Limestone

Limestone
Sedimentary rock
Torcaldeantequera.jpg
Limestone outcrop in the Torcal de Antequera nature reserve of Málaga, Spain
Composition
Calcium carbonate: inorganic crystalline calcite or organic calcareous material

Limestone is a carbonate sedimentary rock that is often composed of the skeletal fragments of marine organisms such as coral, foraminifera, and molluscs. Its major materials are the minerals calcite and aragonite, which are different crystal forms of calcium carbonate (CaCO3). A closely related rock is dolomite, which contains a high percentage of the mineral dolomite, CaMg(CO3)2. In old USGS publications, dolomite was referred to as magnesian limestone, a term now reserved for magnesium-deficient dolomites or magnesium-rich limestones.

Travertine limestone terraces of Pamukkale, Turkey.

About 10% of sedimentary rocks are limestones. The solubility of limestone in water and weak acid solutions leads to karst landscapes, in which water erodes the limestone over thousands to millions of years. Most cave systems are through limestone bedrock.

Limestone has numerous uses: as a building material, an essential component of concrete (Portland cement), as aggregate for the base of roads, as white pigment or filler in products such as toothpaste or paints, as a chemical feedstock for the production of lime, as a soil conditioner, or as a popular decorative addition to rock gardens.

Description

Limestone quarry at Cedar Creek, Virginia, USA
Cutting limestone blocks at a quarry in Gozo, Malta
Limestone as building material
La Zaplaz formations in the Piatra Craiului Mountains, Romania.

Like most other sedimentary rocks, most limestone is composed of grains. Most grains in limestone are skeletal fragments of marine organisms such as coral or foraminifera. These organisms secrete shells made of aragonite or calcite, and leave these shells behind when they die. Other carbonate grains composing limestones are ooids, peloids, intraclasts, and extraclasts.

Limestone often contains variable amounts of silica in the form of chert (chalcedony, flint, jasper, etc.) or siliceous skeletal fragment (sponge spicules, diatoms, radiolarians), and varying amountsl precipitation of calcite or aragonite, i.e. travertine. Secondary calcite may be deposited by supersaturated meteoric waters (groundwater that precipitates the material in caves). This produces speleothems, such as stalagmites and stalactites. Another form taken by calcite is oolitic limestone, which can be recognized by its granular (oolite) appearance.

The primary source of the calcite in limestone is most commonly marine organisms. Some of these organisms can construct mounds of rock known as reefs, building upon past generations. Below about 3,000 meters, water pressure and temperature conditions cause the dissolution of calcite to increase nonlinearly, so limestone typically does not form in deeper waters (see lysocline). Limestones may also form in lacustrine[1] and evaporite depositional environments.[2][3]

Calcite can be dissolved or precipitated by groundwater, depending on several factors, including the water temperature, pH, and dissolved ion concentrations. Calcite exhibits an unusual characteristic called retrograde solubility, in which it becomes less soluble in water as the temperature increases.

Impurities (such as clay, sand, organic remains, iron oxide, and other materials) will cause limestones to exhibit different colors, especially with weathered surfaces.

Limestone may be crystalline, clastic, granular, or massive, depending on the method of formation. Crystals of calcite, quartz, dolomite or barite may line small cavities in the rock. When conditions are right for precipitation, calcite forms mineral coatings that cement the existing rock grains together, or it can fill fractures.

Travertine is a banded, compact variety of limestone formed along streams, particularly where there are waterfalls and around hot or cold springs. Calcium carbonate is deposited where evaporation of the water leaves a solution supersaturated with the chemical constituents of calcite. Tufa, a porous or cellular variety of travertine, is found near waterfalls. Coquina is a poorly consolidated limestone composed of pieces of coral or shells.

During regional metamorphism that occurs during the mountain building process (orogeny), limestone recrystallizes into marble.

Limestone is a parent material of Mollisol soil group.