The Differences Between Sedimentary and Metamorphic Rocks

Metamorphic rocks and sedimentary rocks are two of the three main types of rocks found in the Earth's crust, the third being igneous rocks. While both metamorphic and sedimentary rocks undergo processes that transform them from their original state, they have distinct differences in their formation, characteristics, and properties. Here are the key differences between metamorphic and sedimentary rocks:


Metamorphic rocks: Formed through metamorphism, which is the transformation of existing rock (igneous, sedimentary, or even other metamorphic rocks) due to intense heat, pressure, or both. These factors cause the original minerals in the rock to recrystallize (rearrange and form new crystals) or even form entirely new minerals.

Sedimentary rocks: Formed through sedimentation, the process of accumulation and lithification (compaction and cementation) of sediments. These sediments can be Weathering products: Broken down fragments of pre-existing rocks transported by wind, water, or ice. Organic remains: Shells, bones, and plant material. Chemical precipitates: Minerals dissolved in water that solidify out of solution. These sediments are then lithified (cemented together) through various processes like precipitation, compaction, or crystallization.

The Differences Between Sedimentary and Metamorphic Rocks

Mineral Composition

Sedimentary Rocks: Primarily composed of minerals that already existed in the environment, such as quartz (sandstone), feldspar, gypsum, halite (rock salt), clay minerals (shale), dolomite and calcite (limestone). They often contain fossils,Organic matter (coal), of ancient organisms trapped during their formation.

Metamorphic Rocks: Can have original minerals from the parent rock (sedimentary or igneous) recrystallized under high pressure and temperature. They may also develop new minerals due to these conditions. Mineral composition can vary widely but often includes minerals like mica, quartz, amphibole, garnet, pyroxenes and others depending on the protolith (original rock).


Sedimentary rocks: Often have a layered or bedded appearance due to the layering of sediments during deposition. They can also be clastic (composed of mineral fragments) or nonclastic (formed from chemical precipitates or organic remains). They typically have high porosity (empty spaces) due to the loose packing of sediments.

Metamorphic rocks: Can have various textures depending on the parent rock and the metamorphic process. They can be foliated (layered or banded) due to the alignment of mineral grains under pressure, or non-foliated (massive) if the minerals lack preferential orientation. They often have lower porosity than sedimentary rocks due to the compaction and recrystallization during metamorphism.


Sedimentary rocks: Often contain abundant and well-preserved fossils as they are formed from the accumulation of sediments, which can trap and preserve the remains of organisms that lived in the past. Studying fossils in sedimentary rocks provides valuable information about ancient life forms and past environments.

Metamorphic rocks: Typically lack fossils because the intense heat and pressure involved in their formation would destroy any pre-existing fossils.


Sedimentary Rocks: Often exhibit layering (stratification) due to the sequential deposition of sediments. They may also show fossils, preserved remains of ancient organisms, indicating their formation in biologically active environments.

Metamorphic Rocks: Can display foliation, a layered or banded appearance caused by the alignment of flattened mineral grains due to pressure. They may also exhibit lineation, a parallel alignment of elongated mineral grains. 

Occurrence and Distribution

Sedimentary rocks: Are widely distributed across the Earth's surface, covering approximately 75% of the landmass and forming the seafloor.

Metamorphic rocks: Are less common than sedimentary rocks as they often form from pre-existing rocks. Distributed globally, occurring in regions where tectonic forces have subjected rocks to high temperature and pressure conditions. Common locations include mountain belts, convergent plate boundaries, and regions of past or present tectonic activity.

Geological Setting

Sedimentary rocks: Formed in environments where sediments accumulate and undergo lithification (the process of converting sediments into solid rock). These environments include river systems, lakes, deltas, beaches, deserts, and deep-sea basins.

Metamorphic rocks: Formed in regions undergoing regional metamorphism (broad-scale pressure and temperature changes) or contact metamorphism (localized heating from nearby igneous intrusions). Often associated with mountain building processes, subduction zones, and areas with past volcanic activity. They can provide valuable information about the geothermal history of an area.


Metamorphic rocks: Can vary in hardness depending on the mineral composition and the degree of metamorphism. Generally, they are harder than their parent rocks due to recrystallization and the formation of denser minerals.

Sedimentary rocks: Can also vary in hardness depending on the type of rock. Clastic sedimentary rocks (formed from rock fragments) tend to be harder than chemical sedimentary rocks (formed from precipitates).

Sedimentary and Metamorphic Rocks Examples

Sedimentary Rocks: Sandstone, limestone, shale, conglomerate, breccia.

Metamorphic Rocks: Marble (from limestone), quartzite (from sandstone), slate (from shale), gneiss (from various rock types), schist (from various rock types).


Sedimentary Rocks: 

  • Record Earth's history: Contain fossils that provide valuable information about past life forms and environmental conditions.
  • Source of valuable resources: Include sources of oil, natural gas, coal, and building materials like limestone and sandstone.

Metamorphic Rocks:

  • Building materials: Used in construction due to their strength and durability (marble, slate).
  • Industrial applications: Used in the production of various materials like gemstones (garnet) and abrasives (quartzite).


The distinctions between sedimentary and metamorphic rocks underscore the dynamic interplay of geological processes shaping the Earth's lithosphere. From the surface dynamics governing sedimentary rock deposition to the subterranean metamorphic transformations wrought by tectonic forces, each rock type contributes unique insights into the planet's geological evolution. By elucidating these disparities in mineral composition, occurrence patterns, structural attributes, distributional tendencies, and geological contexts, a comprehensive understanding of Earth's geological diversity is attained.

Read also:
The Differences Between Metamorphic and Igneous Rocks
The Differences Between Igneous and Sedimentary Rocks

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