A Log-linear model of grain size influence on the geochemistry of sediments

Eynatten, Hilmar von
Tolosana Delgado, Raimon
Sediment composition is mainly controlled by the nature of the source rock(s), and chemical (weathering) and physical processes (mechanical crushing, abrasion, hydrodynamic sorting) during alteration and transport. Although the factors controlling these processes are conceptually well understood, detailed quantification of compositional changes induced by a single process are rare, as are examples where the effects of several processes can be distinguished. The present study was designed to characterize the role of mechanical crushing and sorting in the absence of chemical weathering. Twenty sediment samples were taken from Alpine glaciers that erode almost pure granitoid lithologies. For each sample, 11 grain-size fractions from granules to clay (ø grades <-1 to >9) were separated, and each fraction was analysed for its chemical composition. The presence of clear steps in the box-plots of all parts (in adequate ilr and clr scales) against ø is assumed to be explained by typical crystal size ranges for the relevant mineral phases. These scatter plots and the biplot suggest a splitting of the full grain size range into three groups: coarser than ø=4 (comparatively rich in SiO2, Na2O, K2O, Al2O3, and dominated by “felsic” minerals like quartz and feldspar), finer than ø=8 (comparatively rich in TiO2, MnO, MgO, Fe2O3, mostly related to “mafic” sheet silicates like biotite and chlorite), and intermediate grains sizes (4≤ø <8; comparatively rich in P2O5 and CaO, related to apatite, some feldspar). To further test the absence of chemical weathering, the observed compositions were regressed against three explanatory variables: a trend on grain size in ø scale, a step function for ø≥4, and another for ø≥8. The original hypothesis was that the trend could be identified with weathering effects, whereas each step function would highlight those minerals with biggest characteristic size at its lower end. Results suggest that this assumption is reasonable for the step function, but that besides weathering some other factors (different mechanical behavior of minerals) have also an important contribution to the trend. Key words: sediment, geochemistry, grain size, regression, step function ​
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