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Definition: sediment from Dictionary of Energy

Earth Science. fragments of organic or inorganic material that are transported by, suspended in, or deposited by wind, water, or ice, and that then are accumulated in unconsolidated layers on the surface of the earth.

Summary Article: sediment from The Columbia Encyclopedia

mineral or organic particles that are deposited by the action of wind, water, or glacial ice. These sediments can eventually form sedimentary rocks (see rock).

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.

Formation of Sedimentary Rock

Sediments form sedimentary rock by compaction and cementation of the particles. Thus, coarse sediments become conglomerates; sands become sandstone; and muds become shale. Sedimentary rocks make up only about 5% of all rocks of the earth's crust, yet they cover 75% of the land area in a veneer that averages 2.26 km (1.4 mi) in thickness, ranging from 0 to 12.9 km (0–8 mi).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, © Columbia University Press 2017

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