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Classification of Sediments

Sediments are commonly subdivided into three major groups—mechanical, chemical, and organic.

Mechanical, or clastic, sediments are derived from the erosion of earlier formed rocks on the earth's surface or in the oceans. These are then carried by streams, winds, or glaciers to the site where they are deposited. Streams deposit sediment in floodplains or carry these particles to the ocean, where they may be deposited as a delta. Ocean sediments, especially in the form of turbidites, are usually deposited at the foot of continental slopes (see oceans). Glaciers carry sediment frozen within the mass of the ice and are capable of carrying even huge boulders (erratics).

Chemical sediments are formed by chemical reactions in seawater that result in the precipitation of minute mineral crystals, which settle to the floor of the sea and ultimately form a more or less chemically pure layer of sediment. For example, evaporation in shallow basins results in a sequence of evaporite sediments, which include gypsum and rock salt.

Organic sediments are formed as a result of plant or animal actions; for example, peat and coal form by the incomplete decay of vegetation and its later compaction. Deep-ocean sediment known as pelagic ooze consists largely of the remains of microscope organisms (mostly foraminifera and diatoms) from the overlying waters as well as minor amounts of windblown volcanic and continental dust. Limestones are commonly formed by the aggregation of calcite shells of animals.

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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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