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Disappearing Rocks
How Erosion Creates Ventifacts

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In 1998, I joined a research team from Montana State University and traveled to the Antarctica Dry Valleys to study life in the ice. The remarkable thing about the Dry Valleys is that it is a cold desert. It looks like one, too, except for the glaciers spilling down over the mountainsides. The land surface is covered with dirt and small pebbles. Large boulders dot the landscape. Higher up on the mountains, closer to the glaciers, there are strange-looking rock shapes. These are called ventifacts. Ventifacts are stones that have been eroded by windblown parcticles, such as dry sand. Some of them are quite bizarre, with holes, grooves, or thin "arms" that jut out. This lesson looks at erosion--how it affects different materials and why it’s important.

Rocks and minerals undergo various types of erosion. Water, wind, temperature, ice, and chemicals all play a role. But the erosion speed is dependent upon the types of rock. Therefore, the results are different.

Resources and Reference Materials

Shaping the Earth: Erosion (Exploring Planet Earth) , Sandra Downs

Earthsteps: A Rock’s Journey Through Time, Diane Nelson Spickert

Erosion: Earth’s Conditions Series, Joshua Rutten


Soil, Grades 4-8, Geography Tutor, available at amazon.com

Physical Geography: Weathering and Erosion, available at amazon.com

Web sites


http://www.geol.umd.edu/~kaufman/ppt/chapter14/sld007.htm (slide on ventifacts and how they’re formed)

http://www.tulane.edu/~sanelson/geol111/deserts.htm (Professor Nelson’s detailed geology notes on effects of wind)

http://www.windows.ucar.edu/mars/MPF_ventifacts.html (Windows of the Universe pictures of Mars ventifacts)

http://mpfwww.jpl.nasa.gov/mgs/sci/fifthconf99/6152.pdf (NASA arcticle about Mars ventifacts by Nathan Bridges)

http://www.home.pon.net/quin/antarctica/journal5/nov28.html (Antarctic Journal by Douglas Quin, amazing pictures of ventifacts, along with audio of "drumming" a ventifact)

http://quest.arc.nasa.gov/antarctica/background/NSF/valleys.html (NSF’s McMurdo Dry Valleys Region description)

http://seattlep-i.nwsource.com/antarctica/journey/ice05.shtml (description of Lake Vanda in the Dry Valleys by Judd Slivka, Seattle Post Reporter)

http://pubs.usgs.gov/gip/deserts/eolian/ (USGS webpage on how wind can erode the Earth’s surface)

http://www.uwgb.edu/dutchs/202ovhds/windwave.htm (Steven Dutch’s detailed notes on wind and wave erosion)

http://walrus.wr.usgs.gov/ask-a-geologist/ (USGS’s Ask-A-Geologist web site)

http://www.exploratorium.edu/complexity/exhibit/erosion.html (Exploratorium’s Erosion Channel Exhibit with audio)

Lesson Plans: http://www.usgs.gov/education/learnweb/ice.html (USGS Lesson Plan on how moving ice affects a mountain)

http://www.ceie.sunysb.edu/SummerEducationalInterns/Linda/Creatingastratigraphiccolumn.html (Constructing a Stratigraphic Column activity)

http://www.usoe.k12.ut.us/curr/science/core/plans/int/rocks.html (Weathering of Rocks and Minerals Lesson Plan, complete with student scoring rubric, Utah State of Education)

http://www.bced.gov.bc.ca/irp/esg/12surwea.htm (British Columbia Ministry of Education Surficial Processes--Weathering and Erosion--Lesson Plan)

http://school.discovery.com/lessonplans/programs/iceberg/index.html (Discovery School Online lesson plan on glaciers and icebergs, glacier scraping)

http://school.discovery.com/lessonplans/programs/rocks/index.html (Discovery School Online lesson plan on rock erosion)

http://explorer.scrtec.org/explorer/explorer-db/html/783750608-447DED81.html (Univ. of Kansas Changing Earth lesson plan for grades 3-4)

http://explorer.scrtec.org/explorer/explorer-db/html/783750052-447DED81.html (Univ. of Kansas Erosion Lesson Plan for K-4)

http://student.biology.arizona.edu/sciconn/earthscience/erosion.html (Erosion Lab for grades 3-4)

http://teacher.scholastic.com/dirt/erosion/index.htm (The Dirtmeister’s Lab on "How Does Rain Shape the Earth?")

http://www.lessonplanspage.com/ScienceSSMDUnitOnErosion46.htm (excellent unit on erosion for grades 4-6)

http://ofcn.org/cyber.serv/academy/ace/sci/cecsci/cecsci208.html ("It’s Eating Away At You"--lesson plan on how acid rain contributes to erosion, K-8)

http://ucaswww.mcm.uc.edu/geology/crest/lesplans/NESEN_April96/soildemos.html (soil erosion demonstrations)

http://encarta.msn.com/alexandria/templates/lessonFull.asp?page=351 (Erosion lesson plan, K-4)

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