Types of Chemical Weathering
There are three basic types of chemical reactions that cause four types of chemical weathering of rocks. Dissolution and hydrolysis are caused by reactions with acids. Hydration is the absorption of water. Oxidation is reaction with oxygen.
1. Acid Reactions
Acids are chemical compounds that produce H+ ions when dissolved in water. The stronger the acid, the more H+ ions they produce. Acids can react with any rock mineral that has other positive ions, like Ca++, Na+, or K+, by taking their place - which changes the chemical composition of the mineral and disrupts its atomic structure.
The most important natural acid is carbonic acid (H2CO3), which forms from carbon dioxide and water (CO2 and H2O). Others include sulfuric acid (H2SO4) and hydrofluoric acid (HF) which mainly come from volcanic eruptions.
In hydrolysis, silicate and carbonate minerals transform into new minerals, principally clay minerals which have a sheetlike structure similar to mica. Both the chemical composition and crystalline structure become completely different.
In dissolution, the acid completely dissolves the original rock, leaving nothing solid behind. For example, the gradual action of carbonic acid on limestone (main mineral: calcite, or CaCO3) over a very long timespan is responsible for all of the world's spectacular limestone caves.
The term ‘hydration’ refers to the absorption of water. The H+ and OH- ions of water incorporate themselves into the atomic structure of a mineral to form a new version of it called a hydrate. If the original mineral had a chemical formula of X, the new suite of minerals will have chemical formulas of X . nH2O. For example, anhydrite (CaSO4) exposed to water hydrates into gypsum (CaSO4 . 2H2O).
Oxidation is where oxygen from the atmosphere reacts with metal elements in the rocks to form oxides. The most common metal involved is iron. It reacts with oxygen to form iron oxide minerals such as hematite (Fe2O3) or, if water is present which it often is, hydration occurs in conjunction to form limonite (Fe2O3 . nH2O). Oxide minerals tend to be structurally weak and easily crumbled.