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Riley (Kansas) County Courthouse 1

Courthouse built of limestone in Manhattan, Kansas

Limestone is a common building material. It is readily available and relatively easy to cut into blocks or more elaborate carving. It is also long-lasting and stands up well to exposure. However, it is a very heavy material, making it impractical for tall buildings, and relatively expensive as a building material.

Limestone is a sedimentary rock composed largely of the mineral calcite (calcium carbonate: CaCO3). Like most other sedimentary rocks, limestones are composed of grains; however, most grains in limestone grains are skeletal fragments of marine organisms such as coral or foraminifera. Other carbonate grains comprising limestones are ooids, peloids, intraclasts, and extraclasts. Some limestones do not consist of grains at all and are formed completely by the chemical precipitation of calcite or aragonite, i.e. travertine.

The solubility of limestone in water and weak acid solutions leads to karst landscapes. Regions overlying limestone bedrock tend to have fewer visible groundwater sources (ponds and streams), as surface water easily drains downward through joints in the limestone. While draining, water and organic acid from the soil slowly (over thousands or millions of years) enlarges these cracks; dissolving the calcium-carbonate and carrying it away in solution. Most cave systems are through limestone bedrock.


Limestone Mines at Cedar Creek

Limestone quarry at Cedar Creek, Virginia, USA.

La Zaplaz, Piatra Craiului

La Zaplaz formations in Piatra Craiului Mountains

Limestone often contains variable amounts of silica in the form of chert (aka chalcedony, flint, jasper, etc) or siliceous skeletal fragment (sponge spicules, diatoms, radiolarians), as well as varying amounts of clay, silt and sand sized terrestrial detritus carried in by rivers. The primary source of the calcite in limestone is most commonly marine organisms. These organisms secrete shells made of aragonite or calcite and leave these shells behind after the organism dies. Some of these organisms can construct mounds of rock known as reefs, building upon past generations. Below about 3,000 meters, water pressure and temperature causes the dissolution of calcite to increase non-linearly so that limestone typically does not form in deeper waters (see lysocline). Secondary calcite may also be deposited by supersaturated meteoric waters (groundwater that precipitates the material in caves). This produces speleothems such as stalagmites and stalactites. Another form taken by calcite is that of oolites (oolitic limestone) which can be recognized by its granular appearance.

Limestone makes up about 10% of the total volume of all sedimentary rocks.[1][2] Limestones may also form in both lacustrine and evaporite depositional environments.[3][4]

Calcite can be either dissolved by groundwater or precipitated by groundwater, depending on several factors including the water temperature, pH, and dissolved ion concentrations. Calcite exhibits an unusual characteristic called retrograde solubility in which it becomes less soluble in water as the temperature increases.

When conditions are right for precipitation, calcite forms mineral coatings that cement the existing rock grains together or it can fill fractures.

Karst topography and caves develop in carbonate rocks due to their solubility in dilute acidic groundwater. Cooling groundwater or mixing of different groundwaters will also create conditions suitable for cave formation.

Coastal limestones are often eroded by organisms which bore into the rock by various means. This process is known as bioerosion. It is most common in the tropics, and it is known throughout the fossil record (see Taylor and Wilson, 2003).

Because of impurities, such as clay, sand, organic remains, iron oxide and other materials, many limestones exhibit different colors, especially on weathered surfaces. Limestone may be crystalline, clastic, granular, or massive, depending on the method of formation. Crystals of calcite, quartz, dolomite or barite may line small cavities in the rock. Folk and Dunham classifications are used to describe limestones more precisely.

Travertine is a banded, compact variety of limestone formed along streams, particularly where there are waterfalls and around hot or cold springs. Calcium carbonate is deposited where evaporation of the water leaves a solution that is supersaturated with chemical constituents of calcite. Tufa, a porous or cellular variety of travertine, is found near waterfalls. Coquina is a poorly consolidated limestone composed of pieces of coral or shells.

During regional metamorphism that occurs during the mountain building process (orogeny) limestone recrystallizes into marble.

Limestone is a parent material of Mollisol soil group.


Main article: List of types of limestone

Uses Edit

Limestone is very common in architecture, especially in North America and Europe. Many landmarks across the world, including the Great Pyramid and its associated complex in Giza, Egypt, are made of limestone. So many buildings in Kingston, Canada were constructed from it that it is nicknamed the 'Limestone City'. [5] On the island of Malta, a variety of limestone called Globigerina limestone was for a long time the only building material available, and is still very frequently used on all types of buildings and sculptures. Limestone is readily available and relatively easy to cut into blocks or more elaborate carving. It is also long-lasting and stands up well to exposure. However, it is a very heavy material, making it impractical for tall buildings, and relatively expensive as a building material.


The Great Pyramid of Giza. One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the structure is made entirely from limestone.

Litography press with map of Moosburg 01

A limestone plate with a negative map of Moosburg in Bavaria is prepared for a lithography print

Limestone was most popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Train stations, banks and other structures from that era are normally made of limestone. Limestone is used as a facade on some skyscrapers, but only in thin plates for covering rather than solid blocks. In the United States, Indiana, most notably the Bloomington area, has long been a source of high quality quarried limestone, called Indiana limestone. Many famous buildings in London are built from Portland limestone.

Limestone was also a very popular building block in the Middle Ages in the areas where it occurred since it is hard, is durable, and commonly occurs in easily accessible surface exposures. Many medieval churches and castles in Europe are made of limestone. Beer stone was a popular kind of limestone for medieval buildings in southern England.

Limestone and (to a lesser extent) marble are reactive to acid solutions, making acid rain a significant problem to the preservation of artifacts made from this stone. Many limestone statues and building surfaces have suffered severe damage due to acid rain. Acid-based cleaning chemicals can also etch limestone, which should only be cleaned with a neutral or mild alkaline-based cleaner.

Other uses include:

  • The manufacture of quicklime (calcium oxide) and slaked lime (calcium hydroxide);
  • Cement and mortar;
  • Pulverized limestone is used as a soil conditioner to neutralize acidic soil conditions;
  • Crushed for use as aggregate—the solid base for many roads;
  • Geological formations of limestone are among the best petroleum reservoirs;
  • Art (sculpture, lithography, etc.)

References Edit

  • Taylor, P.D. and Wilson, M.A., 2003. Palaeoecology and evolution of marine hard substrate communities. Earth-Science Reviews 62: 1-103.[1]

See also Edit

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