Frost Wedging: Definition & Example

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  • 0:00 Weathering At A Glance
  • 0:43 Frost Wedging
  • 2:20 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kimberly Schulte

Kimberly has taught at the university level for over 17 years.

Did you know that something as strong as a rock can be broken into tiny pieces by just water? When rocks break into tiny pieces, interesting features are often left behind. In this lesson, we will look at how and why this can happen.

Weathering at a Glance

Weathering is a term used by geologists to describe the breakdown of rock and sediment. There are two main types of weathering - physical and chemical. Physical weathering breaks down the rock by physical or mechanical means, which results in the rock getting smaller. During physical weathering, the chemical makeup of the rock stays the same. However, chemical weathering involves a change in the chemical makeup of the rock.

Examples of physical weathering include frost wedging, thermal expansion, and exfoliation. Each of these examples involve the breakdown of the rock into smaller pieces. Chemical weathering examples include hydrolysis, oxidation, dehydration, and dissolution. These examples of chemical weathering change the chemistry of the rock, or the minerals found in the rocks.

Frost Wedging

Frost wedging is a form of physical weathering that involves the repeated freezing and thawing of water in areas with extremely cold weather. When water freezes, it expands. If you have ever used ice cube trays, you may have noticed this. When retrieving filled trays from the freezer, sometimes the water has frozen and expanded over the edge of the tray. This is especially noticeable when you filled the trays to the very top before freezing.

You can test this yourself by using a clear bottle filled with water. Once you have the filled bottle with water about 2/3 full, use a pen to mark the level on the outside of the bottle. Place the bottle, without the lid, in the freezer until the water is frozen. Look at the mark, and you will see the level is now above the original line.

Most rocks have tiny cracks and holes in them called joints. When it rains, water fills in these joints. When the temperature drops at night, the water freezes and expands. As the ice expands, it puts pressure on the surrounding rock. Eventually, with sufficient time and force, the pressure will expand the crack even further.

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