Comparison of laser grain size analysis with pipette and sieve analysis: a solution for the underestimation of the clay fraction



Classically, the grain size of soil and sediment samples is determined by the sieve method for the coarse fractions and by the pipette method, based on the ‘Stokes’ sedimentation rates, for the fine fractions. Results from the two methods are compared with results from laser diffraction size analysis, which is based on the forward scattering of monochromatic coherent light. From a point of view of laboratory efficiency, the laser sizing technique is far superior. Accuracy and reproducibility are shown by measurements on certified materials. It appears that laser grain size measurements of certified materials correspond very well with the certificated measurements. Tests were also done on a set of randomly selected sediments of fluvial, aeolian and lacustrine origin. Except for the (<2 μm) clay fraction, there is a coarsening of the mean diameter of one to two size classes (0.25 ɛ), caused by the non-sphericity of the particles. The platy form of the clay particles induces considerable differences (eight size classes) between pipette and laser measurements: the <2 μm grain size, defined by the pipette method corresponds with a grain size of 8 μm defined by the Laser Particle Sizer for the studied sediments. Using a higher grain size level for the clay fraction, when laser analysis is applied, enables workers in the geological and environmental field to compare classical pipette analysis with a laser sizing technique.