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Geology
Laboratory classification of very fine grained sedimentary rocks
M. D. Lewan
Geology 1978;6;745-748
doi: 10.1130/0091-7613(1978)6<745:LCOVFG>2.0.CO;2

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Notes

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M. D. L e w a n *

Laboratory classification of very fine


grained sedimentary rocks

H. N. Fisk Laboratory of Sedimentology


Department of Geology
University of Cincinnati
Cincinnati, Ohio 45221

ABSTRACT
Very f i n e grained s e d i m e n t a r y rocks are d e f i n e d as t h o s e c o n t a i n i n g
m o r e than 45% b y v o l u m e m i c r o s c o p i c material ( < 5 urn). T h o s e c o n t a i n i n g
65% to 45% m i c r o s c o p i c material are designated as m u d s t o n e s , and t h o s e
c o n t a i n i n g m o r e than 65% m i c r o s c o p i c material are d e s i g n a t e d as shales.
T h e increase o f detailed s t u d i e s o n these rock t y p e s has revealed t h e n e e d
o f a m o r e descriptive and laboratory-oriented classification f o r t h e m . T h e
p r o p o s e d classification is based o n textural and c o m p o s i t i o n a l attributes
o f t h e rocks. T h e n o m e n c l a t u r e consists o f a r o o t n a m e p r e c e d e d b y a
primary adjective, w h i c h , in turn, m a y b e p r e c e d e d b y a n o m i n a l adjective.
T h e r o o t n a m e s i n c l u d e c l a y s t o n e , m a r l s t o n e , m i c s t o n e , and m u d s t o n e
and are d e f i n e d o n t h e basis o f v o l u m e p e r c e n t a g e o f m i c r o s c o p i c m a t e rial and w e i g h t percentage o f silicate minerals in t h e rock. Primary adjectives c o n v e y s p e c i f i c m i n e r a l o g i c i n f o r m a t i o n a b o u t t h e rock; n o m i n a l
adjectives m a y b e used to e m p h a s i z e o t h e r attributes, s u c h as b e d d i n g
structures, fissility, color, or fossil c o n t e n t .

INTRODUCTION
Shales make up a large proportion of sedimentary rocks,
with some estimates exceeding 80% (Wickman, 1954, p. 108).
Studies of fine-grained sedimentary rocks have become more
popular as their association with energy resources becomes more
apparent. Two examples of this are the degasification studies of
Paleozoic shales in the eastern states (Shumaker and Overbey,
1976) and retorting of Tertiary oil shales in the western states
(Ash, 1974; Yen, 1976). General classifications for fine-grained
sedimentary rocks have been formulated on the basis of grain
size and physical character of the rock (for example, Pettijohn,
1975, p. 262; Blatt and others, 1972, p. 375). These types of
classifications are quite useful for field descriptions, but with
advances in quantitative X-ray diffraction methods, increasing
availability of scanning electron microscopes, and development of
rapid chemical analysis methods, a more comprehensive and informative laboratory classification of these rocks is needed.
Picard (1971) presented a laboratory classification for finegrained sedimentary rocks that uses conventional sandstone
compositional terms (for example, lithic arenite, subarkose, and
arkose), which are preceded by the name of the major clay mineral in the rock. Although this classification is applicable to finegrained rocks composed of silt-sized material, it cannot be applied effectively to rocks with predominantly microscopic material ( < 5 fim). This is because it is virtually impossible to identify either rock fragments in very fine grained rocks or the wide
variety of additional mineral phases that are normally not included in the nomenclature of sandstones (for example, carbonates, phosphates, clay minerals, zeolites, and iron oxides). For

Present address: Amoco Production Company Research Center,


P.O. Box 591, Tulsa, Oklahoma 74102.
G E O L O G Y , v. 6, p. 7 4 5 - 7 4 8

this reason I propose the following laboratory classification of


very fine grained sedimentary rocks that is based on textural and
compositional attributes. I am now using the classification and
have found it most helpful in comparing very fine grained rocks
from different sedimentary basins and from different depositional environments.
DEFINITION OF VERY FINE GRAINED
SEDIMENTARY ROCKS
Very fine grained sedimentary rocks are defined in this
classification as those that contain more than 45% by volume
microscopic material ( < 5 jon; Fig. 1). This value was chosen
from the standpoint that most silt- or sand-sized grains will be

Figure 1. Root names used in the proposed classification of very


fine grained sedimentary rocks.
745

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matrix supported when microscopic material exceeds 40% to
50% by volume of the rock, depending on the sorting, angularity, shape, and packing arrangement of its grains. Thus, the intermediate value of 45% implies that very fine grained sedimentary rocks are usually matrix supported.
As shown in Figure 1, very fine grained rocks are subdivided into two distinct categories: (1) shale and (2) mudstone.
Shale contains more than 65% by volume microscopic material,
whereas mudstone contains 65% to 45% by volume microscopic
material. Determination of the percentage of microscopic material may be readily made by point counting the rock in thin section (for example, Textoris, 1971). Reasonable visual estimates
may also be made from thin sections with the aid of visual percentile comparators (for example, Terry and Chilingar, 1955;
Baccelle and Bosellini, 1965). The 5-/im value was chosen from a
practical standpoint: I have found that with a petrographic
microscope, grain-size analysis below this value becomes quite
tedious and yields dubious results. This is especially true for very
fine grained carbonates whose constituents are usually less than
5 tan but commonly straddle the clay size boundary at 4 /m.
CLASSIFICATION OF SHALE
The nomenclature used for shale consists of a root name
and a preceding primary adjective. As shown in Figure 1, the
root names are dependent on the percentage by weight of the
silicate fraction in the rock. The silicate fraction is
Percent of (tektosilicates + phyllosilicates
+ chalcedony + glass)

'

X 100.

Percent of (tektosilicates + phyllosilicates + chalcedony


+ glass + carbonates + phosphates + chlorides + sulfates
+ Fe oxides + Mn oxides + A1 oxides)

The tektosilicates include such minerals as quartz, cristobalite,


tridymite, opal, feldspars, and zeolites, and the phyllosilicates

include the clay minerals and micas. It should be noted that the
calculation does not include sulfides or organic matter. The residual of the silicate fraction is called the nonsilicate fraction,
and its equation is footnoted at the bottom of Table 2.
Once the silicate fraction has been determined, the shale
may be assigned the proper root name: (1) claystone (silicate
fraction = 100% to 75% by weight), (2) marlstone (silicate fraction = 75% to 25% by weight), or (3) micstone (silicate fraction
= 25% to 0% by weight; see rationale for name in discussion
section). These subdivisions of shale are broad enough so that a
reasonable estimate of the silicate fraction may be made by the
integration of petrographic examination of a thin section and a
qualitative X-ray diffraction evaluation. Depending on the type
of minerals present in the nonsilicate fraction, the percentage of
insoluble residue (Ireland, 1971) may also be useful in determining the silicate fraction.
After the root name of a rock has been determined, it is
then modified by a preceding primary adjective. The purpose of
the primary adjective is to reveal more detailed compositional information about the rock. The primary adjectives for shale with
silicate fractions that exceed 50% are given in Table 1, and those
with silicate fractions less than 50% are given in Table 2. Generally, chemical names are used for primary adjectives that denote a group of minerals from a particular chemical group,
whereas mineralogic names are used for primary adjectives that
denote one mineral or a mineral group. When the summation of
several minerals is designated for a primary adjective (for example, siliceous, argillaceous, calcareous, and calcophosphatic),
only two of the designated minerals are required to be present in
the rock for assigning the primary adjective. More than one
primary adjective may be applicable to a rock by this definition,
but the primary adjective revealing the most detailed mineralogic
information about the rock is the one that should be used. A
micstone whose nonsilicate fraction consists entirely of calcite,
aragonite, and dolomite may by definition be considered calcareous, calcophosphatic, or calcosaline; however, the absence of
phosphate, sulfate, and chloride minerals in this rock indicates

TABLE 2. PRIMARY ADJECTIVES FOR SHALES AND MUDST0NES WITH NONSILICATE FRACTIONS
THAT EXCEED 50% BY WEIGHT
PRIMARY ADJECTIVES FOR SHALES AND MUDST0NES WITH SILICATE FRACTIONS
THAT EXCEED 50% BY WEIGHT
Primary
adjective

iE

Quartzose
Chalcedonic
Cristobalitic
Vitric
Opaline
Argillaceous
Siallitic
Chlori tic
Illitic
Kaolinitic
Smectitic*
Micaceous
Sialfeldspathic
Feldspathic
Albitic
K-feldspathic
Zeolitic
Zeosiallitic
Tektosi1iceous
*Rocks c o n t a i n i n g s m e c t i t e i n q u a n t i t i e s exceeding 75% by weight are u s u a l l y cons i d e r e d b e n t o n i t e s and are termed such i n t h i s c l a s s i f i c a t i o n .

Designated mineral o r summation of minerals must comprise 50%


o r more by weight of the n o n s i l i c a t e f r a c t i o n
Carbonates

Designated mineral o r summation of minerals must comprise 503!


o r more by weight o f the s i l i c a t e f r a c t i o n

Si 1iceous

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Primary
adjective

Calcareous
Calcitic
Aragonitic
Dolomitic
Sideritic
Ankeritic
Sodic
Calcophosphatic
Phosphatic
Saline
Halitic
Gypsic
Calcosaline
Ferruginous
Ferromangano
Mangano
Ferroaluminous
Aluminous
Note: N o n s i l i c a t e f r a c t i o n i s
Weight percent of (carbonates + phosphates + c h l o r i d e s + s u l f a t e s + Fe
oxides + Mn o);1des + A1 oxides)

100.

Weight percent o f ( t e k t o s i l i c a t e s + p h y l l o s i l i c a t e s + chalcedony + glass


+ carbonates + phosphates + c h l o r i d e s + s u l f a t e s + Fe oxides + Mn
oxides + A1 o x i d e s )

DECEMBER

1978

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TABLE 3. EXAMPLES OF NOMINAL ADJECTIVES THAT MAY BE USED


OR REDEFINED AT THE DISCRETION OF THE INVESTIGATOR
Attribute

(A) NEW ALBANY

Examples of nominal adjectives

KOPTIONAL-H

Color

Red, brown, black, green, gray, variegated

Splitting

Blocky = equant masses. Slabby = slabs t h a t exceed 5 mm i n thickness.


Platy = plates t h a t range from 2 to 5 mm i n thickness. F i s s i l e
= t h i n chips that do not exceed 2 mm i n thickness. Earthy = loosely
aggregated clods

Mineral
content

Analcimic, c l i n o p t i l o l i t i c , p y r i t i c , i l l i t i c ,
c o l l o p h a n i c , gypsic

calcitic,

hematitic,

Bedding

Bedded = layers t h i c k e r than 5 mm. Laminated = layers not exceeding


5 mm i n thickness. Streaked = discontinuous layers with thicknesses
<0.3 * t h e i r lengths. Blebbed = blebs w i t h heights >0.3 x t h e i r
lengths. Massive = s t r u c t u r e l e s s

Structures

Load s t r u c t u r e s , convolute bedding, slump s t r u c t u r e s ,


ball-and-pillow structures

Organic
richness

Nonorganic = <1% by weight organic carbon. Organic = IX to 5% by


weight organic carbon. Organic r i c h = 5% to 20% by weight organic
carbon. Coaly = 20% to 50% by weight organic carbon.

Fossil
content

F o s s i l i f e r o u s , diatomaceous, s p i c u l a r i t i c , foramini f e r a l ,

SAMPLE

-ESSENTIAL!

ILLITIC
OR

[BIOTURBATEDh
OR

QUARTZOSE
CLAYSTONE

TASMANITIC

% MICROSCOPIC
(<5jUm|
MINERALOGY w
54
QUARTZ
FELDSPAR 3
33
ILLITE
6
CHLORITE
PYRITE
2
MARCASITE 2
IOO

81

SILICATE
FRACTION
= 100%

bioturbation,

tasminitic

(B) GREEN RIVER SHALE SAMPLE


-OPTIONAL--

OR

Figure 2. Examples of classifying very fine grained sedimentary


rocks by integrating ptrographie point-counting analysis and semiquantitative X-ray diffraction analysis. (A) Sample from Huron Member
of the New Albany Shale near Clay City, Kentucky. (B) Sample from
Mahogany bed of the Green River Formation, Gate Canyon, Utah.

that calcareous is the most appropriate primary adjective. Furthermore, if either calcite, aragonite, or dolomite comprises
more than 50% by weight of the nonsilicate fraction, the micstone should then be considered either calcitic, aragonitic, or
dolomitic, respectively.
The proper selection of a primary adjective requires a good
estimate of the mineral content of a rock. This may be obtained
by semiquantitative X-ray diffraction analysis as described by
Cook and others (1975) or by the integration of several different
techniques, such as (1) semiquantitative X-ray diffraction analysis (as described by Moore, 1968; Devine and others, 1972) plus
petrographic examination of thin sections, (2) chemical analysis
plus qualitative or semiquantitative X-ray diffraction analysis,
or (3) scanning electron microscopy with an energy-dispersive
analyzer plus qualitative X-ray diffraction analysis. In some
rocks it is important that the mineral composition includes a
reasonable estimate of the amount of amorphous silica and silicate glass in the rock. This is particularly important for diatomaceous and volcanogenic shale which may contain more than 50%
amorphous silica or silicate glass. This may be determined by
point counting thin sections or by semiquantitative X-ray diffraction analysis as described by Cook and others (1975). Although the results of these different approaches toward the composition of a shale may vary to some degree, the broad subdivisions used to define the primary adjectives should, in most
cases, absorb these variations.
The final component of the classification is optional and is
referred to as the nominal adjective. Nominal adjectives precede
the primary adjective and are used when an investigator wishes
to emphasize a particular attribute of a shale. The nominal adjective denotes a particular attribute and need not suggest abundance or intensity. As shown by the examples of nominal adjectives in Table 3, a wide range of rock characteristics may be
included in the nomenclature.

I ESSENTIALI

ORGANIC
BLOCKY

GEOLOGY

SHALE

OR

SMECTITIC

CALCITIC
MARLSTONE

% MICROSCOPIC = 78
(<5jUm)
MINERALOGY wt%
17" SILICATE
QUARTZ
2 FRACTION
FELDSRAR
= 36%
SMECTITE 16
NONSILICATE
50" FRACTION
CALCITE
DOLOMITE 1 3 64%
2
PYRITE
IOO

This classification scheme semiquantitatively integrates texture and mineralogic data into the root name and primary adjective, and it also allows other attributes to be included on a qualitative basis as nominal adjectives. Two examples of classifying a
rock by this scheme are shown in Figure 2. In order to prevent
confusion, it is suggested that only one nominal adjective be
cited with a rock name in any one statement.
CLASSIFICATION OF MUDSTONE
Mudstone is essentially classified in the same manner as
shale. The only exception is that mudstone has only one root
name as shown in Figure 1. Mudstone with silicate fractions exceeding 50% by weight is modified by primary adjectives in
Table 1, whereas mudstone with silicate fractions less than 50%
by weight is modified by primary adjectives in Table 2. The
nominal adjectives given in Table 3 are also applicable to mudstone; additional nominal adjectives related to grain size, such
as silty or sandy, may also be useful for these rock types.
DISCUSSION
In devising this classification the subdivisions for the different categories based on texture and composition were readily determined, but the real difficulty was in naming the categories.
This was particularly true for the root names. Two options were
apparent in naming these categories: generate new names or
modify existing names. The latter was chosen with the intent of
quantifying existing names within the general context they are
usually used. "Micstone" is the only exception and is the name
proposed for chemical rocks that contain more than 65% microscopic material; in this context the term is intended to be reminiscent of "micrite," but broader with respect to composition.
Some definitions in the literature for the root names used in
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TABLE 4. CRITERIA USED TO DEFINE FINE-GRAINED SEDIMENTARY ROCKS


Reference

Grain s i z e

Composition

Splitting

Bedding

Shale
Pettijohn
(1975, p. 261)

Clay and s i l t

N.S.

Fissile

Laminated

Clay and/or
silt

S u b s t a n t i a l amounts
o f c l a y minerals

Fissile

N.S.

Jackson
(1970, p. 377)

Clay and s i l t

N.S.

Fissile

Laminated

Moorhouse
(1959, p. 361)

Very f i n e
grained

Argillaceous

Fissile

N.S.

Pettijohn
(1975, p. 261)

Clay and/or
silt

N.S.

Nonfissile

Nonlamina ted

Clay = 67%-33%,
s i l t = 33%-67%

N.S.

Nonfissile

N.S.

Jackson
(1970, p. 377)

Fine-grained

N.S.

N o n f i s s i It;

N.S.

Dunham
(1962, p. 118)

Mud w i t h less
than 10% g r a i n s

Carbonate

N.S.

N.S.

Pettijohn
(1975, p. 261)

Clay

N.S.

Nonfissi lo

N.S.

Clay = 100%-67%,
s i l t = 33%-0%

N.S.

Nonfissi Is

N.S.

B l a t t and o t h e r s
(1972, p. 374)

quantitative in part, but it also allows an investigator to qualitatively emphasize other attributes of a rock (3) the nomenclature
is detailed enough to allow lithologie subdivisons of what were
once considered monotonous stratigraphie sections of shale and
marlstone; (4) the classification is in a format that may be easily
coded for computer processing. The intention of this classification is to improve communication among investigators and to
initiate a more descriptive and laboratory-oriented nomenclature
for very fine grained sedimentary rocks.

Mudstone

B l a t t and o t h e r s
(1972, p. 375)

Claystone

B l a t t and others
(1972, p. 375)
Moorhouse
(1959, p. 366)

Fine-grained

Argillaceous

Nonfissil

Nonlaminated

Picard
(1971, p. 185)

Clay = 100%-50%

N.S.

N.S.

N.S.

Pettijohn
(1975, p. 285)

Clay = 65%-35%

Carbonate = 35%-65%

N.S.

N.S.

Jackson
(1970, p. 384)

N.S.

Subequal amounts o f
c l a y and carbonate

N.S.

N.S.

Moorhouse
(1959, p. 378)

N.S.

Equal amounts o f
c l a y and carbonate

N.S.

N.S.

Marlstone

Note: N.S.

(marl)

Not s p e c i f i e d .

this classification are given in Table 4. In comparison to these


definitions, the proposed classification places more emphasis on
composition and places less emphasis on fissility. As, shown in
Table 4, it is common practice to differentiate shale from mudstone on the basis of the former having fissility. Field observations indicate that fissility of a rock is usually a function of
weathering, with fissility increasing as the degree of weathering
increases. As one digs into a weathered outcrop composed of
very fine grained rocks, the earthy rock at the surface grades inward into a fissile rock, which grades into a platy or slabby
rock, which, in turn, grades into a blocky nonfissile rock. The
depth into the outcrop and the thickness of each of these weathering stages depends on the texture of the rock, its composition,
and degree of weathering. This weathering series has been observed in humid and arid climates, and has been observed on
many rock types (for example, claystone, marlstone, and oil
shale) with massive and laminated bedding. It is likely that most
laboratory studies of very fine grained sedimentary rocks would
concentrate on unweathered field samples or subsurface samples,
and the nomenclature distinguishing fissile from nonfissile rocks
would be inappropriate. For this reason the proposed classification does not place primary significance on fissility, but instead
gives it secondary importance as a nominal adjective to be used
at the discretion of the investigator.
The major advantages of this classification include: (1) the
nomenclature reveals a significant amount of textural and compositional information about the rock; (2) the classification is

748

REFERENCES CITED
Ash, H. O., 1974, Current status of oil shale development in United
States: American Association of Petroleum Geologists Bulletin,
v. 58, p. 905-906.
Baccelle, L., and Bosellini, A., 1965, Diagrammi per la Stima Visiva Della
Composizione Percentuale Nelle Rocce Sedimentarie: Annuali
Dell' Universit Di Ferrara, v. 4, p. 59-62.
Blatt, H., Middleton, G., and Murray, R., 1972, Origin of sedimentary
rocks: Englewood Cliffs, N. J., Prentice-Hall, Inc., 634 p.
Cook, H. E., and others, 1975, Methods of sample preparation and X-ray
diffraction data analysis, X-ray mineralogy laboratory, Deep Sea
Drilling Project, University of California, Riverside, in Kaneps,
A. G., ed., Initial reports of the Deep Sea Drilling Project, Vol. 28:
Washington, D.C., U.S. Government Printing Office, p. 999-1007.
Devine, S. B., Ferrell, R. E., Jr., and Billings, G. K., 1972, A quantitative X-ray diffraction technique applied to fine-grained sediments
of the deep Gulf of Mexico: Journal of Sedimentary Petrology,
v. 42, p. 458-475.
Dunham, R. J., 1962, Classification of carbonate rocks according to
depositional texture, in Ham, W. E., ed., Classification of carbonate rocks, a symposium: American Association of Petroleum
Geologists Memoir 1, p. 108-121.
Ireland, H. A., 1971, Insoluble residues, in Carver, R. E., ed., Procedures
in sedimentary petrology: New York, Wiley-Interscience,
p. 479-498.
Jackson, K. C., 1970, Textbook of lithology: New York, McGraw-Hill
Book Co., 552 p.
Moore, C. A., 1968, Quantitative analysis of naturally occurring multicomponent mineral systems by X-ray diffraction: Clays and Clay
Minerals, v. 16, p. 325-336.
Moorhouse, W. W., 1959, The study of rocks in thin section: New York,
Harper and Row, 514 p.
Pettijohn, F. J., 1975, Sedimentary rocks: New York, Harper and Row,
628 p.
Picard, M. D., 1971, Classification of fine-grained sedimentary rocks:
Journal of Sedimentary Petrology, v. 41, p. 179-195.
Shumaker, R. C., and Overbuy, W. K., Jr., 1976, Devonian shale production and potential: Proceedings of the Seventh Annual Appalachian Petroleum Geology Symposium, Morgantown, West Virginia,
MERC/SP-76/2, 271 p.
Terry, R. D., and Chilingar, G. V., 1955, Summary of 'Concerning some
additional aids in studying sedimentary formations' by M. S.
Shvetson: Journal of Sedimentary Petrology, v. 25, p. 229-234.
Textoris, D. A., 1971, Grain-size measurement in thin section, in Carver,
R. E., ed., Procedures in sedimentary petrology: New York,
Wiley-Interscience, p. 95-108.
Wickman, F. E., 1954, The "'total" amount of sediment and the composition of the "average igneous rocks": Geochimica et Cosmochimica
Acta, v. 5, p. 97-110.
Yen, T. F., 1976, Science and technology of oil shale: Ann Arbor,
Michigan, Ann Arbor Science Publishers, Inc., 226 p.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
Reviewed by Roy C. Kepferle and Paul E. Potter. Acknowledgment
is made to the donors of the Petroleum Research Fund, administered by
the American Chemical Society, for the partial support of this research.
MANUSCRIPT RECEIVED MAY 30, 1978
MANUSCRIPT ACCEPTED SEPTEMBER 25, 1978

P R I N T E D I N U.S.A.

DECEMBER 1978