Sortable silt and fine sediment size/composition slicing: Parameters for palaeocurrent speed and palaeoceanography


  • I. N. McCave,

  • B. Manighetti,

  • S. G. Robinson


Fine sediment size (<63 µm) is best measured by a sedimentation technique which records the whole size distribution. Repeated size measurement with intermediate steps of removal of components by dissolution, allows inference of the size distribution of the removed component as well as the residue. In this way, the size of the biogenic and lithogenic (noncarbonate) fractions can be determined. Observations of many size distributions suggest a minimum in grain size frequency curves at 8 to 10 µm. The dynamics of sediment erosion, deposition, and aggregate breakup suggest that fine sediment behavior is dominantly cohesive below 10-µm grain size, and noncohesive above that size. Thus silt coarser than 10 µm displays size sorting in response to hydrodynamic processes and its properties may be used to infer current speed. Silt that is finer than 10 µm behaves in the same way as clay (<2 µm). Useful parameters of the distribution are the 10–63 µm mean size and the percentage 10–63 µm in the fine fraction. We cannot use size distributions to distinguish the nature of the currents. Therefore, to infer water mass advection speeds (i.e., the mean kinetic energy of the flow, KM), regions of high eddy kinetic energy (KE) must be avoided. At the present, such abyssal regions lie under the high surface KE of major current systems: Gulf Stream, Kuroshio, Agulhas, Antarctic Circumpolar Current, and Brazil/Falkland currents in the Argentine Basin. This is probably a satisfactory guide for the Pleistocene. With regard to the carbonate subfraction of the size spectrum, size modes due to both coccoliths and foraminiferal fragments can be recognized and analyzed, with the boundary between them again at about 10 µm. The flux of less than 10 µm carbonate, at pelagic sites above the lysocline, is another candidate for a productivity indicator.