Most of us love landscapes –and many of us find ourselves wondering how they came to look the way they do. In most cases, landscapes take their shape through the combined processes of weathering and erosion. While weathering and erosion constitute entire fields of study unto themselves, this primer outlines some of the basics—which pretty much underlie all the further details of how natural processes shape landscapes.
Two definitions: weathering describes the in-place breakdown of rock material whereas erosion is the removal of that material. Basically, weathering turns solid rock into crud while erosion allows that crud to move away.
Weathering processes fall into two categories: physical and chemical. Physical weathering consists of the actual breakage of rock; any process that promotes breakage, be it enlargement of cracks, splitting, spalling, or fracturing, is a type of physical weathering. Common examples include enlargement of cracks through freezing and thawing, enlargement of cracks during root growth, and splitting or spalling of rock from thermal expansion during fires.