Quartzite is a hard, non-foliated metamorphic rock which was originally pure quartz sandstone. Sandstone is converted into quartzite through heating and pressure usually related to tectonic compression within orogenic belts. Pure quartzite is usually white to grey, though quartzites often occur in various shades of pink and red due to varying amounts of iron oxide (Fe2O3). Other colors, such as yellow, green, blue and orange, are due to other minerals.
When sandstone is cemented to quartzite, the individual quartz grains recrystallize along with the former cementing material to form an interlocking mosaic of quartz crystals. Most or all of the original texture and sedimentary structures of the sandstone are erased by the metamorphism. The grainy, sandpaper-like surface becomes glassy in appearance. Minor amounts of former cementing materials, iron oxide, silica, carbonate, and clay, often migrate during recrystallization and metamorphosis. This causes streaks and lenses to form within the quartzite.
Orthoquartzite is a very pure quartz sandstone composed of usually well-rounded quartz grains cemented by silica. Orthoquartzite is often 99% SiO2 with only very minor amounts of iron oxide and trace resistant minerals such as zircon, rutile, and magnetite. Although few fossils are normally present, the original texture and sedimentary structures are preserved.
The term is also traditionally used for quartz-cemented quartz arenites, and both usages are found in the literature. The typical distinction between the two (since each is a gradation into the other) is a metamorphic quartzite is so highly cemented, diagenetically altered, and metamorphosized so that it will fracture and break across grain boundaries, not around them.
Quartzite is very resistant to chemical weathering and often forms ridges and resistant hilltops. The nearly pure silica content of the rock provides little material for soil; therefore, the quartzite ridges are often bare or covered only with a very thin layer of soil and little (if any) vegetation.