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Sedimentary rock
The Needles.jpg
The Needles, situated off the Isle of Wight, are part of the extensive Southern England Chalk Formation.
Calcite (calcium carbonate)

Chalk is a soft, white, porous, sedimentary carbonate rock, a form of limestone composed of the mineral calcite. Calcite is an ionic salt called calcium carbonate or CaCO3. It forms under reasonably deep marine conditions from the gradual accumulation of minute calcite shells (coccoliths) shed from micro-organisms called coccolithophores. Flint (a type of chert) is very common as bands parallel to the bedding or as nodules embedded in chalk. It is probably derived from sponge spicules or other siliceous organisms as water is expelled upwards during compaction. Flint is often deposited around larger fossils such as Echinoidea which may be silicified (i.e. replaced molecule by molecule by flint).


Chalk, as seen in Cretaceous deposits of Western Europe, is unusual among sedimentary limestones in the thickness of the beds. Most cliffs of chalk have very few obvious bedding planes unlike most thick sequences of limestone such as the Carboniferous Limestone or the Jurassic oolitic limestones. This may indicate very stable conditions over tens of millions of years.

"Nitzana Chalk curves" situated at Western Negev, Israel are chalk deposits formed in the Mesozoic era's Tethys Ocean Nitzana chalk curves (2), Western Negev, Israel.jpg
"Nitzana Chalk curves" situated at Western Negev, Israel are chalk deposits formed in the Mesozoic era's Tethys Ocean

Chalk has greater resistance to weathering and slumping than the clays with which it is usually associated, thus forming tall, steep cliffs where chalk ridges meet the sea. Chalk hills, known as chalk downland, usually form where bands of chalk reach the surface at an angle, so forming a scarp slope. Because chalk is well jointed it can hold a large volume of ground water, providing a natural reservoir that releases water slowly through dry seasons.


Former underground chalk mine in Meudon, France Carrieres de Meudon.jpg
Former underground chalk mine in Meudon, France

Chalk is mined from chalk deposits both above ground and underground. Chalk mining boomed during the Industrial Revolution, due to the need for chalk products such as quicklime and bricks. Some abandoned chalk mines remain tourist destinations due to their massive expanse and natural beauty.[ citation needed ]


The Chalk Group is a European stratigraphic unit deposited during the late Cretaceous Period. It forms the famous White Cliffs of Dover in Kent, England, as well as their counterparts of the Cap Blanc Nez on the other side of the Dover Strait. The Champagne region of France is mostly underlain by chalk deposits, which contain artificial caves used for wine storage. Some of the highest chalk cliffs in the world occur at Jasmund National Park in Germany and at Møns Klint in Denmark – both once formed a single island.


Ninety million years ago what is now the chalk downland of Northern Europe was ooze accumulating at the bottom of a great sea. Chalk was one of the earliest rocks made up of microscopic particles to be studied under the microscope, when it was found to be composed almost entirely of coccoliths. Their shells were made of calcite extracted from the rich seawater. As they died, a substantial layer gradually built up over millions of years and, through the weight of overlying sediments, eventually became consolidated into rock. Later earth movements related to the formation of the Alps raised these former sea-floor deposits above sea level.


The chemical composition of chalk is calcium carbonate, with minor amounts of silt and clay. [1] It is formed in the sea by sub-microscopic plankton, which fall to the sea floor and are then consolidated and compressed during diagenesis into chalk rock.


Most people first encounter chalk in school where it refers to blackboard chalk, which was originally made of mineral chalk, since it readily crumbles and leaves particles that stick loosely to rough surfaces, allowing it to make writing that can be readily erased. Blackboard chalk manufacturers now may use mineral chalk, other mineral sources of calcium carbonate, or the mineral gypsum (calcium sulfate). While gypsum-based blackboard chalk is the lowest cost to produce, and thus widely used in the developing world, calcium-based chalk can be made where the crumbling particles are larger and thus produce less dust, and is marketed as "dustless chalk". [2] Colored chalks, pastel chalks, and sidewalk chalk (shaped into larger sticks and often colored), used to draw on sidewalks, streets, and driveways, are primarily made of gypsum. [3]

Open chalk pit, Seale, Surrey, UK Seale Chalk Pit 02.JPG
Open chalk pit, Seale, Surrey, UK
Child drawing with sidewalk chalk Chalk-Sidewalk-Art-0092.jpg
Child drawing with sidewalk chalk

Chalk is a source of quicklime by thermal decomposition, or slaked lime following quenching of quicklime with water. [4] In southeast England, deneholes are a notable example of ancient chalk pits. Such bell pits may also mark the sites of ancient flint mines, where the prime object was to remove flint nodules for stone tool manufacture. The surface remains at Cissbury are one such example, but perhaps the most famous is the extensive complex at Grimes Graves in Norfolk.

Woodworking joints may be fitted by chalking one of the mating surfaces. A trial fit will leave a chalk mark on the high spots of the corresponding surface. Chalk transferring to cover the complete surface indicates a good fit. Builder's putty also mainly contains chalk as a filler in linseed oil.

Chalk may be used for its properties as a base. In agriculture, chalk is used for raising pH in soils with high acidity. The most common forms are CaCO3 (calcium carbonate) and CaO (calcium oxide). Small doses of chalk can also be used as an antacid. Additionally, the small particles of chalk make it a substance ideal for cleaning and polishing. For example, toothpaste commonly contains small amounts of chalk, which serves as a mild abrasive. Polishing chalk is chalk prepared with a carefully controlled grain size, for very fine polishing of metals. [5] Chalk can also be used as fingerprint powder.

Previous uses

Several traditional uses of chalk have been replaced by other substances, although the word "chalk" is often still applied to the usual replacements. Tailor's chalk is traditionally a hard chalk used to make temporary markings on cloth, mainly by tailors. It is now usually made of talc (magnesium silicate).

Chalk was traditionally used in recreation. In field sports, such as tennis played on grass, powdered chalk was used to mark the boundary lines of the playing field or court. If a ball hits the line, a cloud of chalk or pigment dust will be visible. In recent years, powdered chalk has been replaced with titanium dioxide. [6] In gymnastics, rock-climbing, weightlifting and tug of war, chalk — now usually magnesium carbonate — is applied to the hands and feet to remove perspiration and reduce slipping.

Chalk may also be used as a house construction material instead of brick or wattle and daub: quarried chalk was cut into blocks and used as ashlar, or loose chalk was rammed into blocks and laid in mortar. [7] [8] There are still houses standing which have been constructed using chalk as the main building material. Most are pre-Victorian though a few are more recent. [9]

See also

Related Research Articles

Limestone Sedimentary rocks made of calcium carbonate

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.

Sedimentary rock Rock formed by the deposition and subsequent cementation of material

Sedimentary rocks are types of rock that are formed by the accumulation or deposition of small particles and subsequent cementation of mineral or organic particles on the floor of oceans or other bodies of water at the Earth's surface. Sedimentation is the collective name for processes that cause these particles to settle in place. The particles that form a sedimentary rock are called sediment, and may be composed of geological detritus (minerals) or biological detritus. Before being deposited, the geological detritus was formed by weathering and erosion from the source area, and then transported to the place of deposition by water, wind, ice, mass movement or glaciers, which are called agents of denudation. Biological detritus was formed by bodies and parts of dead aquatic organisms, as well as their fecal mass, suspended in water and slowly piling up on the floor of water bodies. Sedimentation may also occur as dissolved minerals precipitate from water solution.

Calcite Carbonate mineral and polymorph of calcium carbonate

Calcite is a carbonate mineral and the most stable polymorph of calcium carbonate (CaCO3). The Mohs scale of mineral hardness, based on scratch hardness comparison, defines value 3 as "calcite".

Calcium carbonate Chemical compound

Calcium carbonate is a chemical compound with the formula CaCO3. It is a common substance found in rocks as the minerals calcite and aragonite (most notably as limestone, which is a type of sedimentary rock consisting mainly of calcite) and is the main component of pearls and the shells of marine organisms, snails, and eggs. Calcium carbonate is the active ingredient in agricultural lime and is created when calcium ions in hard water react with carbonate ions to create limescale. It is medicinally used as a calcium supplement or as an antacid, but excessive consumption can be hazardous and cause poor digestion.

Marl Lime-rich mud or mudstone which contains variable amounts of clays and silt

Marl or marlstone is a calcium carbonate or lime-rich mud or mudstone which contains variable amounts of clays and silt. The dominant carbonate mineral in most marls is calcite, but other carbonate minerals such as aragonite, dolomite, and siderite may be present. Marl was originally an old term loosely applied to a variety of materials, most of which occur as loose, earthy deposits consisting chiefly of an intimate mixture of clay and calcium carbonate, formed under freshwater conditions; specifically an earthy substance containing 35–65% clay and 65–35% carbonate. It also describes a habit of coralline red alga. The term is today often used to describe indurated marine deposits and lacustrine (lake) sediments which more accurately should be named 'marlstone'. Marlstone is an indurated rock of about the same composition as marl, more correctly called an earthy or impure argillaceous limestone. It has a blocky subconchoidal fracture, and is less fissile than shale. The term 'marl' is widely used in English-language geology, while the terms Mergel and Seekreide are used in European references.

Dolomite (mineral) Carbonate mineral - CaMg(CO₃)₂

Dolomite is an anhydrous carbonate mineral composed of calcium magnesium carbonate, ideally CaMg(CO3)2. The term is also used for a sedimentary carbonate rock composed mostly of the mineral dolomite. An alternative name sometimes used for the dolomitic rock type is dolostone.

Evaporite A water-soluble mineral sediment formed by evaporation from an aqueous solution

Evaporite is the term for a water-soluble mineral sediment that results from concentration and crystallization by evaporation from an aqueous solution. There are two types of evaporite deposits: marine, which can also be described as ocean deposits, and non-marine, which are found in standing bodies of water such as lakes. Evaporites are considered sedimentary rocks and are formed by chemical sediments.

Coccolith individual plates of calcium carbonate formed by coccolithophores which are arranged around them in a coccosphere

Coccoliths are individual plates of calcium carbonate formed by coccolithophores which are arranged around them in a coccosphere.

Soft water is surface water that contains low concentrations of ions and in particular is low in ions of calcium and magnesium. Soft water naturally occurs where rainfall and the drainage basin of rivers are formed of hard, impervious and calcium-poor rocks. Examples in the UK include Snowdonia in Wales and the Western Highlands in Scotland.

Ooid Small sedimentary grain that forms on shallow tropical seabeds

Ooids are small, spheroidal, "coated" (layered) sedimentary grains, usually composed of calcium carbonate, but sometimes made up of iron- or phosphate-based minerals. Ooids usually form on the sea floor, most commonly in shallow tropical seas. After being buried under additional sediment, these ooid grains can be cemented together to form a sedimentary rock called an oolite. Oolites usually consist of calcium carbonate; these belong to the limestone rock family. Pisoids are similar to ooids, but are larger than 2 mm in diameter, often considerably larger, as with the pisoids in the hot springs at Carlsbad in the Czech Republic.

Chalk Group

The Chalk Group is the lithostratigraphic unit which contains the Late Cretaceous limestone succession in southern and eastern England. The same or similar rock sequences occur across the wider northwest European chalk 'province'. It is characterised by thick deposits of chalk, a soft porous white limestone, deposited in a marine environment.

Dolomite (rock) Sedimentary carbonate rock that contains a high percentage of the mineral dolomite

Dolomite (also known as dolomite rock, dolostone or dolomitic rock) is a sedimentary carbonate rock that contains a high percentage of the mineral dolomite, CaMg(CO3)2. In old USGS publications, it was referred to as magnesian limestone, a term now reserved for magnesium-deficient dolomites or magnesium-rich limestones. Dolomite has a stoichiometric ratio of nearly equal amounts of magnesium and calcium. Most dolomite rock formed as a magnesium replacement of limestone or lime mud before lithification. Dolomite rock is resistant to erosion and can either contain bedded layers or be unbedded. It is less soluble than limestone in weakly acidic groundwater, but it can still develop solution features (karst) over time. Dolomite rock can act as an oil and natural gas reservoir.

Agricultural lime soil additive containing calcium carbonate and other ingredients

Agricultural lime, also called aglime, agricultural limestone, garden lime or liming, is a soil additive made from pulverized limestone or chalk. The primary active component is calcium carbonate. Additional chemicals vary depending on the mineral source and may include calcium oxide. Unlike the types of lime called quicklime and slaked lime, powdered limestone does not require lime burning in a lime kiln; it only requires milling. All of these types of lime are sometimes used as soil conditioners, with a common theme of providing a base to correct acidity, but lime for farm fields today is often crushed limestone. Historically, liming of farm fields in centuries past was often done with burnt lime; the difference is at least partially explained by the fact that affordable mass-production-scale fine milling of stone and ore relies on technologies developed since the mid-19th century.

Caliche A calcium carbonate based concretion of sediment

Caliche is a sedimentary rock, a hardened natural cement of calcium carbonate that binds other materials—such as gravel, sand, clay, and silt. It occurs worldwide, in aridisol and mollisol soil orders—generally in arid or semiarid regions, including in central and western Australia, in the Kalahari Desert, in the High Plains of the western USA, in the Sonoran Desert and Mojave Desert, and in Eastern Saudi Arabia at Al-Hasa. Caliche is also known as calcrete or kankar. It belongs to the duricrusts. The term caliche is Spanish and is originally from the Latin calx, meaning lime.

Lime (material) calcium-containing inorganic mineral

Lime is a calcium-containing inorganic mineral composed primarily of oxides, and hydroxide, usually calcium oxide and/ or calcium hydroxide. It is also the name for calcium oxide which occurs as a product of coal-seam fires and in altered limestone xenoliths in volcanic ejecta. The word lime originates with its earliest use as building mortar and has the sense of sticking or adhering.

Calcareous An adjective meaning mostly or partly composed of calcium carbonate

Calcareous is an adjective meaning "mostly or partly composed of calcium carbonate", in other words, containing lime or being chalky. The term is used in a wide variety of scientific disciplines.

This glossary of geology is a list of definitions of terms and concepts relevant to geology, its sub-disciplines, and related fields. For other terms related to the Earth sciences, see Glossary of geography terms.

Shallow water marine environment

Shallow water marine environment refers to the area between the shore and deeper water, such as a reef wall or a shelf break. This environment is characterized by oceanic, geological and biological conditions, as described below. The water in this environment is shallow and clear, allowing the formation of different sedimentary structures, carbonate rocks, coral reefs, and allowing certain organisms to survive and become fossils.


  1. Huxley, T. H. 1868. On a piece of chalk. Macmillan's Magazine "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-07-18. Retrieved 2015-06-11.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  2. Thakker, M., Shukla, P. and Shah, D.O., 2015. Surface and colloidal properties of chalks: A novel approach using surfactants to convert normal chalks into dustless chalks. Colloids and Surfaces A: Physicochemical and Engineering Aspects, 480, pp.236-244.
  3. "How chalk is made - material, making, used, processing, procedure, product, industry". Archived from the original on 2017-11-03.
  4. Blount, Bertram (1990). Chemistry for Engineers and Manufacturers: Chemistry of manufacturing processes. University of Wisconsin – Madison.
  5. Information on polishing powders Archived 2011-11-04 at Wikiwix, from the 1879 book "The Workshop Companion"
  6. "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 2013-10-29. Retrieved 2013-10-24.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  7. Walker, Peter; et al. (2005). Rammed earth: design and construction guidelines. Bracknell, England: Building Research Establishment. p. 5. ISBN   9781860817342.
  8. Whitaker, William (1872). Memoirs of the Geological Survey of Great Britain. 4. London: Longmans, Green. p. 389. OCLC   2531996.
  9. Easton, David (1996). The Rammed Earth House . White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing. p.  15. ISBN   9780930031794.