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Marine Sedimentation
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It has been repeatedly emphasized that the factors controlling the character of the sediment in a given locality are numberous and complicated, and it is both instructive and valuable to see to what extent it is possible to predict the characteristics of the sediment which may occur under a given set of conditions. The number of variables necessary to formulate such a prediction indicates the large number of factors which must be taken into account. The prediction of the mass properties of a sediment for a given set of conditions not only illustrates that we have some understanding of the processes of marine sedimentation but that the procedure may be reversed and certain of the important environmental factors deduced from the properties of a given sediment sample. This is of obvious value to the student of sedimentary deposits both recent and fossil, and is also instructive to the oceanographer concerned with aspects of the sea other than the sediments.

It is difficult to designate those properties of a sediment which are most “important.” The relative importance may vary with the individual interest of the worker, and what in one instance may be a minor constituent of a sediment may in another locality be the most abundant or conspicuous type of material. Glauconite in an example of such a substance. As a basis for the following discussion, those mass properties used to classify and name marine sediments will be considered, namely color, physical composition, and texture.

The environmental factors most important in determining the characteristics of marine sediments may be grouped under three main headings: (1) the general topography and depth of the site of deposition, (2) the relation of the site of deposition to sources of inorganic material, and (3) the physical and chemical conditions in the water column overlying

the site of deposition. With these variables fixed it is possible to predict with a fair degree of accuracy the characteristics of the sediment which will be found in a given locality.

Topography has its more profound influence upon the textural characteristics of the sediments, and the topography surrounding a given site is usually more important than the absolute depth. Topographic highs are subject to the sweeping action of waves and currents and, hence, are either covered by relatively coarse material or lacking in unconsolidated material. Fine-grained material is always absent in shallow water except on the continental shelf, where it is being by-passed to deeper water. Conversely, depressions and basins generally contain fine-grained material but in addition may receive some coarse material swept off the shelf and highs, or supplied by pelagic or benthic organisms. The slopes where active deposition is taking place are generally covered with poorly sorted sediments. The rate of sedimentation is small on isolated topographic highs and in the major ocean basins and is relatively great on and immediately below the slopes and in nearshore basins. In those areas where the bottom is sinking, accumulation may be rapid on the shelves, otherwise it is negligible. The effect of topography and depth on texture is related to the fact that the strongest water movements, hence the ability to move particles, occur near the surface, particularly at those depths where wave action is effective. Isolated highs at all depths are affected by the sweeping action which is a combination of current motion and the force of gravity which tends to pull the material down slopes.

Indirectly topography may affect the composition where two or more types of materials have their greatest abundance in different size grades. In this case the material having the coarser texture will be concentrated on areas subjected to the stronger transporting agency, with the resulting increased relative concentration of the substance of finer texture elsewhere. This factor may account for the abundance of such materials as glauconite, phosphorite, and these materials mixed with organic remains on certain areas of the shelves, particularly on topographic highs. It has also been advanced as a possible reason for the lower calcium carbonate content of the sediments in the bottom of the major ocean basins where the finest inorganic debris accumulates.

The physical composition of a sediment sample reflects the relative rates of supply of the various types of material. These constituents fall into two major groups, namely, the organic skeletal structures and the inorganic material that may be of terrigenous or volcanic origin. The amount of inorganic material being deposited at a given locality depends upon the relation of that site to the sources of supply. Off the mouths of large rivers and near regions of active volcanism there are relatively large amounts of coarse-grained clastic material. On the other hand, in the open ocean, far removed from the source of such material, the inorganic

fraction of the sediment will be fine-grained, and in the organic oozes may form less than 50 per cent of the material present. The character of the inorganic material deposited therefore depends on the nature of the source and the rate at which it is supplied to the sea and upon the competency of the currents to transport certain of this material to the site of deposition. The character of the source in turn depends upon the topography and climate of the land in the case of the terrigenous material, whereas the supply of volcanic material is related to the extent of volcanic activity. Off desert regions where there is a seaward wind, considerable quantities of air-borne material are found, as off the west coast of Africa. The supply of river-borne material is complicated by a number of factors, such as the topography, rainfall, and soil covering, as well as the character of the rocks and soils. In general, regions of high relief and heavy rainfall will supply abundant terrigenous material to the sea, whereas flat-lying areas with a cover of vegetation will supply only small amounts. The nature of the rivers and the form of the coast line must also be taken into account. Rivers that flow out of large lakes are generally relatively free of suspended material, for the lakes act as settling basins. Furthermore, rivers which empty into bays or estuaries may dump most of their suspended load before reaching the open sea. From this it is obvious that in order to predict the character of the sediments to be found in any locality, it is necessary to take into account the character of the land which may supply inorganic material to that region. Another factor which must be considered is that of transportation of inorganic material by ice. In high latitudes the shelf ice and icebergs carry unsorted inorganic material for considerable distances away from land and give rise to deposits containing rather large rock fragments. Such ice-borne material had a more extensive distribution during the glacial periods than at the present time. Terrigenous material may also be formed by the erosion of coasts by wave action. The amount of material supplied in this way will, of course, depend upon the character of the rocks forming the coast.

After the inorganic material has reached the sea the effect of transporting agencies must be considered. Because of the decreasing intensity of wave action with depth, there is a tendency for the coarser materials to accumulate near the source, whereas the finer materials are transported for great distances. The character of the inorganic material and the texture of the material in a sediment at a given locality can therefore be predicted with some accuracy if we know the depth and topography of the site of deposition and the character of the source. The relative abundance of such material in a sediment of course depends upon the relative rate of deposition of organic material.

The supply of inorganic material is limited to the coast lines and to regions of submarine volcanism and there are of course regions of the sea which are thousands of miles from any such source. This is not so true

in the case of organic skeletal structures, which may be produced almost anywhere in the sea, although the distribution of physical-chemical properties may limit the regions in which such organisms can thrive. The physical-chemical conditions in the water are important in two ways. They not only influence the development of organisms which secrete skeletal structures, but they also may determine whether or not these structures redissolve after the death of the organisms. Furthermore, the physical-chemical conditions in the sea determine the organic production in different localities, and these in turn influence the amount of benthic life. For example, in areas of upwelling and in high latitudes where convection is effective in bringing a large supply of nutrients to the surface layers, there is a large production of plants and hence a large supply of food for the animal forms living in the water and on the sea bottom. As pointed out in the discussion of decomposable organic matter and the calcium carbonate content of the sediments, the two constituents bear an inverse relationship to each other. Furthermore, in the discussion of the calcium carbonate it was shown that factors favoring the precipitation of calcium carbonate were characteristic of low and intermediate latitudes, and that the re-solution of calcium carbonate also depended upon the physical-chemical conditions in the water. It is therefore of the utmost importance to know the physical-chemical conditions in the water overlying a given site of deposition in order to estimate the probable supply of organic structures. It will be noted that certain of these, such as the temperature in the surface layers, is largely a function of latitude and hence certain rather broad generalizations can be made on this basis alone. But there are marked differences between the character of the sediments in the North Atlantic and in the North Pacific which cannot be accounted for unless we take into account the character of the overlying water columns in the two oceans.

The physical-chemical conditions surrounding topographic highs are generally rather similar to those in the surrounding water at approximately the same depth. This statement does not apply, however, to isolated depressions where basin conditions may prevail. In such regions (p. 1026) the physical-chemical conditions may be very different from those at a comparable depth in the open sea in adjacent regions. The most striking contrasts are found in such stagnant basins as the Black Sea and the Norwegian fjords. Sediments accumulating in basins have certain characteristic features which may be used to identify them.

A prediction of the character of a sediment may therefore be made if the following variables are established: topography surrounding the site of deposition, the depth, the relationship to the sources of inorganic material, and the physical-chemical conditions in the overlying water. Conversely, if the character of a sediment is known it is possible to recognize the more important factors of the environment of deposition.

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