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Chemical compositions of rock types as factors in our environment

January 1, 1971

The types of rocks that form geologic units in the Earth’s crust supply most of the raw materials from which soils are formed and from which water derives its inorganic constituents. The compositions of what we eat and drink thus depend in part upon the compositions of the source rocks.

Igneous rocks are formed by crystallization and solidification of a rock melt. Metamorphic rocks are formed by recrystallization of both igneous and sedimentary rocks caused by heat and pressure within the Earth’s crust. Sedimentary rocks are formed chiefly by the deposition in water of weathering and erosion products of pre-existing igneous, metamorphic, or other sedimentary rocks. The compositions of metamorphic rocks are generally similar to the compositions of the rocks that were metamorphosed, and only igneous and sedimentary rock compositions are considered here.

Igneous rocks range in SiO2 content from about 40 to nearly 80 percent, and other constituents increase in amount as SiO2 decreases. The changes in the other constituents are not large, however, except for the quantitatively unimportant least silicic rocks; these contain conspicuously more magnesium and less aluminum than the other kinds of igneous rocks.

Sedimentary rocks range in SiO2 content from nearly zero for the carbonate rocks to almost 100 percent for quartzite and pure sandstone. Shale and clay contain intermediate amounts of SiO2 and as much as 25 percent AI2O3, more than any of the igneous rocks. Carbonate rocks are composed mostly of calcium and magnesium carbonates.

The contents of individual trace elements vary widely with rock type. Chromium, titanium, nickel, and cobalt are conspicuously concentrated in low-silica igneous rocks that are quantitatively unimportant. Arsenic, iodine, molybdenum, and selenium are conspicuously concentrated in shale and clay. In addition, most other elements occur in largest amounts in shale and clay compared to other sedimentary rocks, and in amounts nearly equal to those in igneous rocks.

Soils derived from different kinds of igneous rocks do not differ from each other as much as do soils derived from different kinds of sedimentary rocks. This is partly because igneous rocks generally are more resistant to weathering than sedimentary rocks that were deposited in water. Some of the important constituents of sedimentary rocks have been precipitated from solution, which makes them more susceptible to weathering and re-solution. Similarly, sedimentary rocks have a greater effect than igneous rocks on the composition of ground water.

Determination of areal variations in composition should be more detailed than normal petrologic investigations if the results are to be usable for environmental studies. Statistical principles should be used in planning the sampling, analysis, and interpretation of results.

Publication Year 1971
Title Chemical compositions of rock types as factors in our environment
DOI 10.1130/MEM123-p13
Authors Harry A. Tourtelot
Publication Type Book Chapter
Publication Subtype Book Chapter
Index ID 70227310
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse