The petrology of first cycle (unmodified) and second cycle (reworked) sand at the termini of eleven valley glaciers eroding coarse- to fine-grained bedrock types is determined in order to evaluate the origin and mechanical durability of lithic sands. First cycle sands are coarse- to medium-grained, poorly sorted, fine-skewed, non-modal lithic sands with an average composition of Q21F6L73. Grain-size distributions do not vary with composition or source rock types, although sands derived from finer grained source rocks contain more lithic fragments than sands from coarser grained sources. By contrast, second cycle sands are medium-grained, poorly sorted, fine- to coarse-skewed arkosic to lithic sands with an average composition of Q19F40L41, and contain fewer lithic fragments than do first cycle sands.

We propose that the origin, mechanical durability and survival potential of lithic fragments are related to the types and abundances of their internal planes of weakness, and the particular stress field of the transporting medium. As a result of abrasion, glacial clasts and lithic fragments are subjected to shear stress so that fractures propagate along intracrystal and intercrystal planes of weakness resulting in a continuous grain-size spectrum of lithic fragments and monomineralic grains irrespective of the type of source rock. Upon subsequent aqueous transport in the proglacial environment lithic fragments are subjected to point-loading during saltation in addition to shear stress. Point-loading produces extensional fractures which preferentially propagate along intercrystal planes of weakness, so the lithic fragments break into smaller monomineralic grains and/or lithic fragments.

Lithic fragments of very coarse sand-size are abundant in first cycle sands, thus refuting, at least for glacial sands, the widely held view that grains of this size are deficient in nature. The presence of fewer grains of this size in second cycle sands indicates that very coarse sand-size lithic fragments can survive recycling, but in greatly reduced proportions due to breakage.