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ABSTRACT

Statistical size distribution and scanning electron microscopic studies of suspended sand grains in the Loire River at Montjean, France were carried out over a period of a year (hydrological cycle) to discern seasonal variations. The sand fraction in suspension is better sorted during winter (average mean = 0.69 mm, median = 0.65–0.95 mm, sorting value, σ= 1.1–1.35) and is dominated by quartzo-feldspathic minerals. During summer, on the contrary, this fraction is rich in mica minerals and is poorly sorted (average mean = 1.21 mm, median = 0.33–0.95 mm, sorting value, σ= 1.4–2.0). The grain size of the coarser fraction shows a tendency to increase with river discharge up to an optimum discharge of about 1000 m3 s-1 and thereafter decreases.

Scanning electron photomicroscopy of quartz grains from the suspended sand population indicates that both mechanical and chemical features occur. The former (conchoidal fractures, mechanical fractures and breakage) dominate in the samples collected near the water surface during winter floods and the latter (solution pits, vermicular features, silica flowers, neogene silica and diatoms) in the samples from the bottom during low summer flows. During summer, chemical action takes place on sediments prior to or upon their deposition. Sediments that are resuspended during winter floods undergo mainly physical processes (attrition/abrasion). Mixed surface features are, therefore, observed during average and low river discharge. Inheritance of these surface features from the source area is, however, not completely excluded.

Thus, the history of quartz grains in suspension can be reconstructed from SEM exoscopic studies: therefore, it can be proposed that the fluvial quartz grain surface textures result from a combination of alternating chemical and physical processes.