As water falls on the earth in rain it has already absorbed from the air carbon dioxide (carbonic acid gas) and oxygen. As it sinks into the ground and becomes what is termed ground water, it takes into solution from the soil humus acids and carbon dioxide, both of which are constantly being generated there by the decay of organic matter. So both rain and ground water are charged with active chemical agents, by the help of which they corrode and rust and decompose all rocks to a greater or less degree. We notice now three of the chief chemical processes concerned in weathering,— solution, the formation of carbonates, and oxidation.
Solution. Limestone, although so little affected by pure water that five thousand gallons would be needed to dissolve a single pound, is easily dissolved in water charged with carbon dioxide. In limestone regions well water is therefore “hard.” On boiling the water for some time the carbon dioxide gas is expelled, the whole of the lime carbonate can no longer be held in solution, and much of it is thrown down to form a crust or “scale” in the kettle or in the tubes of the steam boiler. All waters which flow over limestone rocks or soak through them are constantly engaged in dissolving them away, and in the course of time destroy beds of vast extent and great thickness.
The upper surface of limestone rocks becomes deeply pitted, as we saw in the limestone quarry, and where the mantle of waste has been removed it may be found so intricately furrowed that it is difficult to traverse.
Beds of rock salt buried among the strata are dissolved by seeping water, which issues in salt springs. Gypsum, a mineral composed of hydrated sulphate of lime, and so soft that it may be scratched with the finger nail, is readily taken up by water, giving to the water of wells and springs a peculiar hardness difficult to remove.
The dissolving action of moisture may be noted on marble tombstones of some age, marble being a limestone altered by heat and pressure and composed of crystalline grains. By assuming that the date on each monument marks the year of its erection, one may estimate how many years on the average it has taken for weathering to loosen fine grains on the polished surface, so that they may be rubbed off with the finger, to destroy the polish, to round the sharp edges of tool marks in the lettering, and at last to open cracks and seams and break down the stone. We may notice also whether the gravestones weather more rapidly on the sunny or the shady side, and on the sides or on the top.
The weathered surface of granular limestone containing shells shows them standing in relief. As the shells are made of crystalline carbonate of lime, we may infer whether the carbonate of lime is less soluble in its granular or in its crystalline condition.