Rock Cycle – Diagram and Explanation

What is Rock Cycle Diagram?

Rock Cycle Diagram
Rock Cycle Diagram

Rock Cycle Diagram is the one that explains the processes through which the types of rocks namely – Igneous, Sedimentary and Metamorphic undergo transformation in Geologic times. Rocks of any type can be converted into any other type, or into another rock of the same type. Whenever the state of equilibrium of a particular rock type is disturbed, the rock undergoes a transformation e.g. when an Igneous rock like Basalt or Obsidian is subjected to weathering, it may break up into fragments. Due to Compressional forces it may get transformed into a Sedimentary rock like Sand Stone.  A rock cycle diagram explains how the three rock types are related to each other, and how the forces of nature compel them to change from one type to another over time.

But before we learn details of the rock cycle diagram, it is important to have a detailed understanding of the nature of the three types of rocks namely – Igneous, Sedimentary and metamorphic.

What are the 7 steps of rock cycle?

Rock Cycle Diagram
Rock Cycle Diagram

A rock cycle works due to the combined effects of exogenic and endogenic forces. Exogenic forces are the ones that occur outside the earth. While endogenic forces occur inside the earth. Both these forces are at constantly at work resulting in the transformation of rocks from one form to the other as shown in the rock cycle diagram. As nothing lasts for ever in the nature, of which the entire universe is also a part, the same rule also applies to the rocks as well. The transformation of rocks happen in a period of hundreds and thousand of years. As far as steps of rock cycle are concerned, there is no fixed pattern. While looking at the rock cycle on can start from any given point. Broadly the steps if we start from within the earth can be seen as :

  • Melting
  • Solidification
  • Upliftment
  • Weathering
  • Erosion and transportation
  • Deposition and sedimentation
  • Burial and compaction

Three Types Of Rocks

      In general, any mass of mineral matter whether consolidated or not, which forms part of the earth’s crust or lithosphere is regarded as a rock. These minerals are compounds of more than one elements. All the rocks are categorized by their mineral content, chemical composition and the modes of formation. The important mineral groups are Silicates, Carbonates, Sulphides etc.

  • About 90 % of rock forming minerals are silicates ( compounds containing silicon, oxygen or more metals ).
  • The important rock forming silicates mineral groups  are  Feldspar, Quartz and Ferromagnesium.
  • Feldspar is the most abundant rock forming silicate mineral ( making up 54 % of the minerals in the earth crust).
  • Limestone’s and marbles are made up of calcite, an important mineral of carbonate group.
  • Although most rocks are made of minerals, some substances of organic origin  such as peat and guano are accepted as rocks.

    Rocks are classified on the basis of their mode of formation into three broad categories: Igneous, Metamorphic & Sedementary.

Igneous Rocks

Rock Cycle Diagram
Igneous Rocks

These Igneous rocks are formed by the cooling, solidification and crystallization of molten earth materials, known as magma and lava. These rocks are also called as primary rocks or parent rocks because these were originated first during the formation of crust through the process of cooling of the earth surface. They do not have distinct beds or strata like the sedimentary rocks. These are granular and crystalline rocks. The size of the crystals vary from one rock to another. Igneous rocks are generally hard and water percolates through them with difficulty along the joints. Since water does not percolate easily, these rocks are less affected by chemical  weathering. These rocks are prone  to mechanical weathering  due to their granular structure. These rocks are non-fossiliferous i.e. no fossils are found. Most of the igneous  rocks consist of silicate minerals.

On the basis of chemical composition, igneous rocks are divided into:

  • Acidic igneous rocks having more silica. They  are  light rocks relatively e.g.—Granite.
  • Basic igneous rocks have lower amount of silica. They are  dark-colored due to predominance of Ferro-magnesium, e.g. –Gabbro, Basalt etc.

   On the basis of mode of occurrence, igneous rocks are classified into two major groups: Intrusive and Extrusive

Intrusive Igneous rocks

Rock Cycle Diagram
Intrusive Igneous Rocks

When the rising magma is cooled and solidified below the surface of  the earth , they are known as intrusive igneous rocks. These are further sub-divided into :

  • Plutonic Igneous rocks: They result from the cooling of magma very deep inside the earth. Due to very slow cooling  at that great depth, large  grains  are developed, e.g.-Granite.
  • Hypabyssal Igneous rocks: They are formed when magma cools & solidify just beneath the earth surface. They take different shapes and forms depending upon the hollow places in which they solidify.

Different forms of Hypabyssal Igneous Rocks

Hypabyssal Igneous Rocks
  1. Batholith:  These are large intrusive mass of igneous rocks, usually granite, formed by the deep-seated intrusion of magma on a large scale. They are known to be the largest kind of intrusive bodies and are usually dome shaped with very steep walls. They are known to be present in the core of most of the mountains.
  2. Lacolith: These are of mushroom shape having convex upper surface and a relatively flat lower one. The ascending magma forces the upper layer of the sedimentary rocks to take the form of a convex arch or a dome.
  3. Lopoliths: They represent inter-stratal bowl-like bodies formed by the solidification of magma in a concaves hallow basin and the sagging of rocks under the weight of the intruded magma.
  4. Phacoliths: These lens-shaped bodies are formed due to injection along the anticlines and synclines in the folded strata.
  5. Sills: They are bed-like intrusive bodies formed by the solidification of magma parallel to the bedding planes of the sedimentary rocks.
  6. Dykes: These wall-like formations of solidified magma are found mostly perpendicular to the beds of sedimentary rocks.

   Sills, Lacoliths , Lopoliths and Phacoliths are concordant intrusive bodies while Batholiths and Dykes are discordant intrusive bodies.

Extrusive igneous rocks

Extrusive Igneous Rocks
Extrusive Igneous Rocks

These igneous rocks are formed by the cooling and solidification of molten lava on the earth’s surface. Basalt is the most important example of extrusive igneous rocks, others being Gabbro and Obsidian. These are generally fine grained or glassy because of quick rate of cooling of lava. The extrusive igneous rocks are divided into two sub-groups :

  • Explosive type: Volcanic materials of violent volcanic eruptions include ‘bombs’ (big fragments of rocks), Lapilli (pea-sized fragments) and volcanic dusts and ashes.
  • Quiet type: in this, lava appear on the surface through cracks and fissures and their continuous flow form extensive lava plateaus e.g. Deccan plateau, Columbia plateau.(USA)

Sedimentary Rocks

Rock Cycle Diagram
Sedimentary Rocks

     Rocks formed from material derived from Pre-existing rocks and from organic sources by the process of denudation are known as sedimentary rocks.  In other words, rocks formed due to aggregation  and compaction of sediments are called sedimentary rocks.

  • Sedimentary rocks contain different layers of sediments.
  • Fossils are found in these rocks.
  • About 75 % of the surface area of the globe is covered by the igneous and metamorphic rocks.
  • Though sedimentary rocks cover largest area of the earth’s surface , they constitute only 5 % of the composition of the crust while 95 % of the crust is the composed of igneous and metamorphic rocks .
  • Sedimentary rocks lack crystalline structure.
  • Layers of sedimentary rocks are seldom found in original and horizontal manner. They are prone to folding and faulting due to Compressional and Tensional forces.
  • Joints are also found in the sedimentary rocks.
  • Most of the sedimentary rocks are permeable and porous but a few of them are also non-porous such as clay.
  • Shale is the most abundant sedimentary rock.

   Classification of sedimentary rocks:

  1. Mechanically formed or clastic rocks – Sandstone, Conglaromate , Shale etc.

2. Formed by the water actionClay.

3. Formed by the wind actionLoess.

4. Formed by the glacial actionBoulder clay.

5. Organically  formed sedimentary rocks – Limestone, Dolomites, Coals, Peats etc.

6. Chemically formed sedimentary rocks – Gypsum, Salt rock etc.

Metamorphic Rocks

Metamorphic Rocks
Metamorphic Rocks

The Metamorphic rocks are formed by the change in the texture, mineral composition and structure of the pre-existing rocks through the action of temperature & pressure.

  • The pre-existing rocks may be igneous, sedimentary or even metamorphic rocks.
  • The fossils of the original sedimentary rocks are destroyed by the heat and pressure.
  • When already formed metamorphic rocks are again metamorphosed, they are known as Re-metamorphosed rocks.
  • Most of the metamorphic rocks result largely from the movement of tectonic plates and the processes related to it.
  • Some rocks after metamorphism become harder than  their original form , e.g. Marble, Limestone, Diamond from carbon etc.

The Rock Cycle Diagram – Transformations

Rocks are always in the process of transformation. Weathering and erosion of igneous rocks lead to the formation of sedimentary rocks and both igneous & sedimentary rocks are transformed into metamorphosed rocks. Again metamorphosed rock can melt under high temperature to become igneous rocks & the cycle goes on.

Rock Cycle Diagram

Transformation to Igneous Rocks

When Sedimentary or Metamorphic rocks are pushed deep under the Earths surface, by the action of Plate boundary interactions that result in Subduction they may melt into magma. When such conditions are created that the molten magma can no longer reamain in a molten state, then it cools and solidifies into an igneous rock. Those rocks that cool and solidify within the earth’s crust are called Intrusive igneous rocks. These rocks are further divided into Plutonic and Hypabyssal rocks. The cooling process of these rocks is very slow and gradual. Because of this gives them a course grained texture e.g. Granite.

In a similar way when the magma is forced out on the earth’s surface by the forces of nature due the volcanic activity, it cools rapidly by the action of atmospheric temperature and pressure and cool fast. Due to this many times fine grained rocks are also formed e.g. Basalt. In some cases there are no crystals which give rocks a glassy appearance e.g. Obsidian. Such rocks come in the category of Extrusive Igneous Rocks.

Transformation to Sedimentary Rocks

During mountain building activity Metamorphic and Igneous rocks get exposed to processes of weathering and erosion. Eventually they undergo sedimentation. These sediments when compressed due to pressure from the mountains or otherwise get converted into rocks such as  Breccia, Conglomerate, Sandstone, Siltstone, and shale. Silification, Serpentinization, Uralitization, Epidotizations are some of the processes that are instrumental in the creation of Sedimentary rocks.

Transformation to Metamorphic Rocks

Exposure of high temperature and pressure change the structure, composition and texture of rocks. Such rocks are called Metamorphic rocks e.g. Qaurtzite, Schist, Marble, Slate and Gneiss etc. The pre existing rocks can be Igneous or Sedimentary. Even a pre existing metamorphic rock can get re-metamorphosed. Mountain building activities are instrumental in creating regional metamorphism. When a Metamorphic rock itself undergoes change by the action of high temperature and pressure, then it is called Re-Metamorphosed Rock.

Factors Influencing Rock Cycle

  •  Tectonic processes : Volcanic activity and uplift of land exposes rock that was underground to weathering and erosion.
  •  Weathering Rate : Climatic conditions such as precipitation and temperature alter the rate of weathering.
  • Type of Vegetation :  Roots can physically break up rocks and also change the environmental chemistry (e.g increase acidity), increasing the rate of chemical weathering. In turn, the kind of rock that is weathered determines quality of soils and levels of nutrients (especially Nitrogen and Phosphorus levels), and local biodiversity.
  • Mining Activities : The extraction of fossil fuels and rocks and  which in turn can destabilize soil topography, increase erosion, and decrease water quality by increasing sediment and pollutants in rivers and streams.
  • Human Factors : Deforestation, Agricultural activities and water use can destabilize soil and increase the rate of erosion, eventually affecting the Rock Cycle Diagram.
  • Action of wind, ice, gravity and water: These can alter the rock cycle significantly as atmospheric air circulation and ocean currents are constantly at work.
  • Urbanization : Concretization increases water run off paving way for increase water runoff, increase edrosion and decreased soil quality in the surrounding areas.
  • Extreme Natural Events : Flooding and turbulent oceanic waves can cause accelerated rates of erosion. 

Thus, a closer look into the rock cycle diagram reveals that no rocks are everlasting. This is in tune with the non-permanence principle of nature.

See Also

Interior Structure Of The Earth

World Climate Zones

 Pressure  and  Winds


Why is it called rock cycle?

It is called a rock cycle because no rock remains the same for ever. All types of rocks undergo change at some point of time and get transformed into another type. After many transformations a rock may also come back to its original type. This process occurs in hundreds and thousands of years.

How does the rock cycle start?

There is no specific starting point of a rock cycle. For the purpose of analysis, any type of rock can be chosen as a point of reference for start of a rock cycle. For example if we consider the endogenic forces then the magma inside the earth’s crust is solidified and an igneous rock is created. Thus the cycle begins.

How long does the rock cycle last?

There is no ending of a rock cycle. Since the rocks are always in a state of transformation, the question of duration of rock cycle becomes meaningless.

Who discovered rock cycle?

It was James Hutton, the founder of modern geology who discovered the rock cycle in the 18th century.

Rock Cycle UPSC

Rock cycle is an important aspect of the rock studies. In UPSC prelims questions are usually asked on the types of rocks e.g. Granite belongs to which category of rocks. In the mains exam questions on rock cycle are rarely asked. Nevertheless a deep insight of rocks and the rock cycle enhances the overall understanding of the Lithosphere. This in turn helps a candidate in writing quality answers.


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