How Is Shale Formed?

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Shale forms from the pressure of layers of sediment compressing bits of silt that settle into the clay on the bottom of bodies of water. The compressed clay and silt become shale over time. Shale is a sedimentary rock.

Shale starts with bits of rock that erode off of larger rocks from contact with moving water and the weather. Very fine particles of feldspar, quartz, mica, pyrite and other minerals settle to the bottom of still bodies of water, such as swamplands, deep parts of the ocean and deep, still lakes. The fine rock particles mix with decaying organic matter into a mud. Because weathering is a continual process, new layers are always building up. The top layers press on the bottom layers with more and more pressure. When enough pressure builds up, the bottom layers become rock through a process called lithification. Lithification causes the thin layers that are characteristic of shale.

Shale is a soft rock that breaks easily. The color varies depending on the exact minerals that formed the shale. Red, green and black are some color variations. Geologists classify shale as a claystone due to the small size of the particles that form the rock. Shale is a common rock that makes up much of Earth’s crust.