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Sediment and Sedimentation

Rounding And Sorting Of Sediment

Transport of sediments causes them to become rounder as their irregular edges are removed both by abrasion and corrosion. Beach sand becomes highly rounded due to its endless rolling and bouncing in the surf. Of the agents of transport, wind is most effective at mechanically rounding (abrading) clastic sediments, or clasts. Its low density does not provide much of a "cush ion" between the grains as they strike one another.

Sorting, or separation of clasts into similar sizes, also happens during sediment transport. Sorting occurs because the size of grains that a medium of transport can move is limited by the medium's velocity and density. For example, in a stream on a particular day, water flow may only be strong enough to transport grains that are finer than medium-grained sand. So all clasts on the surface of the stream bed that are equal to or larger than medium sand will be left behind. The sediment, therefore, becomes sorted. The easiest place to recognize this phenomenon is at the beach. Beach sand is very well sorted because coarser grains are only rarely transported up the beach face by the approaching waves, and finer material is suspended and carried away by the surf.

Ice is the poorest sorter of sediment. Glaciers can transport almost any size sediment easily, and when ice flow slows down or stops, the sediment is not deposited, due to the density of the ice. As a result, sediments deposited directly by ice when it melts are usually very poorly sorted. Significant sorting only occurs in glacial sediments that are subsequently transported by meltwater from the glacier. Wind, on the other hand, is the best sorter of sediment, because it can usually only transport sediment that ranges in size from sand to clay. Occasional variation in wind speed during transport serves to further sort out these sediment sizes.


Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Jean-Paul Sartre Biography to Seminiferous tubulesSediment and Sedimentation - Weathering, Water, Wind, Glacial Ice, Sediment Erosion, Sediment Size, Sediment Load - Erosion and transport, Agents of erosion and transport, Deposition