The Elements of Geology eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 384 pages of information about The Elements of Geology.


We are now to consider a few of the forms into which rock masses are carved by the weather.

Bowlders of weathering.  In many quarries and outcrops we may see that the blocks into which one or more of the uppermost layers have been broken along their joints and bedding planes are no longer angular, as are those of the layers below.  The edges and corners of these blocks have been worn away by the weather.  Such rounded cores, known as bowlders of weathering, are often left to strew the surface.

Differential weathering.  This term covers all cases in which a rock mass weathers differently in different portions.  Any weaker spots or layers are etched out on the surface, leaving the more resistant in relief.  Thus massive limestones become pitted where the weather drills out the weaker portions.  In these pits, when once they are formed, moisture gathers, a little soil collects, vegetation takes root, and thus they are further enlarged until the limestone may be deeply honeycombed.

On the sides of canyons, and elsewhere where the edges of strata are exposed, the harder layers project as cliffs, while the softer weather back to slopes covered with the talus of the harder layers above them.  It is convenient to call the former cliff makers and the latter slope makers.

Differential weathering plays a large part in the sculpture of the land.  Areas of weak rock are wasted to plains, while areas of hard rock adjacent are still left as hills and mountain ridges, as in the valleys and mountains of eastern Pennsylvania.  But in such instances the lowering of the surface of the weaker rock is also due to the wear of streams, and especially to the removal by them from the land of the waste which covers and protects the rocks beneath.

Rocks owe their weakness to several different causes.  Some, such as beds of loose sand, are soft and easily worn by rains; some, as limestone and gypsum for example, are soluble.  Even hard insoluble rocks are weak under the attack of the weather when they are closely divided by joints and bedding planes and are thus readily broken up into blocks by mechanical agencies.

Outliers and monuments.  As cliffs retreat under the attack of the weather, portions are left behind where the rock is more resistant or where the attack for any reason is less severe.  Such remnant masses, if large, are known as outliers.  When

Note the rain furrows on the slope at the foot of the monuments.  In the foreground are seen fragments of petrified trunks of trees, composed of silica and extremely resistant to the weather.  On the removal of the rock layers in which these fragments were imbedded they are left to strew the surface in the same way as are the residual flints of southern Missouri. flat-topped, because of the protection of a resistant horizontal capping layer, they are termed mesas,—­a term applied also to the flat-topped portions of dissected plateaus (Fig. 129).  Retreating cliffs may fall back a number of miles behind their outliers before the latter are finally consumed.

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The Elements of Geology from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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