Water constantly weathers sedimentary rock, both physically — through abrasion — and chemically — through dissolution and recrystallization. Now researchers have gotten their first view of this weathering at the Ångstrom level by observing porous rocks with environmental transmission electron microscopy as they interact with both water vapor and liquid water.
As expected, the experiments with liquid water showed that water dissolved the rocks and substantially changed the geometry of the rock’s pores. But the experiments also showed significant weathering from water vapor alone. The researchers found that water vapor formed a film on the surface of the rock’s pores in a process known as adsorption. This film substantially decreased the size of each pore and created strain in the rock. Once the water vapor was removed, the rock’s pores were notably altered, supporting the idea that this adsorption was, itself, a form of weathering. (Image credit: M. Kosloski; research credit: E. Barsotti et al.; via AGU EOS; submitted by Kam-Yung Soh)