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Weathering is the deterioration of rocks, soils and minerals as well as wood and artificial materials through contact with water, atmospheric gases, and biological organisms. Weathering occurs in situ (on-site, with little or no movement), and so is distinct from erosion, which involves the transport of rocks and minerals by agents such as water, ice, snow, wind, waves and gravity.
Weathering processes are divided into physical and chemical weathering. Physical weathering involves the breakdown of rocks and soils through the mechanical effects of heat, water, ice, or other agents. Chemical weathering involves the chemical reaction of water, atmospheric gases, and biologically produced chemicals with rocks and soils. Water is the principal agent behind both physical and chemical weathering, though atmospheric oxygen and carbon dioxide and the activities of biological organisms are also important. Chemical weathering by biological action is also known as biological weathering.
The materials left over after the rock breaks down combine with organic material to create soil. Many of Earth's landforms and landscapes are the result of weathering processes combined with erosion and re-deposition. Weathering is a crucial part of the rock cycle, and sedimentary rock, formed from the weathering products of older rock, covers 66% of the Earth's continents and much of its ocean floor.
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