There are three different groups of rock: igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic. Rocks are classified into these three different groups, depending on how they were formed.

Igneous rock:

Igneous rocks (from the Greek word for fire) form from when hot, molten rock crystallizes and solidifies. The melt originates deep within the Earth near active plate boundaries or hot spots, then rises toward the surface. Igneous rocks are divided into two groups, intrusive or extrusive, depending upon where the molten rock solidifies.

Intrusive Igneous Rocks:
Intrusive, or plutonic, igneous rock forms when magma is trapped deep inside the Earth. Great globs of molten rock rise toward the surface. Some of the magma may feed volcanoes on the Earth’s surface, but most remains trapped below, where it cools very slowly over many thousands or millions of years until it solidifies. Slow cooling means the individual mineral grains have a very long time to grow, so they grow to a relatively large size. Intrusive rocks have a coarse grained texture.

Extrusive Igneous Rocks:
Extrusive, or volcanic, igneous rock is produced when magma exits and cools above (or very near) the Earth’s surface. These are the rocks that form at erupting volcanoes and oozing fissures. The magma, called lava when molten rock erupts on the surface, cools and solidifies almost instantly when it is exposed to the relatively cool temperature of the atmosphere. Quick cooling means that mineral crystals don’t have much time to grow, so these rocks have a very fine-grained or even glassy texture. Hot gas bubbles are often trapped in the quenched lava, forming a bubbly, vesicular texture.

Sedimentary rock:

Sedimentary rock is one of the three main rock groups (along with igneous and metamorphic rocks) and is formed in four main ways: by the deposition of the weathered remains of other rocks (known as ‘clastic’ sedimentary rocks); by the accumulation and the consolidation of sediments; by the deposition of the results of biogenic activity; and by precipitation from solution.

Sedimentary rocks include common types such as chalk, limestone, sandstone, clay and shale.

Sedimentary rocks cover 75% of the Earth’s surface.

Four basic processes are involved in the formation of a clastic sedimentary rock: weathering (erosion) caused mainly by friction of waves, transportation where the sediment is carried along by a current, deposition and compaction where the sediment is squashed together to form a rock of this kind.

Sedimentary rocks are formed from overburden pressure as particles of sediment are deposited out of air, ice, or water flows carrying the particles in suspension.

As sediment deposition builds up, the overburden (or ‘lithostatic’) pressure squeezes the sediment into layered solids in a process known as lithification (‘rock formation’) and the original connate fluids are expelled.

The term diagenesis is used to describe all the chemical, physical, and biological changes, including cementation, undergone by sediment after its initial deposition and during and after its lithification, exclusive of surface weathering.

Metamorphic rock:

Metamorphic rocks are rocks that have become changed by intense heat or pressure while forming. In the very hot and pressured conditions deep inside the Earth’s crust, both sedimentary and igneous rocks can be changed into metamorphic rock. In certain conditions these rocks cool and crystallize usually into bands of crystals. Later they can become exposed on Earth’s surface. One way to tell if a rock sample is metamorphic is to see if the crystals within it are arranged in bands.

One way to think about the metamorphic process (metamorphism) is to consider what happens when soft clay objects are put into a kiln and heated to a very high temperature. They change from being squashy to rock hard. They cannot be changed back to their original form. The material has been changed. This is what happens on a huge scale underground producing metamorphic rock.


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