Sediment is derived primarily from natural weathering of rock and is an assemblage of individual mineral grains that are then deposited by some physical agent, such as water, wind, ice, or gravity (Fetter, 1988). The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) samples sediments and collects data on the amount of sediment in selected waterways. The most pressing sediment-related problems are associated with environmental questions, such as the transport and fate of attached pollutants, effects of sediment on aquatic biota and their habitats, and effects on sediment transport from land-use changes. Current (2000) sediment issues require that sediment studies address multiple objectives in water-resources management (Koltun and others, 1997).
To support sediment research, the USGS operates laboratories for the analysis of the physical characteristics of sediment. Sediment laboratories producing data for the USGS have two principal functions: (1) the determination of suspended-sediment concentration in samples and (2) the determination of sand/fine separations. The reliability of these determinations and the usefulness of the data are dependent on the accuracy and reliability of the laboratory analyses (Guy, 1969).