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Effect of Erosion and Deposition on Landforms

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  • 0:07 Breaking Down Earth's Surface
  • 0:47 Weathering and Landforms
  • 1:48 Types of Weathering
  • 3:46 Erosion and Deposition
  • 6:38 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Peter Jaeger

Pete currently teaches middle school Science, college level introductory Science, and has a master's degree in Environmental Education.

Landforms are constantly being broken down and reformed by the processes of weathering, erosion, and deposition. In this lesson, we explore chemical and physical weathering and how the face of the earth gets changed.

Breaking Down Earth's Surface

The earth's surface is constantly being broken down and reshaped. This can be accomplished by many factors, most notably the elements. This includes all factors of the climate, like wind, ice, rain, and snow. The earth also can be shaped by the action of waves, floods, and storms.

Humans also can affect the rate of weathering by contributing to the pollution that may cause landforms to break down, like acid rain. Over time, these changes can vastly change the landscape of the earth. This topic became a field trip for a boy and his father, and, inadvertently, his mother.

Weathering and Landforms

Pollution that leads to acid rain can affect the rate of weathering.
Pollution Acid Rain

At home, the boy, named Jonah, heard his dad talking about how he was upset at how the recent freeze had broken part of their cement driveway. His dad said that this was something they called weathering. Dad said that weathering was where rocks and minerals are broken down by the elements of nature into smaller pieces. Jonah thought that his dad was mistaken and he was talking about erosion, since he had been learning about landforms at school.

His dad asked him to come outside and see for himself. His dad asked him to share what he was learning in science class at school, and Jonah stated that a landform is a term that refers to any natural surface feature of the earth. Landforms include things like mountains and hills or valleys and canyons. 'That's right,' said his dad, and he told him that, like anything in nature, they are formed and change over time. Jonah wondered how things changed over time. Since he was such a young boy, he wondered if he had lived long enough to see changes in the earth.

Types of Weathering

As they went outside to look at the driveway, they talked about what kinds of things could weather rocks. They found that things like heat, cold, rain, climate, pollution, acid rain, water, ice, and waves all were elements that could break down rocks over time. Over time, water can get into a rock and, as it freezes, it can break the rock into pieces.

'Did you know that there are two kinds of weathering?' stated Dad as he picked up the piece of cement from the driveway, 'mechanical weathering and chemical weathering?' Mechanical weathering is when rocks are broken down by physical agents like ice, wind, or water, and chemical weathering is when rocks are broken down by chemical reactions.

Jonah asked, 'So let me get this straight: I understand that other things in nature can break down rocks, but how do chemicals cause rocks to break down, too?' His dad told him about pollution and the production of acid rain. He said that outer layers of rocks can get worn away by acids, and statues sometimes even are destroyed, too.

The youngest rock layers are deposited on the top of the Grand Canyon.
Grand Canyon Weathering

As time passes, mechanical and chemical forces can begin to break down landforms and cause them to change. Take the Grand Canyon, for example. All the layers that form the rock formations were deposited over many years, with the oldest layers near the bottom and the younger layers deposited on top of them. If viewed long ago, no one could see the different layers because they were all underground. Through the years, forces of nature, like water and wind, broke down and then wore a channel through the rock, exposing the layers underneath. Over time, more and more area was weathered by these physical agents, enlarging the canyon into what we see today. Another one is Devils Tower, which is thought to be the plug of an ancient volcano. It is all that is remaining of the volcano that weathered from around it.

Erosion and Deposition

Jonah also learned that there were two other forces that also affect and form landforms. The first one is called erosion. He found that erosion is the movement of broken-down, weathered rock from place to place. His Dad took him to the garden, where there were channels made in the soft earth.

'During erosion, the weathered rocks are carried from one place to another by wind, water, or gravity.' The other word he learned from his reading was deposition. Like making a deposit in his piggy bank, deposition means the laying down, or depositing, of broken rock, which reminded him of the time he got in trouble for burying his sister at the beach. That made him smile.

Dad said, 'There are several agents of erosion that occur. Water can be one of the most effective and efficient modes of erosion. Waves, for instance, can cause changes in landforms by weathering the surrounding rocks and forming a beach by eroding the debris and depositing it on the shore. As the waves slowly wear down the rocks, the bits of rock turn into sand, which is a size of a rock piece. As these sand grains pile up on the shore, the beach gets formed by deposition. The waves can form many other landforms, too, like sea arches, sea caves, or sea stacks, which are piles of rock that were once connected to the mainland. As mentioned, most of this rock that gets broken down ends up on the shore as a beach.'

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