Climate Influences the Rock Cycle

Climate has three basic influences on the rock cycle: weathering & erosion, rate of limestone production, and rate of fossil production.

Credits: Courtesy of Jerome Wyckoff

Weathering and erosion: Weathering is the breakup of rock due to physical and chemical processes, while erosion is the transport of weathered rock particles by wind and water. The primary way that climate affects weathering and erosion through its connection to the water cycle.

When water freezes in cracks and crevices in rock and expands, the rocks are physically broken apart. The amount of rainfall will affect weathering as will the types of plants in the area (which are greatly affected by the amount of rainfall), whose roots break rocks apart and may chemically dissolve some rocks.

For a more detailed explanation, take a look at these pages:

Step 1: Breaking Rocks Apart

Step 2: Sediments on the Move!

Step 3: Sediments Settling Down

Step 4: Turning a Pile of Sediment into Solid Rock

Rate of limestone production: Limestone rocks are made most prolifically in the warm shallow waters of tropics. Thus, limestone production depends on the extent of tropical regions. The amount of shallow sea area, where limestone forms quickly, depends on sea level. When the edges of the continents are flooded by high sea level because glaciers have melted during warm global climate, more carbonate rocks are produced.

In warm, tropical oceans, like that shown in (A), large numbers of corals and other marine animals and plants make skeletons out of calcite and other carbonate minerals. These skeletons and carbonate mud make a rock called limestone like the one shown in (B) from San Salvador Island in the Bahamas. This limestone was a coral reef living under a shallow sea about 120,000 years ago. Credits: (A) Abi Howe, American Geological Institute, courtesy of Earth Science World Imagebank and (B) courtesy of Lisa Gardiner

The leg and shoulder bones of a large Sauropod dinosaur preserved at Dinosaur National Monument (Colorado, USA) Credits: Courtesy of Dinosaur National Monument

Rate of fossil production: Environments and ecosystems depend on climate so different types of sedimentary rocks and fossils are preserved when climates change. Additionally, fossilization processes depend on climate. The chance of animal or plant remains becoming fossilized at all is very minimal, and it is much more likely that the remains will decompose.

Body fossils are remains of actual organisms. Most living things never become fossils. It takes special conditions for a fossil to form. Hard parts made of mineral such as shells and bones are much more likely to become body fossils than soft tissues, such as skin, organs, and eyes, which usually decay. This means that animals like jellyfish, which have no bones made of hard mineral, are rarely preserved.

But since the rate of decomposition is different in different climates, remains are more likely to become fossils in some environment than others. In warm, humid environments, less soft tissues are fossilized because the rate of decomposition is high. However, in arctic environments, much like in your freezer, the rate of decomposition is lower and soft tissues are more likely to fossilize.

Last modified June 28, 2007 by Dennis Ward.

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