The surface of the Earth rarely stays the same; whether you’re working on your garden, hiking up a mountain or watching the sea from atop a cliff, soil, rocks and other surface particles always get broken, moved around, clumped together or carried away. Rocks crumble, its dust is swept away, and somewhere out there, a new sand dune or hill gradually forms into existence.
Our Earth Processes worksheet PDF can serve as a quick and convenient reference for students and teachers to easily review some key physical processes which shape the world even as we speak.
Three of the main Earth processes that change the surface are weathering, erosion, and deposition. While we usually don’t observe the effects of these processes as they happen day to day, note that nature does not operate on a human’s timescale. All three of these processes have shaped natural monuments, such as the Grand Canyon and the Himalayas, over lengthy stretches of time spanning millions of years.
Rocks can appear tough – especially particularly durable ones like granite or shale. It can seem surprising that phenomena such as wind or moving water can destroy them, but given enough time, even granite or shale will become worn and crumble into dust. This is the idea behind weathering – the process of breaking rocks into tinier and tinier pieces.
Weathering can occur in different ways. Organic weathering happens when rocks are broken apart by plants – either from the invasion of their growing roots deep into the rock or the secretion of plant acids. Chemical weathering – true to its name – dissolves rocks in a chemical reaction. Water actually does this to cliffsides and shores over time, slowly dissolving material like limestone. Mechanical weathering is another type – exemplified by rocks breaking in winter when water contracts and expands as ice.
Erosion is the logical follow-up to any weathering that occurs. In the simplest sense, erosion is the transportation of all weathered and dissolved rock particles and sediments from the source to other places. Several things can become the medium for erosion, including water, wind, bodies of ice such as glaciers, and the effects of gravity.
Rivers and ocean currents can carry the same particles that their movement has weathered elsewhere. Similarly, glaciers tend to collect sediment as they travel slowly across land, depositing it as till. Wind can sweep away sand and dust, creating dunes over time. Particles can also be displaced by gravity, such as in landslides.
Deposition is the end result of erosion – it is when rock material and sediments land and settle at a new place. When enough material accumulates at a certain area, it may create new landforms. Sandy deserts are a particularly straightforward example of this – winds pick up and deposit tiny amounts of sand from somewhere else over time, eventually forming small mounds before turning into towering dunes. The product of deposition may vary according to the medium of erosion, with landslides, hulking glaciers, strong winds, and rivers each creating their own distinct landforms.