New Weathering Gizmo shows how rocks break down over time

Weathering—the slow breakdown of rocks at Earth’s surface—is vital for the existence of life on Earth. Weathering frees up essential nutrients for living things, forms soils for plants to grow, and provides materials that marine organisms use to build skeletons and shells.

In the new Weathering Gizmo, students can explore the many different ways in which rocks are broken down through physical means such as frost wedging, and through chemical means including clay formation and dissolving. Students can discover the unique features that result from weathering—from caves to the distinctive “honeycomb” appearance of rocks weathered by salt.

After students have learned about the types of weathering, they can turn to the simulation part of the Gizmo where a simulated rock outcrop will be worn down over time and display many of the features students have learned about. Students can manipulate the average temperature, amount of precipitation, rock type, and active modes of weathering to get a grasp on how climate and mineral composition determine rates of weathering.