Metamorphic Rocks - Geology answers questions

Metamorphic Rocks

Slate rocks in Cascadilla Gorge, Ithaca

About 450 million years ago, some of the sedimentary rocks began to transform into metamorphic rocks. When sedimentary rocks like limestone or shale were under water, sometimes the weight of the water pressed them so hard that they actually changed the way their molecules locked together and became a different kind of rock. "Metamorphosis" means "changes form", and that's why we call these metamorphic rocks. Because these changes only happen when the rocks happen to be under a lot of pressure, metamorphic rocks are much more rare than igneous or sedimentary rocks.

Each kind of sedimentary rock turns into a different kind of metamorphic rock - limestone turns into travertine or marble, and shale turns into slate, and sandstone turns into quartzite. Even though slate is a metamorphic rock, it still looks a lot like a sedimentary rock - it is still in thin layers.

Raw diamond
A raw (uncut) diamond
from South Africa

Igneous rocks can also turn into metamorphic rocks. Granite, for example, changes into a rarer rock called gneiss (pronounced NICE). Also, some metamorphic rocks form out of plants - when the plants die, they decay and turn into peat, which eventually can turn into a sedimentary rock called coal (which is entirely made of carbon atoms), and then if the coal is under pressure, it can become the metamorphic rock graphite (also made of carbon atoms, but they're arranged in a different way). Carbon can also metamorphose into diamonds, but usually not from coal because that transformation happens deep down inside the earth, under tremendous pressure, while coal is on the surface.

Learn by doing: finding different kinds of rocks
More about jade

Bibliography and further reading about rocks:

More about different kinds of rocks home

Professor Carr

Karen Eva Carr, PhD.
Assoc. Professor Emerita, History
Portland State University

Professor Carr holds a B.A. with high honors from Cornell University in classics and archaeology, and her M.A. and PhD. from the University of Michigan in Classical Art and Archaeology. She has excavated in Scotland, Cyprus, Greece, Israel, and Tunisia, and she has been teaching history to university students for a very long time.

Professor Carr's PSU page

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