce the lowest rate of weathering. A warm, wet climate will produce the highest rate of weathering. The warmer a climate is, the more types of vegetation it will have and the greater the rate of biological weathering (figure 2). This happens because plants and bacteria grow and multiply faster in warmer temperatures.
Some resources are concentrated by weathering processes. In tropical climates, intense chemical weathering carries away all soluble minerals, leaving behind just the least soluble components. The aluminum oxide, bauxite, forms this way and is our main source of aluminum ore.