Weathering is the breaking down of Earth's rocks, soils and minerals through direct contact with the planet's atmosphere. Weathering occurs in situ, or "with no movement", and thus should not be confused with erosion, which involves the movement of rocks and minerals by agents such as water, ice, wind, and gravity.
Two important classifications of weathering processes exist — physical and chemical weathering. Mechanical or physical weathering involves the breakdown of rocks and soils through direct contact with atmospheric conditions, such as heat, water, ice and pressure. The second classification, chemical weathering, involves the direct effect of atmospheric chemicals or biologically produced chemicals (also known as biological weathering) in the breakdown of rocks, soils and minerals.
The materials left over after the rock breaks down combined with organic material creates soil. The mineral content of the soil is determined by the parent material, thus a soil derived from a single rock type can often be deficient in one or more minerals for good fertility, while a soil weathered from a mix of rock types (as in glacial, aeolian or alluvial sediments) often makes more fertile soil.
Mineral materials used as building materials are subject to most of the same weathering processes as rocks and minerals in situ.
Physical weathering is the class of processes that causes the disintegration of rocks without chemical change. The primary process in physical weathering is abrasion (the process by which clasts and other particles are reduced in size). However, chemical and physical weathering often go hand in hand. For example, cracks exploited by physical weathering will increase the surface area exposed to chemical action. Furthermore, the chemical action at minerals in cracks can aid the disintegration process.
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