Studies of grain fragmentation in natural streams have the limitation that the full size range of the debris produced is virtually unobtainable. Experiments described here for grain fragmentation in a rotating drum permitted the study of all of the debris, and a fragmentation load technique was used to relate experimentally and naturally fragmented material. The present investigation has been focused on granitic quartz.

Relatively gentle collective movement in water can cause significant fragmentation of coarse, nascent, granitic quartz grains. The debris produced by rotating in a drum a range of single sieve fractions, taken from gravel in the headwaters of a stream draining granite, had continuous size distributions down to (and probably beyond) 0·06 μm. Quartz was the dominant fragmentation product in all fractions down to 2 μm and present in finer fractions. When pebbles moved with sand in these experiments, breakage of the latter was greatly increased. In comparison with that of breakage, the effect of attrition on granitic quartz was negligible. At least a proportion of granitic quartz grains are subject to a fatigue effect as a result of impacts in water. Evidently they are thus progressively weakened prior to being broken. Size analysis of debris showed a significant break at 20 μ, suggesting some special production of quartz particles just below this size.

Granitic quartz is criss-crossed with partially healed cracks acquired before the zone of weathering is reached. The wholesale breakage that affects it, particularly in pebbly streams, is largely due to the reopening of these cracks. Progressive fragmentation of this material must eventually reach a stage wherein grains comprising single original crack-bounded volume elements are produced. Such grains, lacking significant internal weaknesses, must strongly resist further breakage. Possibly the preferential production of quartz grains just below 20 μm in size may represent an accumulation of these single, crack-bounded volume elements.