Nomenclature describing size distributions is important to geologists because grain size is the most basic attribute of sediments. Traditionally, geologists have divided sediments into four size fractions that include gravel, sand, silt, and clay, and classified these sediments based on ratios of the various proportions of the fractions. Definitions of these fractions have long been standardized to the grade scale described by Wentworth (1922), and two main classification schemes have been adopted to describe the approximate relationship between the size fractions.
Specifically, according to the Wentworth grade scale gravel-sized particles have a nominal diameter of ⩾2.0 mm; sand-sized particles have nominal diameters from <2.0 mm to ⩾62.5 μm; silt-sized particles have nominal diameters from <62.5 to ⩾4.0 μm; and clay is <4.0 μm. As for sediment classification, most sedimentologists use one of the systems described either by Shepard (1954) or Folk (1954, 1974). The original scheme devised by Shepard (1954) utilized a single ternary diagram with sand, silt, and clay in the corners to graphically show the relative proportions among these three grades within a sample. This scheme, however, does not allow for sediments with significant amounts of gravel. Therefore, Shepard's classification scheme (Fig. 1) was subsequently modified by the addition of a second ternary diagram to account for the gravel fraction (Schlee, 1973). The system devised by Folk (1954, 1974) is also based on two triangular diagrams (Fig. 2), but it has 23 major categories, and uses the term mud (defined as silt plus clay). The patterns within the triangles of both systems differ, as does the emphasis placed on gravel. For example, in the system described by Shepard, gravelly sediments have more than 10% gravel; in Folk's system, slightly gravelly sediments have as little as 0.01% gravel. Folk's classification scheme stresses gravel because its concentration is a function of the highest current velocity at the time of deposition, together with the maximum grain size of the detritus that is available; Shepard's classification scheme emphasizes the ratios of sand, silt, and clay because they reflect sorting and reworking (Poppe et al., 2000).
Additional publication details
|Publication Subtype||Journal Article|
|Title||A Visual Basic program to classify sediments based on gravel-sand-silt-clay ratios|
|Series title||Computers & Geosciences|
|Contributing office(s)||Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center|