What is the Lithification Process
/ / What is the Lithification Process? | Sedimentation | Compaction |  Diagenesis |  Metamorphism

What is the Lithification Process? | Sedimentation | Compaction |  Diagenesis |  Metamorphism

What is the Lithification Process?

Lithification Definition

Lithification is a geological process that turns loose sediments, such as clay and fine sand, into solid rocks. Also referred to as petrification, this process is the opposite of cementation, whereby fine sediments become loose again.

In geology, lithification is the process in which sediments are converted into solid rock. Sediment is the material that settles in a lake, river, or sea. The process of lithification can be summarized by four main steps:

  • Sedimentation: particles settle and are compacted by the weight of overlying sediment
  • Compaction: the sediment is compressed by pressure from the overlying sediments
  • Diagenesis: chemical changes in the sediment, such as precipitation of minerals or organic matter
  • Metamorphism: heat and pressure cause changes to rock type

How long does Lithification take?

Lithification is the process of hardening sedimentary rock. Lithification happens over time due to pressure and heat from the earth’s surface. Over time, the layers become more tightly packed, and the spaces between them are gradually filled with the mineral matter until they form solid rock.

This process can take thousands and millions of years, and it’s difficult to predict how long lithification will take in any given situation. It’s not unusual for fossils to take millions of years to form fully!

Lithification Process

The Lithification Process is the name for the process by which sediments or other particles consolidate into rock. It takes a few thousand years to complete and occurs when chemical processes turn loose sediment into hard rock. The lithification process can occur in dry, wet, or aquatic conditions, but it always starts with loose sediment regardless of the environment.

Sediments are sedimentary particles that have not yet been cemented into rock. When sediments are buried, the weight and pressure from the layers above press down on them. As they get compressed, water and chemicals seep in to fill the spaces between them. This process can take a long time, particularly if any of the layers above it are porous or made of loose material.

After millions of years, a sedimentary particle will become so solid that it becomes a rock itself. The rock is called lithified sediment. These rocks are usually found either in layers of sediment or among sedimentary rocks.

Rocks that are originally loose sediment can be recycled when they are converted into cement by water action. In a few thousand years, the cement can become hard rock again. Lithification takes place in layers of sediment or sediments, which can be granular or non-granular.

 These sediments are usually clustered together, either in association with other sediments or between existing rocks. The process begins when water and chemicals seep in to fill the spaces between sedimentary particles. This causes the loose particles to become cemented together into rocks.

The lithification process can take a long time to complete, so the sedimentary rocks that contain it can easily be recycled into other rocks. It is a gradual process that takes place over several thousand years, so many of these sedimentary layers occur between existing rock layers.

The lithification process is also reversible. After thousands of years, water and chemicals can once again seep in and dissolve the cement holding the sedimentary particles together. The sediment was then able to be recycled again into new sedimentary rocks with the same chemical composition as those being dissolved.

Water enters by capillarity to fill pores between grains of different minerals that make up the sedimentary rock. It contains ions like magnesium, iron, and aluminum which dissolve into solution as it percolates through the rock. Some of these ions are leached from the sedimentary rock and precipitate when they come into contact with the more dominant rock.

The re-precipitating ions react with the minerals in the surrounding sedimentary rock to create a different mineral composition. Over time, this process creates a harder and more compacted rock, resulting in lithification.

What are Lithification steps? Lithification of sedimentary rocks

There are three main components to the lithification process. These include sedimentation and aggregation, chemical reaction, and crosslinking.


In the lithifying process, sediments accumulate in layers or beds. Over time they become compacted by the weight of those above them. This process is called sedimentation. This is where various sediments accumulate in layers after being deposited through a certain amount of time or space (maybe from millions to billions of years).

 Sediments are deposited in different environments, making lithification different for each one. Sedimentation takes place in environments where there is some sort of water present. It begins as smaller particles of rock – called grains – which later become cemented together into a larger particle called a clast.


In the sedimentation phase, the particles that make up the sediments rub together and rub against other particles, producing abrasive forces that cause them to be aggregate. This is also called abrasion and is a form of mechanical weathering. Sediments can also gather together by gravity, which causes them to collect into layers.

Chemical Reactions

The above-mentioned abrasion force initially performs the chemical reactions that will change the sediments into lithified sedimentary rocks. The first chemical dissolution of sediment particles takes place in the velocity water of capillary action. Water and clay particles infiltrate through the spaces between grains and dissolve some of the minerals in them.

 This can be seen in two different types of sedimentary rocks, depending on the process used: Dolomite and clay. Both initially start the same way, but then each has its own way of transforming into sedimentary rock.


Dolomite is made from fragments of existing rock, which are in turn made up of minerals that have their own composition. This rock will have preserved the chemical makeup of those minerals. In the sedimentation process, water seeps in between the grains of different minerals that make up dolomite and dissolves some of it away.

This causes certain elements to be more dominant than others – for example, magnesium is more dominant than calcium in dolomite. Lithification begins when water reacts with magnesium-rich rocks in the sediment. Water breaks down the rock into a smaller particle, called a granule. This particle is made up of minerals that have a different chemical makeup to those in the original rock. This new mineral composition is called dolostone.


Clay is formed from sediments that are very fine and contain tiny mineral grains. The chemical composition of these grains does not make much difference – it can be any type of sedimentary rock with any chemical makeup. So, clastic sediment can be transformed into clay sediment by varying the conditions to which it is exposed. Sediment can go through granule, clay, and ironstone deposition, for example.


During lithification, dolomite rock slowly becomes denser by forming mineral crystals at its surface, consolidating and forming nodules smaller than the original particles. Through chemical reactions with water and minerals in situ causes the original mineral composition of the rock to change. This layer of dolomite rock is called a dolostone.


Ironstone is formed during the lithification process by repeated exposure to water, which causes clay particles to become cemented together and changed into small grains through chemical reactions with the minerals in them. All as a result of the repeated dissolution, re-precipitation, and cementation that goes on throughout this whole period of sedimentation.

Ironstone is formed by the process of lithification which occurs when minerals in the sediment become cemented together. This is a chemical deposition process that happens when the water dissolves minerals into a solution which then precipitates out and forms a stone.

Sedimentary ironstone is formed in this way from clay and silt particles colliding together and resulting in small mineral grains. Ironstone is the result when these grains are cemented together to form a rock.

Ironstone is formed in marine muds and silts of early development through cementation during the sedimentation process (shale formation). This is a chemical process that happens when tiny clay particles are dissolved and form tiny crystals.

Siliceous shale

Siliceous shales form when silica-rich sediments are lithified by percolating water. These layers form in deep marine environments, below wave base, where sediments have been eroded off from the older strata above.

As water-based silica dissolves into many small particles through a process called weathering, it gradually flows down to the seafloor and settles on the sediment depths. As this occurs over and over, these individual layers of siliceous shale start to build up one on top of another. The top layer often looks like a miniature stone, as the shale was laid down before cementation.

Organic-rich shales

Organic-rich shales from where the sediment’s organic material is gradually degraded over time and creates stones that are rich in iron. These organic-rich shales are typically formed at depths of up to 120 meters. The oldest organic sediments formed during the Paleozoic Era, and this process took place at a much earlier stage than was previously believed.

Some ancient organic-rich shales have been preserved over time, and these are called petrified shales. These are usually found on top of the organic-rich rock, which is likely due to the fact that they were formed in a more oxygenated environment. It is believed that these organic-rich shales can also be converted into oil in really rare circumstances.

Lithification and Diagenesis

What is the difference between Lithification and diagenesis?

 Lithification is the process by which sediments and sedimentary rocks are converted into solid rock.  On the other hand, Diagenesis is a geological process of changes in the earth’s crust that occurs after lithification but before metamorphism. The two processes occur at different rates and have different effects on the environment.

Lithification is the process of turning sediments into sedimentary rock, while  Diagenesis is the transformation of sediments into sedimentary rock, usually by cementation. The lithification process occurs at a much slower rate than diagenesis; this means that it takes longer for rocks to form from sediments.