Difference between Erosion and Weathering


There are various landforms on Earth’s surface such as rocks, cliffs, seashores, mountains, valleys, plateaus, and volcanic cones. The shape of these landforms continuously undergoes changes as they degrade due the exposure to changing environment, wind, ice, water, or any human activities. In Geology, the two terms are used to depict degradation of the landforms: Erosion and Weathering.

Read through this article to understand the terms "Erosion" and "Weathering", and how they are different from each other.

What is Erosion?

Erosion is the process of breaking down rock particles and transporting those particles elsewhere thereby gradually changing the topography of the landform.

Types of Erosion

Erosion can be caused by different reasons, based on which they are categorized into different types −

  • Bioerosion − It is the process in which rocks are eroded due to some organic activity which is either mechanical or chemical. Some boring organisms bore tiny holes in rocks to acquire nutrients or to keep themselves from the predators. Some animals like crab drill holes in the rocks or some other animals make their burrows in rocks. Some trees such as Peepal grow in the cracks of rocks, thereby damaging the rocks while growing.

  • Erosion by Water − It is removal of rock particles or soil due to the force of water and transporting the eroded particles or soil elsewhere. Soil and rocks are eroded by waterfalls, rivers, springs, and the rain itself. In this case the erosion of soil is determined by various factors such as rainfall intensity and frequency, slope, type of rock and/or soil, capacity of soil to hold water, expanse of vegetation cover, etc.

  • Erosion by Wind − In this process wind picks up the fine particles of soil and the particles of rock surface and deposits them elsewhere. This erosion is influenced by the factors such as type of soil and/or rock, speed of wind, and vegetation cover in the area.

  • Erosion by Ice − Glaciers being large chunks of ice can cause a lot of erosion. When they move, they pickup surface below them and transport it elsewhere. Ice erosion takes place in three ways −

    • Plucking where ice picks up the land particles and relocates them somewhere else.

    • Abrasion where the rock surface below the glacier gets frozen into glaciers and damages the bedrock further with the movement of the glacier.

    • Meltwater − The water current under the glacier erodes the surface below the glacier.

  • Thermal Erosion − When the rocks and hilltops are heated immensely, they crack. The changes in temperature thus trigger landslides and avalanche breakdowns. This activity often changes the structure of the landform.

  • Erosion due to Human Activities − Constructing houses and buildings needs digging and scraping off hills. This is a speedy way of soil and rock erosion.

What is Weathering?

Weathering is the process of wearing out the rocks. In the process of weathering, the rock particles are broken down, but they don’t move elsewhere.

Types of Weathering

Weathering can take place in different ways as listed below −

  • Biological Weathering − It is a kind of weathering that occurs due to microorganisms. Lichen, the symbiosis of fungi and algae, make the rocks susceptible to weather. Fungi break down minerals in rock by releasing chemicals. The algae consume those minerals. This continual process creates holes and cracks on the rock, leading to chemical and physical weathering.

  • Chemical Weathering − It is a kind of weathering in which changes take place in the chemical structure of the landform. If a rock contains iron, then the iron reacts with oxygen thereby making the rock brittle. If the water that touches the rock continuously is acidic, then it decomposes calcium particles present in limestone or marble thereby slowly wearing out the rock.

  • Physical Weathering − It is the kind of weathering in which the structure of the landform is reshaped by physical means. It can take place in the following ways −

    • The roots growing under the soil rub the rocks and create cracks.

    • The snow deposits into the holes of the rocks and force to crack the same.

    • Weathering caused due to atmospheric pressure.

    • Wind or water continuously running over the surface of the rocks smoothen their surfaces.

What is Abrasion?

Abrasion is blend of Erosion and Weathering. In the process of abrasion, the particle broken away further damage the particles in the rocks to break down. For example, wind makes small soil and rock particles to penetrate the small particles of the larger rock surface. Thus, the small particles of the larger rock are broken. This is weathering. Further the same wind picks up the broken-off particles and relocates them somewhere else, which is Erosion.

Difference between Erosion and Weathering

Here are some key differences between Erosion and Weathering −

Key Factor Erosion Weathering
Definition It is the process by which the landforms are broken down into small pieces and the broken pieces are transported elsewhere by natural forces such as wind, ice, and water. It is the process of decomposition of the landform’s surface thereby changing its appearance as a result of direct contact with atmosphere.
Displacement of broken parts Broken parts are displaced elsewhere. Here the parts of weathered landform are not displaced.
Structure of Landform The shape and size of the landform changes as part of it is displaced. For example, avalanche breakdowns change the shape and size of the mountains. The shape of the landform changes gradually. For example, smoothening of rocks.
Causes Natural forces and low hardness of the landform, and human activities. Natural forces and atmospheric pressure.
Speed Erosion can either be slow or quick. Weathering is the process that takes place over years.


From the surface, "erosion" and "weathering" both look same. Both the processes are continuous. Though they have some common characteristics, there is a fine line between them to tell one from other. During erosion, the worn-out parts or particles of the landform are displaced elsewhere because of glaciers, wind, and water. During the process of weathering, the landform is exposed to various environmental changes and parts of the landform are worn out, but they are not displaced elsewhere. Harder the landform, more the time it takes place to erode or weather.

Updated on 29-Sep-2022 13:08:54