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Silt and Siltstone

Silt is a common sedimentary rock composed of tiny particles smaller that sand size
yet larger than clay size (1/16 - 1/256 mm). It is found in stream deposits, lake beds
and most commonly, in Kansas, as loess. Loess is wind-blown silt which covers much
of the High Plains of western Kansas and along bluffs of the Missouri River in
northeast Kansas. It occurs to some extent in many other areas in the state. Loess is
typically a yellowish-buff porous silt that outcrops with steep faces along hillsides and
valley walls. Loess contains white or cream-colored concretions (1-2" in diameter)
which are composed of calcium carbonate and have been called Loess Kinchen (little
children of the loess).
Some of the finest and thickest soils in the world are formed in the upper part of thick
deposits of loess. As wind moves the small particles only, a soil that develops is free
from boulder and pebbles. Loess deposits are built up by successive dust storms (not
unlike the dust storms of the 1930's).
More than 90% of the soil in Thomas, Sherman, Cheyenne, Greeley, Hamilton,
Wichita, Scott, Lane and other western counties consist of the upper part of these
loess deposits.
In northeastern Kansas along the Missouri River, loess can range in thickness from 60
to 100 feet. Farther from the river, it may be no more than 5 feet thick. These deposits
are the result of fine material ground by the advancing ice sheet and deposited on the
flood plains by glacial meltwater. The material was later reworked by winds. It is
thought that most of the loess in northeastern Kansas was laid down more than 50,000
years ago.
Siltstone is consolidated or compacted silt. This rock may be found as thin slabby
beds in many of the Pennsylvanian formations of eastern Kansas. Many siltstones
contain layers rich in tiny flakes of mica which glitter in the sun. The mica is
concentrated along the bedding planes where the rocks break easily
Sedimentary Rocks
Siltstone and shale are a type of sedimentary rock called clastic rock, which forms when
"clasts" -- that is, fragments of other rocks or minerals -- are deeply buried and compacted in
a depression. In the case of siltstone and shale, the clasts are silt and clay particles. Over
time, the buried sediment becomes cemented and forms sedimentary rock. Geologists can
date sedimentary rocks relative to each other, because older rock is buried beneath younger

Silt and Clay

Clastic sedimentary rocks are deposited in three ways: by water, glaciers and wind. Although
siltstone and shale are similarly formed in water, it is necessary to be able to distinguish
between silt and clay particles to identify siltstone and shale. Silt and clay are both tiny
particles that have weathered away from rocks and minerals. Silt is intermediate in size
between the larger grains of sand and the smaller clay particles. To be classified as silt, the
particles much be smaller than .06 millimeters in diameter, (.002 inches) and larger than
clay particles, which are smaller than .004 millimeters in diameter (.0002 inches).

Shale Depositional Environment

Shale is formed in an environment that consists of calm water: for example, water near the
shores of large lakes or continental shelves at sea edges. The calmness of the water enables
suspended particles like clay to eventually sink and settle in the bottom of the lake or sea.
Silica and calcium carbonate from marine life, particularly from shells, also settle with the
clay particles, and over time they form cement for the clay particles to "lithify" -- that is,
become rock -- and form shale. When extensive organic material such as from plankton and
plants becomes embedded with the shale, oil shale can form.

Siltstone Depositional Environment

Siltstone is deposited in a similar environment to shale, but it often occurs closer to the
shoreline of an ancient delta, lake or sea, where currents cause less suspension of particles.
Siltstone commonly occurs adjacent to sandstone deposits -- that is, near beaches and delta
edges where sand is deposited. Silt, hence siltstone, occurs in the water adjoining the sandy
beaches and deltas, which filters the smaller silt particles. The siltstone will grade into shale
in deeper water where the suspended clay particles are more abundantly deposited. In
either case, calm waters are needed for the suspension and sorting of silt and clay. Thus,
sandstone, siltstone and shale are interrelated rocks that are distinguished by particle size.

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Sedimentary rock


Siltstone is a sedimentary rock which has a grain size in the silt range, finer than sandstone and
coarser than claystones.

Siltstone is a clastic sedimentary rock. As its name implies, it is primarily composed (greater than
2/3) of silt sized particles, defined as grains 262 m or 4 to 8 on the Krumbein phi () scale.
Siltstones differ significantly from sandstones due to their smaller pores and higher propensity for
containing a significant clay fraction. Although often mistaken as a shale, siltstone lacks
the fissility and laminations which are typical of shale. Siltstones may contain concretions. Unless
the siltstone is fairly shaly, stratification is likely to be obscure and it tends to weather at oblique
angles unrelated to bedding. Mudstone or shale are rocks that contain mud, which is material that
has a range of silt and clay. Siltstone is differentiated by having a majority silt, not clay.

classification of detrital rocks





Siltstone is composed of silt-sized sediment grains, which are transitional in size

between clay and sand grains. So, siltstone represents natural depositional
environments transitional between those of shale and sandstone. For example, on the
ocean floor clay dominates sediment deposition in the deep ocean far from shore,
whereas sand is commonly deposited closer to shore in shallow water. Silt would
therefore be deposited in between these two extremes, on the continental slope.
Siltstone, when found within a sequence of sedimentary rocks, often represents such a

transitional environment. Below are some images of siltstone. Note that it is very
similar in appearance to shale, but it is a bit grittier. Geologists working on an
outcrop will often do a field test to distinguish siltstone from shale by dragging a
sample across their front teeth. Shale is smooth whereas siltstone is more abrasive.
Older geologists who have done this experiment hundreds of times will have very
straight-edged front teeth.