The Rock Cycle in Canada

Let's Talk Science
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5.8

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Products of the rock cycle are visible all across Canada.

What do a computer, a stove and a sidewalk have in common? OK, maybe you use them all every day, but there’s more. All three of these items contain rocks! In fact, if you look carefully, you’ll find that many other objects you use every day also have rocks in them.

Of course, some rocks are more obvious than others. Depending on where you live, you might be surrounded by rocks. But do you know what kind of rocks they are?

What Are the Different Types of Rocks?

There are three types of rocks:

  • Igneous rocks
  • Metamorphic rocks
  • Sedimentary rocks

Igneous Rocks

Igneous rocks come from magma, a hot material in the Earth’s crust. When magma reaches the Earth’s surface, usually out of a volcano, it’s called lava. When it cools, it becomes igneous rocks. 

Igneous rocks that form beneath the Earth’s surface are called intrusive igneous rocks. Igneous rocks that form above the Earth’s surface are called extrusive igneous rocks.

Balancing Rock in Nova Scotia is made of an igneous rock called basalt.

Balancing Rock in Nova Scotia
Balancing Rock in Nova Scotia (Dennis Jarvis [CC BY-SA 2.0] via Wikimedia Commons).

Sedimentary Rocks

Sedimentary rocks are formed from loose sediment over millions of years. Sediment is any solid material that gets moved from one place to another. Rocks and minerals can be sediment. Plant and animal remains can be sediment, too. Sediment can be as small as a grain of sand or as large as a boulder. Over time, sediment builds up and becomes sedimentary rock.

The Earth’s surface is composed of 75% sedimentary rock. Let’s look at some examples here in Canada. 

Cape Spear, Newfoundland and Labrador, is the most easterly point in North America. Its cliffs are made up of sedimentary rock.

Cape Spear in Newfoundland and Labrador
Cape Spear in Newfoundland and Labrador (KristaKals [CC BY-SA 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons

Percé Rock is a natural arch off the coast of the Gaspé Peninsula in Quebec. It is made of limestone, another type of sedimentary rock.

The town of Percé and Percé Rock, on Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsula.
The town of Percé and Percé Rock, on Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsula (Source: Instants via iStockphoto).

Badlands, which are found in several parts of Canada, are examples of sedimentary rock formations. They tend to form in areas where rain tends to fall in short bursts, like in a thunderstorm. You may have seen badlands in Alberta’s Dinosaur Provincial Park or in Cheltenham, Ontario.

Alberta badlands
Alberta badlands (Paleopod [CC BY-SA 4.0] via Wikimedia Commons).

Metamorphic Rocks

Metamorphic rocks are igneous or sedimentary rocks that have been transformed by pressure or heat. The heat and pressure can come from inside the Earth, from the shifting of the Earth’s crust or from radioactive decay. These forces change the rock’s structure.

The Rocky Mountains in Canada are mostly made up of metamorphic rock covered by a thin layer of sedimentary rock
The Rocky Mountains in Canada are mostly made up of metamorphic rock covered by a thin layer of sedimentary rock (Adam Jones, Ph.D. [CC BY-SA 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons).

Did you know?

Some of the world’s oldest known fossils were found in the Canadian Shield. Fossil bacteria and algae in the region have been dated to about 2.2 billion years ago.

What Is the Rock Cycle?

The rock cycle is the process by which one type of rock becomes another. 

Most rocks begin as igneous rocks. Over time, wind and water break them up into sediment. This is called erosion. As sediment piles up, it becomes sedimentary rocks. Eventually, these rocks are covered up and become part of the Earth’s crust. There, heat and pressure build up and turn these rocks into—you guessed it!—metamorphic rocks.

The rock cycle
The rock cycle (© 2019 Let’s Talk Science).

 

The different types of rocks can change into each other over millions of years. This cycle is especially cool because it can go in any order. One type of rock can change into either of the others!

You can see evidence of the rock cycle all around you! For example, when pieces of cliffs or large rocks are eroded (worn down), they create sediment. Water is often responsible for eroding rocks. The next time you’re walking by a stream or river, look for smaller pieces of rock that have been eroded. After millions of years, they may become a different kind of rock!

Starting Points

Connecting and Relating

  • Do you like to collect rocks? Why or why not? 
  • Where have you observed or found interesting rocks or rock formations? 
  • Have you visited any of the sites pictured in the article? What did you think about these places and rock formations?
  •  

Connecting and Relating

  • Do you like to collect rocks? Why or why not? 
  • Where have you observed or found interesting rocks or rock formations? 
  • Have you visited any of the sites pictured in the article? What did you think about these places and rock formations?
  •  

Relating Science and Technology to Society and the Environment

  • Describe the different ways that humans interact with the rock cycle economically, socially, technologically and environmentally (e.g. mining for rocks and minerals; participating in rock climbing, downhill skiing and snowboarding; using rock products for building structures, roads and other products; dealing with damage from landslides and volcanic eruptions; visiting tourist destinations; etc.)
  • In what ways are rocks and minerals important to Canada? (This question may require additional research.)
  • Federally, provincially and territorially, what do Canadian governments do to protect unique rocky landforms?
  •  

Relating Science and Technology to Society and the Environment

  • Describe the different ways that humans interact with the rock cycle economically, socially, technologically and environmentally (e.g. mining for rocks and minerals; participating in rock climbing, downhill skiing and snowboarding; using rock products for building structures, roads and other products; dealing with damage from landslides and volcanic eruptions; visiting tourist destinations; etc.)
  • In what ways are rocks and minerals important to Canada? (This question may require additional research.)
  • Federally, provincially and territorially, what do Canadian governments do to protect unique rocky landforms?
  •  

Exploring Concepts

  • What is the difference between intrusive and extrusive igneous rocks?
  • What is sediment?
  • Where are sedimentary rocks most likely to form? 
  • What factors cause the erosion of rocks?
  • How are metamorphic rocks formed?
  •  

Exploring Concepts

  • What is the difference between intrusive and extrusive igneous rocks?
  • What is sediment?
  • Where are sedimentary rocks most likely to form? 
  • What factors cause the erosion of rocks?
  • How are metamorphic rocks formed?
  •  

Nature of Science/Nature of Technology

  • What different fields of science require a thorough knowledge of rocks and the rock cycle?

Nature of Science/Nature of Technology

  • What different fields of science require a thorough knowledge of rocks and the rock cycle?

Teaching Suggestions

  • This video and article can be used to support teaching and learning of Earth Science, Earth materials & processes and Geography related to the rock cycle and rocks & minerals. Concepts introduced include igneous rocks, magma, lava, intrusive igneous rocks, extrusive igneous rocks, erosion, sedimentary rocks and metamorphic rocks.
  • Before introducing this article and video, teachers could have students bring in a favourite rock from a personal rock collection, or a rock they find particularly interesting. Students could tell the class what they know about the rock, where they found it, etc.
  • After reading the article, teachers could have the students use a Concept Definition Web learning strategy to explore the concept of the “Rock Cycle”. Ready-to-use Concept Definition Web reproducibles are available in [Google doc] and [PDF] formats.
  • To further consolidate learning, teachers could have students develop their own drawings or models of the rock cycle.
  •  

Teaching Suggestions

  • This video and article can be used to support teaching and learning of Earth Science, Earth materials & processes and Geography related to the rock cycle and rocks & minerals. Concepts introduced include igneous rocks, magma, lava, intrusive igneous rocks, extrusive igneous rocks, erosion, sedimentary rocks and metamorphic rocks.
  • Before introducing this article and video, teachers could have students bring in a favourite rock from a personal rock collection, or a rock they find particularly interesting. Students could tell the class what they know about the rock, where they found it, etc.
  • After reading the article, teachers could have the students use a Concept Definition Web learning strategy to explore the concept of the “Rock Cycle”. Ready-to-use Concept Definition Web reproducibles are available in [Google doc] and [PDF] formats.
  • To further consolidate learning, teachers could have students develop their own drawings or models of the rock cycle.
  •  

Learn more

The Rock Cycle Song (2018) 

A catchy song and music video (2:35 min.) from Jam Campus to help students remember the three types of rocks.

Rock Cycle Steps & Science Lesson 

A short lesson from Home Science Tools that contains information on the different kinds of rocks, on how the rock cycle works and on how gemstones are formed. It includes an easy activity to demonstrate how the rock cycle works.

The Rock Cycle (2012)

This video (4:31 min.) from MITK12 explains the differences between sedimentary, metamorphic and igneous rock using rock samples and people acting out how rocks become different types.

References

Annenberg Learner. (2017, February). Types of rocks.

Manitoba Rocks! (n.d.). Origins of rock.

U.S. Department of the Interior. (2001). Mineral resources: Out of the ground… into our daily lives.

Walker, R. G. (2015, March 4). Sedimentary rock. The Canadian Encyclopedia.

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