[ lith-uh-fi-key-shuhn ]
/ ˌlɪθ ə fɪˈkeɪ ʃən /
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noun Geology.
the process or processes by which unconsolidated materials are converted into coherent solid rock, as by compaction or cementation.
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Also called induration.

Origin of lithification

First recorded in 1870–75; lith- + -i- + -fication
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2021


What does lithification mean?

Lithification is the process by which sediments are turned into solid rock.

Sediments are fragments of material, such as sand, gravel, bones, and silt, that have been moved and deposited somewhere by water, ice, or wind. These sediments may have been created by other natural processes, such as erosion, that break big rocks into small fragments. Lithification then turns these tiny bits of things into solid rock. It’s the final step in creating sedimentary rock.

Lithification typically involves compaction and cementation.

Compaction pushes all of the sediments together so they are packed tightly. In nature, this most often happens when sediments are piled together and then buried under other material. The pressure from the weight of the material on top forces the sediments close together. When the sediments are squeezed together, water and other liquids are forced out, reducing the number of pores (holes) and gaps between them.

Cementation follows compaction. When compaction squeezes the liquids out of the sediment, sticky solubles are left behind. These solubles act as a natural cement or glue that binds the sediments together. Cementation lessens the number of pores, which would allow air and water to enter and potentially destroy the rock before it can form.

Lithification is complete when the sediments have been turned into a solid layer of sedimentary rock.

Why is lithification important?

The first records of the word lithification come from around 1870. It combines lith-, meaning “stone,” the combining element i, and –fication, a combining form of nouns of action. The verb form of lithification is lithify.

Lithification sounds simple, but it happens very slowly. The process includes waiting for pressure and gravity to push sediments together. Lithification is the final step of a process that can take thousands, millions, or even billions of years to happen.

Lithification is unique to sedimentary rock. The other two major types of rock, igneous and metamorphic, are formed with high amounts of heat and pressure, which cause rocks to melt or fuse together. Because this doesn’t happen in lithification, why you are more likely to find fossils in sedimentary rock. The fossils are less likely to have been melted or destroyed during rock formation.

Did you know ... ?

Because lithification doesn’t need high amounts of heat, sedimentary rock is the most common type found on the earth’s surface. However, it is rarer under the earth’s surface, because igneous and metamorphic rocks are much more likely to be formed by the intense heat of the earth’s core.

What are real-life examples of lithification?

Lithification is the final part of making sedimentary rocks. Geologists and geology students are most likely to be familiar with the process of lithification.

What other words are related to lithification?

Quiz yourself!

True or False?

Lithification is the final step in the process of making igneous rock.

British Dictionary definitions for lithification

/ (ˌlɪθɪfɪˈkeɪʃən) /

the consolidation of a loosely deposited sediment into a hard sedimentary rock
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012