Physical Science Matric Revision: Lithosphere

Chemical Systems: The Lithosphere – CAPS Physical Science Grade 12 Revision Notes


The lithosphere is the outer layer of the earth, consisting of the crust and the upper mantle. It is crucial in understanding Physical Science as it holds resources essential for various human activities. Learners will explore how elements and minerals are extracted and processed.

Key Points

  1. Composition of the Lithosphere:

    • The lithosphere predominantly includes rocks, minerals, and soil.
    • Elements like oxygen (O), silicon (Si), aluminum (Al), magnesium (Mg), and iron (Fe) are common.
  2. Mining and Mineral Processing:

    • Minerals are extracted from ores via mining.
    • Methods include open-pit mining, underground mining, and placer mining.
    • Processing involves crushing and grinding the ore, followed by separation techniques such as flotation, magnetic separation, and leaching.
  3. Environmental Impact:

    • Mining activities can lead to environmental issues such as habitat destruction, water pollution, and air pollution.
    • Sustainable practices are essential to minimize impact.
  4. Uses of Materials:

    • Minerals are crucial for construction (e.g., cement from limestone), energy (e.g., coal, uranium), and electronics (e.g., silicon for semiconductors).
  5. Gold Extraction:

    • Common method: Cyanidation, where crushed ore is treated with cyanide solution to extract gold.
    • Reaction: ( 4 \text{Au} + 8 \text{NaCN} + \text{O}_2 + 2 \text{H}_2\text{O} \rightarrow 4 \text{Na[Au(CN)}_2] + 4 \text{NaOH} )

Real-World Applications

Example: Copper Mining and Processing
1. Extraction: Copper is extracted from its ores (e.g., chalcopyrite) through mining methods.
2. Processing:
– The ore is crushed and ground.
– Concentrated by froth flotation, producing a copper-rich concentrate.
– Smelting: The concentrate is heated in a furnace to produce copper matte.
– Refining: Electrolytic refining produces pure copper.

Typical Problem:
Question: Calculate the mass of copper obtained from 1 ton of a 2% copper ore.
– Ore contains 2% Cu: (1 \text{ ton} \times \frac{2\%}{100\%} = 0.02 \text{ ton} = 20 \text{ kg} )
– Thus, 20 kg of copper is obtained from 1 ton of ore.

Common Misconceptions and Errors

  1. Misconception: All minerals contain metals.

    • Correction: Some minerals are non-metallic (e.g., quartz).
  2. Error: Confusion between ore and mineral.

    • Strategy: Remember, an ore is a type of rock that contains sufficient minerals with valuable elements.
  3. Misunderstanding: Thinking that all mining methods are the same.

    • Explanation: Different methods are used based on the ore’s location, the type of mineral, and the environmental impact.

Practice and Review


  1. Basic: Describe the process of open-pit mining.
  2. Intermediate: Explain the chemical principles behind gold extraction using cyanidation.
  3. Challenging: Discuss the environmental impacts of different mining methods and suggest measures to mitigate these impacts.


  1. Basic: Open-pit mining involves excavating large open holes in the ground to extract ores found close to the surface.
  2. Intermediate: Cyanidation involves treating crushed gold ore with a cyanide solution, which reacts with gold to form a soluble gold cyanide complex.
  3. Challenging: Environmental impacts include deforestation, soil erosion, and contamination. Mitigation measures include using sustainable mining techniques, reforestation, and proper waste management.

Connections and Extensions

  • Interdisciplinary Links: Understanding the lithosphere integrates geology (study of earth materials) and environmental science.
  • Real-World Implications: Knowledge about the lithosphere aids in addressing global challenges like resource depletion and environmental conservation.

Summary and Quick Review

Key Points:
– The lithosphere contains essential elements and minerals.
– Mining and processing involve various physical and chemical methods.
– Awareness of environmental impacts and sustainable practices is critical.

Quick Reference:
– Common elements: O, Si, Al, Mg, Fe.
– Extraction methods: Open-pit, underground, placer.
– Processing techniques: Crushing, flotation, leaching.
– Environmental issues: Habitat destruction, pollution.

Additional Resources

  • Books: “Earth Materials” by Cornelis Klein and Anthony Philpotts.
  • Videos: Khan Academy’s YouTube channel on “Mining and Mineral Processing”.
  • Online Platforms: Coursera course on “Geology and Mineral Resources”.

These structured revision notes will aid students in their understanding and retention of crucial concepts in the lithosphere and its role in Physical Science.

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