Physical weathering

Physical weathering is caused by physical processes such as changes in temperature, freezing and thawing, and the effects of wind, rain and waves.

Temperature changes

When a rock gets hot it expands a little, and when it gets cold the rock contracts a little. If a rock is heated and cooled many times, cracks form and pieces of rock fall away. This type of physical weathering happens a lot in deserts, because it is very hot during the day but very cold at night.

Wind, rain and waves

Wind, rain and waves can all cause weathering. The wind can blow tiny grains of sand against a rock. These wear the rock away and weather it. Rain and waves lashing against a rock can also wear it away over long periods of time.

Freeze-thaw

Water expands slightly when it freezes to form ice. This is why water pipes sometimes burst in the winter. You might have seen a demonstration of this sort of thing - a jar filled to the brim with water eventually shatters after it is put into a freezer. The formation of ice can also break rocks.

If water gets into a crack in a rock and then freezes, it expands and pushes the crack further apart. When the ice melts later, water can get further into the crack. When the water freezes, it expands and makes the crack even bigger.

This process of freezing and thawing can continue until the crack becomes so big that a piece of rock falls off.

A rock with a crack in it. The crack is filled with water

Freeze-thaw process

A rock with a crack in it. The crack is filled with water.