Even rocks have a cycle. Rocks are continually circulating in the mantle just below the crust of the earth. They are sometimes thrust up into the crust due to convection currents. Imagine really thick jam slowly cooking in a big pot on a stove. The jam is thick, and when it reaches a high temperature, convection currents circulate through it. Occasionally big bubbles of steam erupt from the jam and splash onto the top of the stove. This is how rocks get thrust up onto the top of the crust from the boiling mantle below. Rocks can also reach the surface when they are spit out by volcanoes.
Once on the surface of the earth, rocks cool down. Over time, they are broken up or worn down by weather, and the fragments are carried back to the ocean by way of wind, rain, and the flow of rivers and streams. All of these small pieces of rock collect as sediment at the bottom of seas and oceans. The sediment slowly solidifies into rock and is sometimes drawn back down in to the mantle at subduction zones or reaches the surface again as sea levels change or plates collide.
Sample some of the following activities to learn more about rocks and their cycles.
The following are places to go (some real and some virtual) to find out about rocks and their cycles.
Visit famous Ayers Rock in Australia. It is a sacred place to the aboriginal people, and it is made of limestone which is a sedimentary rock.
Visit Devil's Tower in Wyoming. The tower is a big hunk of igneous rock. It was formed by magma solidifying in a vertical tube that was once the heart of a volcano.
Stroll along the beaches of Easter Island. Those big, mysterious statues are made of volcanic tuff which is an igneous rock.
Visit the Himalayas. As tectonic plates shift and masses of rock uplift, this mountain chain grows .2 inches taller each year.
Erosion is part of the cycle of how rocks erode from wind, water, glaciers, and shifts in temperature. Travel to the Grand Canyon to view one of the most magnificent examples of how a river had carved its way through sedimentary rock.
Travel to the Giant’s Causeway in Antrim, Northern Ireland to study some unusual igneous rocks. These unique rock structures were formed when basalt lava cooled and then shrank to form hexagon-shaped columns. The legend is that an Irishman named Finn McCool built the causeway so that he could walk across to Scotland and fight a giant.
Virtually visit the Grand Canyon. The layer's of the earth's crust are plainly visible there.
Visit the Great Pyramid in Egypt. It's made from limestone which is a sedimentary rock.
Visit the Great Sphinx in Egypt. It's made from limestone which is a sedimentary rock.
Visit the hoodoos of southern Utah. These unusual rock formations are columns of soft sandstone that are topped by harder rock caps. The hard tops of the hoodoos have protected the rock beneath from being eroded by rain.
Visit your backyard and learn all about soil. Soil consists of tiny rocks, minerals, dead plants and animals, microbes, gases, and water. As plants and animals die, microbes break them down to eventually become soil.
Visit Mount Rushmore. It's made from granite which is igneous rock.
Travel to Hoba West, Namibia in southwestern Africa to see the largest known meterorite in the world. It is still encased in the ground where it landed. It is estimated to weigh about 66 tons. Then visit the American Museum of Natural History in New York to see a 16 ton meteorite that was found in Oregon in 1902 by two prospectors who were looking for gold.
Visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Visit Shiprock Pinnacle in New Mexico to view a huge outcropping of igneous rock. This enormous rock was once a plug-like mass of magma that filled the chimney vent of a volcano. It exploded from the volcano thousands of years ago and now fills the horizon in this remote area of New Mexico.
Visit the Taj Mahal. It is one of the world’s largest and most famous marble buildings. Marble is a metamorphic rock and is formed when heat and pressure change the structure of igneous or sedimentary rock.
Climb to the top of the Washington Monument. The exterior is made of white marble which is a metamorphic rock. Marble is formed when limestone is put under extreme pressure and heat. The interior of the monument is granite which is an igneous rock.
Spend time with the Apollo 11 astronauts, Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong, and Michael Collins who walked on the moon in 1969. They brought 842 pounds of moon rocks back home with them for further study.
Geologists are rock experts. Ask them anything.
Visit the people who live near the chalk cliffs in England. Chalk is a sedimentary rock and is formed from the shells and skeletons of microscopic sea creatures. The White Cliffs of Dover are made up of countless numbers shells of sea creatures that fell to the bottom of the sea and then became compacted over the centuries. The chalk cliffs eventually rose from the ocean as the surface of the earth changed.
See a gemologist and learn about the characteristics of gems. What is the difference between a rock and a mineral and a crystal and a gem? Minerals are natural chemicals. Rocks are composed of innumerable grains of minerals. Some rocks contain only one mineral; other rocks are made up of many different kinds of minerals. Minerals form crystals. When specific minerals in rocks are highly concentrated and their crystals have enough space to form into regular shapes, they can form gems which can be cut out of rocks and shaped and polished. Of the 3,000 minerals in the world, only about 130 of them form gems.
Spend some time with volcanologists who understand what happens beneath the surface of the earth. Magma, which is melted rock inside the earth, oozes and flows and moves around beneath the surface of the earth. When it pushes up through the crust of the earth or erupts from a volcano, it is no longer called magma; it is called lava. Cooled lava becomes igneous rock. The vast majority of rocks on the earth are igneous.
Meet James Hutton. He was from Scotland. He is considered to be the father of modern geology.
Spend some time with the people on the island of Hawaii. Kilauea Volcano is one of the earth's most active volcanoes. It has been constantly spilling out lava since 1983.
Spend time with geologists who study rocks. Weathering is part of the rock cycle. Rocks break down into smaller pieces from the effects of water freezing in small holes of rocks, from the effect of waves, from the flow of water in rivers and streams, and from wind. Weathering can eventually turn igneous rocks into small sediments. Over time, these sediments can become sedimentary rock. It’s all part of the cycle.
Spend time with Michelangelo who is an expert on the metamorphic rock called marble. Metamorphic rock is rock that has changed its form due to intense heat or pressure. Michelangelo carved his famous sculpture of David from a large hunk of Carrara marble.
Make the acquaintance of Mr. Mohs. In 1812, he developed a scale of hardness for minerals.
See George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. Their faces are carved from igneous rock at Mount Rushmore.
Silicon is used is used in circuit boards and chips for the computer industry. Meet scientists who manufacture silicon. Silicon is a crystal, but is does not occur in a pure form in nature. It can now be made artificially.
Talk with geologists about types of igneous rocks. When an igneous rock cools slowly from its molten form, it forms larger crystals. Granite cools slowly and has large crystals. Obsidian cools quickly and has small crystals.
Get to know Sylvester the donkey. By a set of strange circumstances, he turned into a rock. (It may have been an igneous rock). Read all about his adventures in William Steig's Sylvester and the Magic Pebble which won a Caldecott Medal in 1970.
Learn about which gemstones are associated with different months of the year. They are called birthstones.
Learn more about Utah's official rock.
Learn about the rocks and minerals that are in the Great Basin Desert which is in part of Utah. Utah has a lot of topaz.
Make some stone soup.
A metamorphic rock is formed when a previously existing rock has been changed by great heat or great pressure. Use the recipe from this website and make metamorphic rock pancakes.
All the different rocks in the world are made up of minerals. Some rocks contain just one kind of mineral, and other rocks contain many kinds of minerals. It all depends on how the rock was formed.
Think about the differences between a rock and a mineral. Then view photos of minerals at The Mineral Gallery and The Mineral and Gemstone Kingdom and photos of rocks at Igneous Rocks.
Check out this diagram of the rock cycle to understand how rocks form.
Sediment is turned into sedimentary rock by two processes. Learn more about these processes.
Discover the geological processes and cycles necessary to make dirt. The basic ingredients of soil are decaying plants and animals (organic matter) and fragments of rock.
To learn more about the rock cycle, start your own collection of rocks. They are certainly easy to find.
Testing the hardness of a mineral can help you identify what it is. Learn more about the hardness of minerals and about the Mohs scale where talc is rated as a 1 and diamond is a 10.
Check out Utah's official state rock.
For over 30 years, Mii has been helping teachers and students learn about natural resources and their importance to maintaining our lifestyle.
A good reference sheet of rocks and mienrals.
Get the latest dirt on soils!
- Burton, Jane. The Nature and Science of Rocks. Milwaukee, WI: Gareth Stevens Pub., 1998.
- Challoner, Jack. Rocks and Minerals. Milwaukee, WI: Gareth Stevens, 1999.
- Curtis, Neil.. Rocks and Minerals. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.
- Kittinger, Jo S. A Look at Rocks: From Coal to Kimberlite. New York : Franklin Watts, c1997.
- Morris, Neil. Rocks and Minerals. New York, N.Y.: Crabtree Pub. Co., c1998.
- Snedden, Robert. Rocks and Soils. Austin, Tex.: Raintree Steck-Vaughn, 1998.
- Staedter, Tracy. Rocks and Minerals. Pleasantville, N.Y.: Reader's Digest Children's Books, c1999.