Limestone is a sedimentary rock composed primarily of calcium carbonate (CaCO3) in the form of the mineralcalcite. It most commonly forms in clear, warm, shallow marine waters. It is usually an organic sedimentary rock that forms from the accumulation of shell, coral, algal, and fecal debris. It can also be a chemical sedimentary rock formed by the precipitation of calcium carbonate from lake or ocean water.
Most limestones form in shallow, calm, warm marine waters. That type of environment is where organisms capable of forming calcium carbonate shells and skeletons can easily extract the needed ingredients from ocean water. When these animals die, their shell and skeletal debris accumulate as a sediment that might be lithified into limestone. Their waste products can also contribute to the sediment mass. Limestones formed from this type of sediment are biological sedimentary rocks. Their biological origin is often revealed in the rock by the presence offossils.
Some limestones can form by direct precipitation of calcium carbonate from marine or fresh water. Limestones formed this way are chemical sedimentary rocks. They are thought to be less abundant than biological limestones.
Today Earth has many limestone-forming environments. Most of them are found in shallow water areas between 30 degrees north latitude and 30 degrees south latitude. Limestone is forming in the Caribbean Sea, Indian Ocean, Persian Gulf, Gulf of Mexico, around Pacific Ocean islands, and within the Indonesian archipelago.
One of these areas is the Bahamas Platform, located in the Atlantic Ocean about 100 miles southeast of southern Florida (see satellite image). There, abundant corals, shellfish, algae, and other organisms produce vast amounts of calcium carbonate skeletal debris that completely blankets the platform. This is producing an extensive limestone deposit.
Limestone is a rock with an enormous diversity of uses. It could be the one rock that is used in more ways than any other. Most limestone is made into crushed stone and used as a construction material. It is used as a crushed stone for road base and railroad ballast. It is used as an aggregate in concrete. It is fired in a kiln with crushed shale to make cement.
Some varieties of limestone perform well in these uses because they are strong, dense rocks with few pore spaces. These properties enable them to stand up well to abrasion and freeze-thaw. Although limestone does not perform as well in these uses as some of the harder silicate rocks, it is much easier to mine and does not exert the same level of wear on mining equipment, crushers, screens, and the beds of the vehicles that transport it.
Limestone has many other uses. Powdered limestone is used as a filler in paper, paint, rubber, and plastics. Crushed limestone is used as a filter stone in on-site sewage disposal systems. Powdered limestone is also used as a sorbent (a substance that absorbs pollutants) at many coal-burning facilities.
Limestone is not found everywhere. It only occurs in areas underlain by sedimentary rocks. Limestone is needed in other areas and is so important that buyers will pay five times the value of the stone in delivery charges so that limestone can be used in their project or process.