This chapter discusses the rock cycle and each of the three major types of rocks that form on Earth. Separate sections cover igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rocks individually.
Most sedimentary rocks form from sediments. Sediments are small pieces of other rocks, like pebbles, sand, silt, and clay. Sedimentary rocks may include fossils. Fossils are materials left behind by once-living organisms. Fossils can be pieces of the organism, like bones. They can also be traces of the organism, like footprints.
Most often, sediments settle out of water (Figure). For example, rivers carry lots of sediment. Where the water slows, it dumps these sediments along its banks, into lakes and the ocean. When sediments settle out of water, they form horizontal layers. A layer of sediment is deposited. Then the next layer is deposited on top of that layer. So each layer in a sedimentary rock is younger than the layer under it. It is older than the layer over it.
Cobbles, pebbles, and sands are the sediments that are seen on this beach.
Sediments are deposited in many different types of environments. Beaches and deserts collect large deposits of sand. Sediments also continuously wind up at the bottom of the ocean and in lakes, ponds, rivers, marshes, and swamps. Avalanches produce large piles of sediment. The environment where the sediments are deposited determines the type of sedimentary rock that can form.