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Sediment Erosion,Transport, Deposition, and

Sedimentary Structures
An Introduction To
Physical Processes of

Sediment transport
Fluid Dynamics
Focus on basics
NOT comprehensive

Sedimentary Cycle
Make particle

Put particle in motion

Move particle

Stop particle motion
Not necessarily continuous (rest stops)

Fluid flow (Hydraulics)
Substance that changes shape easily and continuously
Negligible resistance to shear
Deforms readily by flow
Apply minimal stress

Moves particles

Water containing various amounts of sediment
Volcanic gasses/ particles

Fundamental Properties
Density (Rho (r))
Mass/unit volume
Water ~ 700x air
r = 0.998 g/ml @ 20C
Density decreases with increased temperature
Impact on fluid dynamics
Ability of force to impact particle within fluid and on bed
Rate of settling of particles
Rate of occurrence of gravity -driven down slope movement of
rH20 > r air

Fundamental Properties
Mu (m)
Water ~ 50 x air
m = measure of ability of fluids to flow (resistance of substance
to change shape)
High viscosity = sluggish (molasses, ice)
Low viscosity = flows readily (air, water)
Changes with temperature (Viscosity decreases with
Sediment load and viscosity co-vary
Not always uniform throughout body
Changes with depth

Types of Fluids:
Strain (deformational) Response to Stress
(external forces)
Newtonian fluids
normal fluids; no yield stress
strain (deformation);
proportional to stress, (water)

no yield stress;
variable strain response to stress
(high stress generally induces
greater strain rates {flow})
examples: mayonnaise, water
saturated mud

Types of Fluids:
Strain (deformational) Response to Stress
(external forces)
Bingham Plastics:
have a yield stress (don't flow
at infinitesimal stress)
example: pre-set concrete; water
saturated, clay-rich surficial
material such as mud/debris flows

Thixotropic fluids:
plastics with variable
stress/strain relationships

Why do particles move?

Transport/ Flow

Basic forces acting on particle
Gravity, drag force, lift force
Drag force: measure of friction between water and
bottom of water (channel)/ particles
Lift force: caused by Bernouli effect

Bernouli Force
(rgh) + (1/2 rm2)+P+Eloss = constant

Static P + dynamic P
Potential energy= rgh
Kinetic energy= 1/2 rm2
Pressure energy= P
Thus pressure on grain decreases, creates lift force

Faster current increases likelihood that gravity, lift and drag

will be positive, and grain will be picked up, ready to be
carried away
Why its not so simple: grain size, friction, sorting, bed
roughness, electrostatic attraction/ cohesion

Types of flow
Orderly, ~ parallel flow lines

Particles everywhere! Flow lines change constantly

Why are they different?

Flow velocity
Bed roughness
Type of fluid

Geologically Significant
Fluid Flow Types (Processes)
Laminar Flows:
straight or boundary parallel flow lines

Turbulent flows:
constantly changing flow lines. Net mass transport in the flow

Flow: fight between inertial and

viscous forces
Inertial F
Object in motion tends to remain in motion
Slight perturbations in path can have huge effect
Perfectly straight flow lines are rare

Viscous F
Object flows in a laminar fashion
Viscosity: resistance to flow (high = molasses)
High viscosity fluid: uses so much energy to move its more
efficient to resist, so flow is generally straight
Low viscosity (air): very easy to flow, harder to resist, so flow
is turbulent

Reynolds # (ratio inertial to viscous forces)

Reynolds #
Re = Vl/(r/m)

dimensionless #

V= current velocity
l= depth of flow-diameter of pipe
r= density
m= viscosity

u=(r/m)- kinematic viscosity

Fluids with low u (air) are turbulent
Change to turbulent determined experimentally
Low Re = laminar <500 (glaciers; some mud flows)
High Re = turbulent > 2000 (nearly all flow)

Geologically Significant
Fluid Flow Types (Processes)
Laminar Flows:
straight or boundary parallel flow lines

Turbulent flows:
constantly changing flow lines. Net mass transport in the flow

Geologically Significant Fluids and

Flow Processes
These distinct flow mechanisms
generate sedimentary deposits with
distinct textures and structures
The textures and structures can be
interpreted in terms of hydrodynamic
conditions during deposition
Most Geologically significant flow
processes are Turbulent

Traction deposits
(turbulent flow)

Debris flow (laminated flow)

What else impacts Fluid Flow?

Water depth
Smoothness of Channel Surfaces
Viscous Sub-layer

1. Channel
Greater slope = greater velocity
Higher velocity = greater lift force
More erosive

Higher velocity = greater inertial forces

Higher numerator = higher Re
More turbulent

2. Water depth
Water flowing over the bottom creates shear stress (retards
flow; exerted parallel to surface)
Shear stress: highest AT surface, decreases up
Velocity: lowest AT surface, increases up
Boundary Layer: depth over which friction creates a
velocity gradient
Shallow water: Entire flow can fall within this interval
Deep water: Only flow within boundary layer is retarded

Consider velocity in broad shallow stream vs deep river

2. Water Depth
Boundary Shear stress (o)-stress that opposes the

motion of a fluid at the bed surface

(o) = gRhS

g= density of fluid (specific gravity)

Rh = hydraulic radius
(X-sectional area divided by wetted perimeter)

S = slope (gradient)

the resistance to fluid flow across bed (ability of fluid

to erode/ transport sediment)
Boundary shear stress increases directly with increase
in specific gravity of fluid, increasing diameter and
depth of channel and slope of bed (e.g. greater ability to
erode & transport in larger channels)

2. Water depth
Moves higher velocity particles closer to stream
bed/ channel sides
Increases drag and list, thus erosion

Flow applies to stream channel walls (not just


3. Smoothness
Add obstructions
decrease velocity around object (friction)
increase turbulence
May focus higher velocity flow on channel sides or
May get increased local erosion, with decreased
overall velocity

4. Viscous Sub-layer
At the surface, there is a molecular attraction that
causes flow to slow down
Thin layer of high effective viscosity
Reduce flow velocity
May even see laminar flow in the sub-layer

Result? Protective coating for fine grains on

Smallest grains are within the layer
(larger grains can poke up through it, causing
turbulence and scour of larger particles)

Flow/Grain Interaction:
Particle Entrainment and Transport
Forces acting on particles during fluid flow
Inertial forces, FI, inducing grain

FI = gravity + friction + electrostatics

Forces, Fm, inducing grain

Fm= fluid drag force + Bernoulli force

+ buoyancy

Occurs when system can no longer support
Particle Settling
Particles settle due to interaction of upwardly directed
forces (buoyancy of fluid and drag) and downwardly
directed forces (gravity).

Generally, coarsest grains settle out first

Stokes Law quantifies settling velocity
Turbulence plays a large role in keeping grains aloft

Particle Settling
Forces opposing entrainment and transport

VS = [(g - f)gd2]/[18 m]
VS : settling velocity
g = grain density
f = fluid density
m = fluid viscosity
d = grain diameter

Stokes law of settling

Applies to grains <0.1mm in water
<0.06mm in air

Theory vs application
Increase velocity, increase turbulence and
Material plays a role
Hjlstroms curve
Empirical measure of minimum Velocity required to
move particles of different sizes

Hjlstroms curve
Series of grain sizes in straight sided channel
Increased velocity until grains moved

Threshold velocity (min. V) to entrain particles

Transition zone (specifics like packing

Intuitive except for clays

Cohesion (consolidated fines)
Electrostatic attraction (unconsolidated fines)
Viscous sublayer

Critical Threshold for Particle Entrainment

Hjulstrom Diagram


> Fi

Empirical relationship between grain size (quartz grains) and current velocity
(standard temperature, clear water)
Defines critical flow velocity threshold for entrainment

As grain size increases

entrainment velocity
For clay size particles
electrostatics requires
increased flow velocity for
(gray area is experimental

Grains in Motion (Transport)

Once the object is set in motion, it will stay in motion
Transport paths
Traction (grains rolling or sliding across bottom)
Saltation (grains hop/ bounce along bottom)
Bedload (combined traction and saltation)
Suspended load (grains carried without settling)
upward forces > downward, particles uplifted stay aloft
through turbulent eddies
Clays and silts usually; can be larger, e.g., sands in floods
Washload: fine grains (clays) in continuous suspension derived
from river bank or upstream

Grains can shift pathway depending on conditions

Transport Modes and Particle Entrainment

With a grain at rest, as flow velocity increases


> Fi ; initiates particle motion

Grain Suspension (for small particle sizes, fine silt; <0.01mm)

When Fm > Fi
U (flow velocity) >>> VS (settling velocity)

Constant grain Suspension at relatively low U (flow velocity)

Wash load Transport Mode

Transport Modes and Particle Entrainment

With a grain at rest, as flow velocity increases


> Fi ; initiates particle motion

Grain Saltation : for larger grains (sand size and larger)

When Fm > Fi

U > VS but through time/space U < VS

Intermittent Suspension
Bedload Transport Mode

Transport Modes and Particle Entrainment

With a grain at rest, as flow velocity increases



Fi , but fluid drag causes grain rolling

Grain Traction : for large grains (typically pebble size and larger)
Normal surface (water) currents have too low a U for grain entrainment
Bedload Transport Mode

Depositional structures indicate

flow regime of formation
Traction Currents
Air and Water

Bed is never perfectly flat

Slight irregularies cause flow to lift off bottom slightly
Leads to pocket of lower velocity where sediments
pushed along bottom can accumulate
Bump creates turbulence, advances process
Bedform height and wavelength controlled by:
Current velocity
Grain Size
Water depth

Theoretical Basis for Hydrodynamic

Interpretation of Sedimentary Facies
Beds defined by

Surfaces (scour, non-deposition) and/or

Variation in Texture, Grain Size, and/or Composition

For example:
Vertical accretion bedding (suspension settling)
Occurs where long lived quiet water exists

Internal bedding structures (cross bedding)

defined by alternating erosion and deposition due to spatial/temporal

variation in flow conditions

Graded bedding

in which gradual decrease in fluid flow velocity results in sequential

accumulation of finer-grained sedimentary particles through time

Grain size and Water DepthBedform

Grain size impacts bedform formation
coarse grains, no ripples are formed
fines (clays), no dunes form

Water depth affects bedform

Increase with depth, increase velocity at which
change from low to upper flow regime occurs

Flow Regime and

Sedimentary Structures

An Introduction To
Physical Processes of Sedimentation

Sedimentary structures
Sedimentary structures occur at very different
scales, from less than a mm (thin section) to
100s1000s of meters (large outcrops); most
attention is traditionally focused on the
Microforms (e.g., ripples)
Mesoforms (e.g., dunes)
Macroforms (e.g., bars)

Sedimentary structures
Laminae and beds are the basic
sedimentary units that produce stratification;
the transition between the two is arbitrarily
set at 10 mm
Normal grading is an upward decreasing
grain size within a single lamina or bed
(associated with a decrease in flow velocity),
as opposed to reverse grading
Fining-upward successions and
coarsening-upward successions are the
products of vertically stacked individual beds

Sedimentary structures
Cross stratification
Cross lamination (small-scale cross stratification)
is produced by ripples
Cross bedding (large-scale cross stratification) is
produced by dunes
Cross-stratified deposits can only be preserved when
a bedform is not entirely eroded by the subsequent
bedform (i.e., sediment input > sediment output)
Straight-crested bedforms lead to planar cross
stratification; sinuous or linguoid bedforms produce
trough cross stratification

Bed Response to Water (fluid) Flow

Common bed forms (shape of the unconsolidated bed) due to
fluid flow in
Unidirectional (one direction) flow
Flow transverse, asymmetric bed forms
2D&3D ripples and dunes

Bi-directional (oscillatory)
Straight crested symmetric ripples

Combined Flow
Hummocks and swales

Bed Response to Steady-state,

Unidirectional, Water Flow
Consider variation in: Flow Velocity only
Flume Experiments (med sand & 20 cm flow depth)

A particular flow velocity (after critical velocity of

entrainment) produces
a particular bed configuration (Bed form) which in
produces a particular internal sedimentary

Bed Response to Steady-state,

Unidirectional, Water Flow
Lower Flow Regime
No Movement: flow velocity below critical entrainment velocity
Ripples: straight crested (2d) to sinuous and linguoid crested (3d)
ripples (< ~1m) with increasing flow velocity
Dunes: (2d) sand waves with straight crests to (3d) dunes (>~1.5m)
with sinuous crests and troughs

Bed Response to Steady-state,

Unidirectional, Water Flow
Lower Flow Regime
No Movement: flow velocity below
critical entrainment velocity
Ripples: straight crested (2d) to
sinuous and linguoid crested (3d)
ripples (< ~1m) with increasing flow
Dunes: (2d) sand waves with straight
crests to (3d) dunes (>~1.5m) with
sinuous crests and troughs

Dynamics of Flow Transverse

Sedimentary Structures
Flow separation and planar vs. tangential fore sets
Aggradation (lateral and vertical) and Erosion in space and
Due to flow velocity variation

Capacity (how much sediment in transport) variation

Competence (largest size particle in transport) variation
Angle of climb and the extent of bed form preservation
(erosion vs. aggradation-dominated bedding surface)

Sedimentary structures
Cross stratification
The angle of climb of cross-stratified deposits
increases with deposition rate, resulting in climbing
ripple cross lamination
Antidunes form cross strata that dip upstream, but
these are not commonly preserved
A single unit of cross-stratified material is known as a
set; a succession of sets forms a co-set

Bed Response to Steady-state,

Unidirectional, Water Flow
Upper Flow Regime
Flat Beds: particles move continuously with no relief on the bed surface
Antidunes: low relief bed forms with constant grain motion; bed form
moves up- or down-current (laminations dip upstream)

Sedimentary structures
Planar stratification
Planar lamination (or planar bedding) is
formed under both lower-stage and upperstage flow conditions
Planar stratification can easily be confused
with planar cross stratification, depending on
the orientation of a section (strike sections!)

Bed Response to Steady-state,

Unidirectional, Water Flow
Consider Variation in Grain Size & Flow Velocity
for sand <~0.2mm:
for sand ~0.2 to 0.8mm
for sand > 0.8:

No Dunes
Idealized Flow Regime Sequence of Bed forms
No ripples nor lower plane bed

Flow regime Concept (summary)

Application of Flow Regime Concept to

Other Flow Types

Sedimentary structures
Cross stratification produced by wave ripples can be
distinguished from current ripples by their symmetry and by
laminae dipping in two directions
Hummocky cross stratification (HCS) forms during storm
events with combined wave and current activity in shallow seas
(below the fair-weather wave base), and is the result of
aggradation of mounds and swales
Heterolithic stratification is characterized by alternating
sand and mud laminae or beds

Flaser bedding is dominated by sand with isolated, thin mud drapes

Lenticular bedding is mud-dominated with isolated ripples

Sedimentary structures
Gravity-flow deposits
Debris-flow deposits are typically poorly sorted,
matrix-supported sediments with random clast
orientation and no sedimentary structures; thickness
and grain size commonly remain unchanged in a
proximal to distal direction
Turbidites, the deposits formed by turbidity
currents, are typically normally graded, ideally
composed of five units (Bouma-sequence with
divisions a-e), reflecting decreasing flow velocities
and associated bedforms


Debris flow deposits

See TurbiditesTurbidity current

Application of Flow Regime Concept to

Other Flow Types
Deposits formed by
turbulent sediment gravity
flow mechanism
Decreasing flow regime
in concert with grain
size decrease
Indicates decreasing flow
velocity through time
during deposition

Sediment Gravity Flow Mechanisms

Sediment Gravity Flows:
20%-70% suspended sediment
High density/viscosity fluids
suspended sediment charged fluid within a lower density, ambient fluid
mass of suspended particles results in the potential energy for initiation of
flow in a the lower density fluid (clear water or air)

mgh = PE

M = mass
G = force of gravity
H = height
PE= Potential energy

Sediment Gravity Flows

Not distinct in nature
Different properties within different portions of a
Leading edge of a debris flow triggered by
heavy rain crashes down the Jiangjia Gully
in China. The flow front is about 5 m tall.
Such debris flows are common here
because there is plenty of easily erodible
rock and sediment upstream and intense
rainstorms are common during the summer
monsoon season.

Fluidal Flows
Turbidity Currents
Re (Reynolds #) is large due to (relatively) low
turbulence is the grain support mechanism
initial scour due to turbulent entrainment of
unconsolidated substrate at high current velocity
Scour base is common

Fluidal Flows
Turbidity Currents
deposition from bedload & suspended load
initial deposits are coarsest transported particles
deposited (ideally) under upper (plane bed) flow

Fluidal Flows
Turbidity Currents
as flow velocity decreases (due to loss of minimum mgh)
finer particles are deposited under lower flow regime
high sediment concentration commonly results in climbing ripples

final deposition occurs under suspension settling mode with

hemipelagic layers

Fluidal Flows
The final (idealized) deposit: Turbidite
graded in particle size
with regular vertical transition in sedimentary structures

Bouma Sequence and

facies tract in a
submarine fan

Sedimentary structures
Imbrication commonly occurs in water-lain gravels and
conglomerates, and is characterized by discoid (flat) clasts
consistently dipping upstream
Sole marks are erosional sedimentary structures on a bed
surface that have been preserved by subsequent burial
Scour marks (caused by erosive turbulence)
Tool marks (caused by imprints of objects)

Paleocurrent measurements can be based on any sedimentary

structure indicating a current direction (e.g., cross stratification,
imbrication, flute casts)

Sedimentary structures
Soft-sediment deformation structures are
sometimes considered to be part of the initial
diagenetic changes of a sediment, and
Slump structures (on slopes)
Dewatering structures (upward escape of water,
commonly due to loading)
Load structures (density contrasts between sand
and underlying wet mud; can in extreme cases
cause mud diapirs)

Dewatering Structures

Biogenic Sedimentary Structures

Produced by the activity of organisms with
the sediment
Burrowing, boring, feeding, and locomotion
Produce trails, depressions, open burrows,

Dwelling structures, resting structures,

crawling and feeding structures, farming