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Marine Sediments

Marine Sediments

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Published by Wanda Rozentryt
Marine geology
Marine geology

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: Wanda Rozentryt on Sep 22, 2010
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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arine sediments are formed by several processes. Detrital fragments of rocks and minerals can be carried to the seafrom distant, upland sources. Alternately, they can be formed in place by biological or chemical processes operatingeither at the site or very close by. Marine sediments can be grouped into three categories, based on their composition andmode of origin.
Terrigenous – grains which have been eroded from the land and carried to the marine environment, typically byrivers, wind, glaciers, slumping and mass wasting (clastic).
Biogenic – Fragments derived from biologically precipitated skeletal material, usually broken down by physicaland biological erosion. These are mainly calcium carbonate but a minor fraction can be siliceous (i.e, spongespicules).
Authigenic – Chemical deposits which are usually formed by precipitation from solution in the environment of deposition.
Evaporites – which are precipitated under hypersaline conditions (above normal marine salinities), have beenincluded in this group.Each sedimentary suite carries a record of both its origin and its ultimate environment of deposition. Sedimentcomposition provides important clues about the location of origin of the individual grains, and textural characteristics provide information about energy levels during transport and deposition, especially in areas dominated by clasticsediments of terrigenous origin.The discussion starts with textural characteristics common to all sediment types regardless of their origin. These sediment properties have been discussed in a number of textbooks dedicated solely to the subject of sedimentation. They aredescribed only generally below, and the student seeking more detailed descriptions is referred to Friedman, et al. 1992 for an excellent treatment of the subject. Building on this, each major sediment type and the rocks they ultimately form areconsidered. Once the groundwork has been laid for understanding the characteristics of marine sediments, sampling andanalytical methods are briefly outlined. Finally, the mechanisms most important in transporting sediments in modernmarine systems are considered.
Sediment Character 
egardless of the source of a particular sediment, certain physical characteristics are important in describing what thesediment "looks like." Primary among these are size, sorting, shape and color. These sediment properties have beendiscussed in a number of textbooks dedicated solely to the subject of sedimentation. They are described only generally below, and the student seeking more detailed descriptions is referred to Friedman, et al. 1992 for an excellent treatment of the subject.
Measuring Sediment Character 
he physical measurement and statistical treatment of grain-size data are basic tools in the investigation of marinesediments. Characterization of the size population in a sediment sample can be either directly measured physicaldimensions or their "hydraulic equivalents," which are based on the settling velocities of quartz spheres.
Sieve Analyses
erhaps the oldest, but still widely accepted, method of grain-size determination uses a nested set of sieves in which thesize of the mesh is progressively smaller down the stack. The screen of each sieve is woven from brass or stainlesssteel wire to form square openings. Because of this geometry, the width of the intermediate axis is the critical determinant
 2of grain size in sieved sediments. The sieves are agitated either mechanically or by hand, and each size class is trapped onthe mesh that is too small for it to pass through. A nest of screens will, therefore, separate the sediment sample into groupsof grains that range in size between the larger sieve throughwhich they just passed and thesieve on which they were caught.The weight of each group (sizeclass) is expressed as a percent of the total sample weight.The accuracy of size determinationis a function of several factors,each of which can introduce errorsif not carefully considered. Withrepeated use, the wires that make up the screen may stretch or move out of place so that the dimensions of the openingsare no longer true. Touching the finer screens or forcing grains through the mesh at any size are among the most commoncauses of damage. Another problem is that, grains tend to get stuck in the mesh. When the next batch is run, some grainsare freed from the prior batch and new ones are caught. An accurate sample characterization will occur only when somesort of equilibration takes place – for each grain caught, one is released. Thus, careful and consistent handling of thesieves is important. Finally, the amount of sample that is put through the sieves can affect the accuracy of the analysis. If too little sand is used, the small errors become more significant. When the sample is too large, one of the screens in thenest may become overloaded and not all the particles can pass through. A sample of 75-125 grams is ideal for an 8-inchdiameter screen set.While all this seems fraught with peril, experience has shown that careful and consistent handling of samples can lead tovery acceptable results. Sample analysis with sieves is relatively easy and quick, and the results can be both reliable andrepeatable when size classes of quarter- or half-phi units are used. The mathematical transformation of raw sieve data tomean and sorting is discussed in a later section.
Pipette Analyses
he grain-size distribution of muddy sediments (silt and clay sizes) is commonly determined by pipette analysis. Thesample is placed in a one-liter graduated cylinder filled with distilled water and a dispersing agent to prevent clayflocculation. The mixture is agitated, and 20-ml aliquots of sediment-laden water are taken with a narrow suction tube(pipette) at specified time intervals and depths. The water from the pipette is evaporated in 50-ml beakers and the weightsof the containers with and without sediment are used to determine the amount of sediment contained in each aliquot.Published settling rates are used to determine of the percent of sample in each size class. The technique is described indetail in Folk's 1974 laboratory manualSuccessful pipette analysis requires a very accurate balance and infinite patience. Accurately determining the weight of sediment suspended in a 20-ml aliquot placed in a 50-ml beaker might be likened to weighing an elephant with andwithout a fly on its back. The weight of contaminants seemingly as minor as fingerprints on the glassware can have adiscouragingly large impact on accuracy. Filtering the aliquot and weighing the dried sample reduces the problem of weight differential (a filter weighs much less than a beaker), as long as glass-fiber filters are used to minimize changes infilter weight under varying temperature and moisture conditions. Despite all of this, pipette analysis remains as a widelyused and practical technique for the analysis of muddy sediments.
Rapid Sediment Analysers
ome of the potential drawbacks to sieve and pipette analysis can be overcome with careful sample handling, but somecannot. Sieve analysis does not take into account either the density or the shape of individual grains. Also, the analysisof large numbers of samples (>30) can be a tedious process. Finally, the mesh size of sieves cannot be made small enoughto adequately divide muddy sediments into enough size classes for accurate statistical treatment.
 3Rapid sediment analyzers (RSA's) were designed to address the first two of these problems. The most popular RSA is asettling tube - a vertical cylinder one to two meters high filled with distilled water. A pre-weighed sediment sample isintroduced at the top of the water column and is allowed to settle. At some point near the bottom of the tube, the sedimentis collected on a pan that is connected to a very sensitive balance, and the weight of accumulated sediment is recordedover time. Either empirical or theoretical relationships between grain size and settling velocity are used to assignappropriate size-weight classes. In earlier systems, time vs. weight data were manually recorded and converted to sizeclasses. Cost-effective, computerized systems are now available and are an integral part of most RSA's.Some RSA's use a pressure transducer that is placed at the measurement point near the base of the tube. As particles fall below the transducer, the pressure of the overlying water/sediment mixture is reduced, and these changes are converted tosediment weight much like the hydrometer that is used to test acid densities in automobile batteries. A major criticism of this family of RSA's is the small change in sediment/water density relative to the level of accuracy for availabletransducers.Despite their increasing popularity, RSA's are not without their own set of potential problems. Among the mostfundamental of these, RSA's measure sediment size as a function of fall velocity in a column of water. While a system thatmeasures "hydraulic size" is optimal in some respects (i.e., differences in density and shape are taken into account), thehydraulic behavior of grains falling through a fluid column versus grains bouncing along a bed involves somewhatdifferent sets of forces. Also, RSA's are typically calibrated with quartz or glass spheres; populations are expressed interms of these "equivalent diameters" and are, therefore, not a measure of actual grain size in projected cross section.Comparison to sieve sizes can, therefore, be sometimes misleading.A second set of problems is related to grain interference. Turbulence during grain release can interfere with normalsettling patterns. In addition, groups of spheres settle at different velocities than single spheres of the same size; thus, falldepends in part on the number of spheres in a group. And finally, the walls of a settling tube can interfere with naturalsettling. Most of these problems can be solved with careful design and calibration.
Other Optical Means of Determination
ecause of slow settling rates, muddy sediments cannot be analyzed with a standard RSA. Several optical techniqueshave been developed to solve some of these problems. They are much faster than the older pipette analyses discussedabove.The Coulter counter, originally designed to count blood cells, has been used to count and size individual grains. Another family of instruments measures grain concentration using one or more lasers. Like the settling tube, the resulting sizeclasses are based on known settling rates and the loss of progressively smaller grains over time. In all cases, the samplemust be thinned to avoid the confusion that might be caused by multiple grains in proximity to one another. In addition,calibration is still a subject of active debate. While some researchers consider laser particle counters to still be in adevelopmental stage, they may still provide the only option when more traditional methods are impractical.
Mean-Grain Size
ediment grains occur in a wide range of sizesfrom microns to centimeters. Grain size isusually expressed as a projected cross section, withthe assumption that the particle is roughly circular.Wentworth 1922 divided sediments into four sizecategories based on grain diameter: cobble/boulder (size larger 64 mm), gravel (size = 2 - 64 mm), sand(size = 0.05 - 2 mm) and mud (size less than 0.06mm)Mud can be further divided into silt (size = 0.002 -0.06 mm) and clay (size less than 0.002 mm). Grainsize is expressed in millimeters, and the size

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