The formation of carbonates. In attacking minerals water does more than merely take them into solution. It decomposes them, forming new chemical compounds of which the carbonates are among the most important. Thus feldspar consists of the insoluble silicate of alumina, together with certain alkaline silicates which are broken up by the action of water containing carbon dioxide, forming alkaline carbonates. These carbonates are freely soluble and contribute potash and soda to soils and river waters. By the removal of the soluble ingredients of feldspar there is left the silicate of alumina, united with water or hydrated, in the condition of a fine plastic clay which, when white and pure, is known as kaolin and is used in the manufacture of porcelain. Feldspathic rocks which contain no iron compounds thus weather to whitish crusts, and even apparently sound crystals of feldspar, when ground to thin slices and placed under the microscope, may be seen to be milky in color throughout because an internal change to kaolin has begun.
Oxidation. Rocks containing compounds of iron weather to reddish crusts, and the seams of these rocks are often lined with rusty films. Oxygen and water have here united with the iron, forming hydrated iron oxide. The effects of oxidation may be seen in the alteration of many kinds of rocks and in red and yellow colors of soils and subsoils.
Pyrite is a very hard mineral of a pale brass color, found in scattered crystals in many rocks, and is composed of iron and sulphur (iron sulphide). Under the attack of the weather it takes up oxygen, forming iron sulphate (green vitriol), a soluble compound, and insoluble hydrated iron oxide, which as a mineral is known as limonite. Several large masses of iron sulphide were placed some years ago on the lawn in front of the National Museum at Washington. The mineral changed so rapidly to green vitriol that enough of this poisonous compound was washed into the ground to kill the roots of the surrounding grass.
AGENTS OF MECHANICAL DISINTEGRATION
Heat and cold. Rocks exposed to the direct rays of the sun become strongly heated by day and expand. After sunset they rapidly cool and contract. When the difference in temperature between day and night is considerable, the repeated strains of sudden expansion and contraction at last become greater than the rocks can bear, and they break, for the same reason that a glass cracks when plunged into boiling water (Fig. 5).
Rocks are poor conductors of heat, and hence their surfaces may become painfully hot under the full blaze of the sun, while the interior remains comparatively cool. By day the surface shell expands and tends to break loose from the mass of the stone. In cooling in the evening the surface shell suddenly contracts on the unyielding interior and in time is forced off in scales.