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USGS Geology in the Parks

What's the difference between weathering and erosion?

Weathering involves two processes that often work in concert to decompose rocks. Both processes occur in place. No movement is involved in weathering. Chemical weathering involves a chemical change in at least some of the minerals within a rock. Mechanical weathering involves physically breaking rocks into fragments without changing the chemical make-up of the minerals within it. It's important to keep in mind that weathering is a surface or near-surface process. As you know, metamorphism also produces chemical changes in rocks, but metamorphic chemical changes occur at depth where either the temperature and/or pressure are significantly higher than conditions found on the Earth's surface.

As soon as a rock particle (loosened by one of the two weathering processes) moves, we call it erosion or mass wasting. Mass wasting is simply movement down slope due to gravity. Rock falls, slumps, and debris flows are all examples of mass wasting. We call it erosion if the rock particle is moved by some flowing agent such as air, water or ice.

So, here it is: if a particle is loosened, chemically or mechanically, but stays put, call it weathering. Once the particle starts moving, call it erosion.

 

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