Clastic rock

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A thin section of a clast (sand grain), derived from a basalt scoria. Vesicles (air bubbles) can be seen throughout the clast. Plane light above, cross-polarized light below. Scale box is 0.25 mm. LvMS-Lvm.jpg
A thin section of a clast (sand grain), derived from a basalt scoria. Vesicles (air bubbles) can be seen throughout the clast. Plane light above, cross-polarized light below. Scale box is 0.25 mm.

Clastic rocks are composed of fragments, or clasts, of pre-existing minerals and rock. A clast is a fragment of geological detritus, [1] chunks and smaller grains of rock broken off other rocks by physical weathering. [2] Geologists use the term clastic with reference to sedimentary rocks as well as to particles in sediment transport whether in suspension or as bed load, and in sediment deposits.


Sedimentary clastic rocks

Claystone from Montana GLMsed.jpg
Claystone from Montana

Clastic sedimentary rocks are rocks composed predominantly of broken pieces or clasts of older weathered and eroded rocks. Clastic sediments or sedimentary rocks are classified based on grain size, clast and cementing material (matrix) composition, and texture. The classification factors are often useful in determining a sample's environment of deposition. An example of clastic environment would be a river system in which the full range of grains being transported by the moving water consist of pieces eroded from solid rock upstream.

Grain size varies from clay in shales and claystones; through silt in siltstones; sand in sandstones; and gravel, cobble, to boulder sized fragments in conglomerates and breccias. The Krumbein phi (φ) scale numerically orders these terms in a logarithmic size scale.

Siliciclastic sedimentary rocks

Siliciclastic rocks are clastic noncarbonate rocks that are composed almost exclusively of silicon, either as forms of quartz or as silicates.


The composition of siliciclastic sedimentary rocks includes the chemical and mineralogical components of the framework as well as the cementing material that make up these rocks. Boggs divides them into four categories; major minerals, accessory minerals, rock fragments, and chemical sediments. [3]

Major minerals can be categorized into subdivisions based on their resistance to chemical decomposition. Those that possess a great resistance to decomposition are categorized as stable, while those that do not are considered less stable. The most common stable mineral in siliciclastic sedimentary rocks is quartz (SiO2). [3] Quartz makes up approximately 65 percent of framework grains present in sandstones and about 30 percent of minerals in the average shale. Less stable minerals present in this type of rocks are feldspars, including both potassium and plagioclase feldspars. [3] Feldspars comprise a considerably lesser portion of framework grains and minerals. They only make up about 15 percent of framework grains in sandstones and 5% of minerals in shales. Clay mineral groups are mostly present in mudrocks (comprising more than 60% of the minerals) but can be found in other siliciclastic sedimentary rocks at considerably lower levels. [3]

Accessory minerals are associated with those whose presence in the rock are not directly important to the classification of the specimen. These generally occur in smaller amounts in comparison to the quartz, and feldspars. Furthermore, those that do occur are generally heavy minerals or coarse grained micas (both Muscovite and Biotite). [3]

Rock fragments also occur in the composition of siliciclastic sedimentary rocks and are responsible for about 10–15 percent of the composition of sandstone. They generally make up most of the gravel size particles in conglomerates but contribute only a very small amount to the composition of mudrocks. Though they sometimes are, rock fragments are not always sedimentary in origin. They can also be metamorphic or igneous. [3]

Chemical cements vary in abundance but are predominantly found in sandstones. The two major types are silicate based and carbonate based. The majority of silica cements are composed of quartz, but can include chert, opal, feldspars and zeolites. [3]

Composition includes the chemical and mineralogic make-up of the single or varied fragments and the cementing material (matrix) holding the clasts together as a rock. These differences are most commonly used in the framework grains of sandstones. Sandstones rich in quartz are called quartz arenites, those rich in feldspar are called arkoses, and those rich in lithics are called lithic sandstones.


Siliciclastic sedimentary rocks are composed of mainly silicate particles derived from the weathering of older rocks and pyroclastic volcanism. While grain size, clast and cementing material (matrix) composition, and texture are important factors when regarding composition, siliciclastic sedimentary rocks are classified according to grain size into three major categories: conglomerates, sandstones, and mudrocks. The term clay is used to classify particles smaller than .0039 millimeters. However, the term can also be used to refer to a family of sheet silicate minerals. [3] Silt refers to particles that have a diameter between .062 and .0039 millimeters. The term mud is used when clay and silt particles are mixed in the sediment; mudrock is the name of the rock created with these sediments. Furthermore, particles that reach diameters between .062 and 2 millimeters fall into the category of sand. When sand is cemented together and lithified it becomes known as sandstone. Any particle that is larger than two millimeters is considered gravel. This category includes pebbles, cobbles and boulders. Like sandstone, when gravels are lithified they are considered conglomerates. [3]

Conglomerates and breccias
Conglomerate Conglomerat.jpg
Breccia. Notice the angular nature of the large clasts Breccia mcr1.jpg
Breccia. Notice the angular nature of the large clasts

Conglomerates are coarse grained rocks dominantly composed of gravel sized particles that are typically held together by a finer grained matrix. [4] These rocks are often subdivided into conglomerates and breccias. The major characteristic that divides these two categories is the amount of rounding. The gravel sized particles that make up conglomerates are well rounded while in breccias they are angular. Conglomerates are common in stratigraphic successions of most, if not all, ages but only make up one percent or less, by weight, of the total sedimentary rock mass. [3] In terms of origin and depositional mechanisms they are very similar to sandstones. As a result, the two categories often contain the same sedimentary structures. [3]

Sandstone from Lower Antelope Canyon Lower Antelope Canyon 478.jpg
Sandstone from Lower Antelope Canyon

Sandstones are medium-grained rocks composed of rounded or angular fragments of sand size, that often but not always have a cement uniting them together. These sand-size particles are often quartz but there are a few common categories and a wide variety of classification schemes that classify sandstones based on composition. Classification schemes vary widely, but most geologists have adopted the Dott scheme, [5] [ better source needed ] which uses the relative abundance of quartz, feldspar, and lithic framework grains and the abundance of muddy matrix between these larger grains.


Rocks that are classified as mudrocks are very fine grained. Silt and clay represent at least 50% of the material that mudrocks are composed of. Classification schemes for mudrocks tend to vary, but most are based on the grain size of the major constituents. In mudrocks, these are generally silt, and clay. [6]

According to Blatt, Middleton and Murray [7] mudrocks that are composed mainly of silt particles are classified as siltstones. In turn, rocks that possess clay as the majority particle are called claystones. In geology, a mixture of both silt and clay is called mud. Rocks that possess large amounts of both clay and silt are called mudstones. In some cases the term shale is also used to refer to mudrocks and is still widely accepted by most. However, others have used the term shale to further divide mudrocks based on the percentage of clay constituents. The plate-like shape of clay allows its particles to stack up one on top of another, creating laminae or beds. The more clay present in a given specimen, the more laminated a rock is. Shale, in this case, is reserved for mudrocks that are laminated, while mudstone refers those that are not.

Diagenesis of siliciclastic sedimentary rocks

Siliciclastic rocks initially form as loosely packed sediment deposits including gravels, sands, and muds. The process of turning loose sediment into hard sedimentary rocks is called lithification. During the process of lithification, sediments undergo physical, chemical and mineralogical changes before becoming rock. The primary physical process in lithification is compaction. As sediment transport and deposition continues, new sediments are deposited atop previously deposited beds, burying them. Burial continues and the weight of overlying sediments causes an increase in temperature and pressure. This increase in temperature and pressure causes loose grained sediments become tightly packed, reducing porosity, essentially squeezing water out of the sediment. Porosity is further reduced by the precipitation of minerals into the remaining pore spaces. [3] The final stage in the process is diagenesis and will be discussed in detail below.


Cementation is the diagenetic process by which coarse clastic sediments become lithified or consolidated into hard, compact rocks, usually through the deposition or precipitation of minerals in the spaces between the individual grains of sediment. [4] Cementation can occur simultaneously with deposition or at another time. Furthermore, once a sediment is deposited, it becomes subject to cementation through the various stages of diagenesis discussed below.

Shallow burial (eogenesis)

Eogenesis refers to the early stages of diagenesis. This can take place at very shallow depths, ranging from a few meters to tens of meters below the surface. The changes that occur during this diagenetic phase mainly relate to the reworking of the sediments. Compaction and grain repacking, bioturbation, as well as mineralogical changes all occur at varying degrees. [3] Due to the shallow depths, sediments undergo only minor compaction and grain rearrangement during this stage. Organisms rework sediment near the depositional interface by burrowing, crawling, and in some cases sediment ingestion. This process can destroy sedimentary structures that were present upon deposition of the sediment. Structures such as lamination will give way to new structures associated with the activity of organisms. Despite being close to the surface, eogenesis does provide conditions for important mineralogical changes to occur. This mainly involves the precipitation of new minerals.

Mineralogical changes during eogenesis

Mineralogical changes that occur during eogenesis are dependent on the environment in which that sediment has been deposited. For example, the formation of pyrite is characteristic of reducing conditions in marine environments. [3] Pyrite can form as cement, or replace organic materials, such as wood fragments. Other important reactions include the formation of chlorite, glauconite, illite and iron oxide (if oxygenated pore water is present). The precipitation of potassium feldspar, quartz overgrowths, and carbonate cements also occurs under marine conditions. In non marine environments oxidizing conditions are almost always prevalent, meaning iron oxides are commonly produced along with kaolin group clay minerals. The precipitation of quartz and calcite cements may also occur in non marine conditions.

Deep burial (mesogenesis)


As sediments are buried deeper, load pressures become greater resulting in tight grain packing and bed thinning. This causes increased pressure between grains thus increasing the solubility of grains. As a result, the partial dissolution of silicate grains occurs. This is called pressure solutions. Chemically speaking, increases in temperature can also cause chemical reaction rates to increase. This increases the solubility of most common minerals (aside from evaporites). [3] Furthermore, beds thin and porosity decreases allowing cementation to occur by the precipitation of silica or carbonate cements into remaining pore space.

In this process minerals crystallize from watery solutions that percolate through the pores between grain of sediment. The cement that is produced may or may not have the same chemical composition as the sediment. In sandstones, framework grains are often cemented by silica or carbonate. The extent of cementation is dependent on the composition of the sediment. For example, in lithic sandstones, cementation is less extensive because pore space between framework grains is filled with a muddy matrix that leaves little space for precipitation to occur. This is often the case for mudrocks as well. As a result of compaction, the clayey sediments comprising mudrocks are relatively impermeable.


Dissolution of framework silicate grains and previously formed carbonate cement may occur during deep burial. Conditions that encourage this are essentially opposite of those required for cementation. Rock fragments and silicate minerals of low stability, such as plagioclase feldspar, pyroxenes, and amphiboles, may dissolve as a result of increasing burial temperatures and the presence of organic acids in pore waters. The dissolution of frame work grains and cements increases porosity particularly in sandstones. [3]

Mineral replacement

This refers to the process whereby one mineral is dissolved and a new mineral fills the space via precipitation. Replacement can be partial or complete. Complete replacement destroys the identity of the original minerals or rock fragments giving a biased view of the original mineralogy of the rock/ [3] Porosity can also be affected by this process. For example, clay minerals tend to fill up pore space and thereby reducing porosity.


In the process of burial, it is possible that siliciclastic deposits may subsequently be uplifted as a result of a mountain building event or erosion. [3] When uplift occurs, it exposes buried deposits to a radically new environment. Because the process brings material to or closer to the surface, sediments that undergo uplift are subjected to lower temperatures and pressures as well as slightly acidic rain water. Under these conditions, framework grains and cement are again subjected to dissolution and in turn increasing porosity. On the other hand, telogenesis can also change framework grains to clays, thus reducing porosity. These changes are dependent on the specific conditions that the rock is exposed as well as the composition of the rock and pore waters. Specific pore waters, can cause the further precipitation of carbonate or silica cements. This process can also encourage the process of oxidation on a variety of iron bearing minerals.

Sedimentary breccias

Sedimentary breccias are a type of clastic sedimentary rock which are composed of angular to subangular, randomly oriented clasts of other sedimentary rocks. They may form either

  1. in submarine debris flows, avalanches, mud flow or mass flow in an aqueous medium. Technically, turbidites are a form of debris flow deposit and are a fine-grained peripheral deposit to a sedimentary breccia flow.
  2. as angular, poorly sorted, very immature fragments of rocks in a finer grained groundmass which are produced by mass wasting. These are, in essence, lithified colluvium. Thick sequences of sedimentary (colluvial) breccias are generally formed next to fault scarps in grabens.

In the field, it may at times be difficult to distinguish between a debris flow sedimentary breccia and a colluvial breccia, especially if one is working entirely from drilling information. Sedimentary breccias are an integral host rock for many sedimentary exhalative deposits.

Igneous clastic rocks

Basalt breccia, green groundmass is composed of epidote Basalt breccia.jpg
Basalt breccia, green groundmass is composed of epidote

Clastic igneous rocks include pyroclastic volcanic rocks such as tuff, agglomerate and intrusive breccias, as well as some marginal eutaxitic and taxitic intrusive morphologies. Igneous clastic rocks are broken by flow, injection or explosive disruption of solid or semi-solid igneous rocks or lavas.

Igneous clastic rocks can be divided into two classes:

  1. Broken, fragmental rocks produced by intrusive processes, usually associated with plutons or porphyry stocks
  2. Broken, fragmental rocks associated with volcanic eruptions, both of lava and pyroclastic type

Metamorphic clastic rocks

Clastic metamorphic rocks include breccias formed in faults, as well as some protomylonite and pseudotachylite. Occasionally, metamorphic rocks can be brecciated via hydrothermal fluids, forming a hydrofracture breccia.

Hydrothermal clastic rocks

Hydrothermal clastic rocks are generally restricted to those formed by hydrofracture, the process by which hydrothermal circulation cracks and brecciates the wall rocks and fills it in with veins. This is particularly prominent in epithermal ore deposits and is associated with alteration zones around many intrusive rocks, especially granites. Many skarn and greisen deposits are associated with hydrothermal breccias.

Impact breccias

A fairly rare form of clastic rock may form during meteorite impact. This is composed primarily of ejecta; clasts of country rock, melted rock fragments, tektites (glass ejected from the impact crater) and exotic fragments, including fragments derived from the impactor itself.

Identifying a clastic rock as an impact breccia requires recognising shatter cones, tektites, spherulites, and the morphology of an impact crater, as well as potentially recognizing particular chemical and trace element signatures, especially osmiridium.

Related Research Articles

Sandstone Type of sedimentary rock

Sandstone is a clastic sedimentary rock composed mainly of sand-sized mineral particles or rock fragments (clasts) or organic material.

Shale A fine-grained, clastic sedimentary rock

Shale is a fine-grained, clastic sedimentary rock, composed of mud that is a mix of flakes of clay minerals and tiny fragments of other minerals, especially quartz and calcite. Shale is characterized by breaks along thin laminae or parallel layering or bedding less than one centimeter in thickness, called fissility. It is the most common sedimentary rock.

Sedimentary rock Rock formed by the deposition and subsequent cementation of material

Sedimentary rocks are types of rock that are formed by the accumulation or deposition of small particles and subsequent cementation of mineral or organic particles on the floor of oceans or other bodies of water at the Earth's surface. Sedimentation is the collective name for processes that cause these particles to settle in place. The particles that form a sedimentary rock are called sediment, and may be composed of geological detritus (minerals) or biological detritus. Before being deposited, the geological detritus was formed by weathering and erosion from the source area, and then transported to the place of deposition by water, wind, ice, mass movement or glaciers, which are called agents of denudation. Biological detritus was formed by bodies and parts of dead aquatic organisms, as well as their fecal mass, suspended in water and slowly piling up on the floor of water bodies. Sedimentation may also occur as dissolved minerals precipitate from water solution.

Breccia Rock composed of broken fragments cemented by a matrix

Breccia is a rock composed of broken fragments of minerals or rock cemented together by a fine-grained matrix that can be similar to or different from the composition of the fragments.

Sedimentology encompasses the study of modern sediments such as sand, silt, and clay, and the processes that result in their formation, transport, deposition and diagenesis. Sedimentologists apply their understanding of modern processes to interpret geologic history through observations of sedimentary rocks and sedimentary structures.

Lithology science of rocks

The lithology of a rock unit is a description of its physical characteristics visible at outcrop, in hand or core samples, or with low magnification microscopy. Physical characteristics include colour, texture, grain size, and composition. Lithology may refer to either a detailed description of these characteristics, or a summary of the gross physical character of a rock. Lithology is the basis of subdividing rock sequences into individual lithostratigraphic units for the purposes of mapping and correlation between areas. In certain applications, such as site investigations, lithology is described using a standard terminology such as in the European geotechnical standard Eurocode 7.

Matrix (geology) Finer-grained material in a rock within which coarser material is embedded

The matrix or groundmass of a rock is the finer-grained mass of material in which larger grains, crystals or clasts are embedded.

Conglomerate (geology) A coarse-grained clastic sedimentary rock with mainly rounded to subangular clasts

Conglomerate is a coarse-grained clastic sedimentary rock that is composed of a substantial fraction of rounded to subangular gravel-size clasts, e.g., granules, pebbles, cobbles, and boulders, larger than 2 mm (0.079 in) in diameter. Conglomerates form by the consolidation and lithification of gravel. Conglomerates typically contain finer grained sediment, e.g., either sand, silt, clay or combination of them, called matrix by geologists, filling their interstices and are often cemented by calcium carbonate, iron oxide, silica, or hardened clay.

Greywacke A hard, dark sandstone with poorly sorted angular grains in a compact, clay-fine matrix

Greywacke or graywacke is a variety of sandstone generally characterized by its hardness, dark color, and poorly sorted angular grains of quartz, feldspar, and small rock fragments or lithic fragments set in a compact, clay-fine matrix. It is a texturally immature sedimentary rock generally found in Paleozoic strata. The larger grains can be sand- to gravel-sized, and matrix materials generally constitute more than 15% of the rock by volume. The term "greywacke" can be confusing, since it can refer to either the immature aspect of the rock or its fine-grained (clay) component.

Arkose A type of sandstone containing at least 25% feldspar

Arkose is a detrital sedimentary rock, specifically a type of sandstone containing at least 25% feldspar. Arkosic sand is sand that is similarly rich in feldspar, and thus the potential precursor of arkose.

Quartz arenite

A quartz arenite or quartzarenite is a sandstone composed of greater than 90% detrital quartz, with limited amounts of other framework grains and matrix. It can have higher-than-average amounts of resistant grains, like chert and minerals in the ZTR index.

Mudrock Class of fine grained siliciclastic sedimentary rocks

Mudrocks are a class of fine grained siliciclastic sedimentary rocks. The varying types of mudrocks include: siltstone, claystone, mudstone, slate, and shale. Most of the particles of which the stone is composed are less than 0.0625 mm and are too small to study readily in the field. At first sight the rock types look quite similar; however, there are important differences in composition and nomenclature. There has been a great deal of disagreement involving the classification of mudrocks. There are a few important hurdles to classification, including:

  1. Mudrocks are the least understood, and one of the most understudied sedimentary rocks to date
  2. It is difficult to study mudrock constituents, due to their diminutive size and susceptibility to weathering on outcrops
  3. And most importantly, there is more than one classification scheme accepted by scientists

Rock microstructure includes the texture of a rock and the small scale rock structures. The words "texture" and "microstructure" are interchangeable, with the latter preferred in modern geological literature. However, texture is still acceptable because it is a useful means of identifying the origin of rocks, how they formed, and their appearance.

The Folk classification is a technical descriptive classification of sedimentary rocks devised by Robert L. Folk, an influential sedimentary petrologist and Professor Emeritus at the University of Texas.

Graded bedding

In geology, a graded bed is one characterized by a systematic change in grain or clast size from one side of the bed to the other. Most commonly this takes the form of normal grading, with coarser sediments at the base, which grade upward into progressively finer ones. Normally graded beds generally represent depositional environments which decrease in transport energy as time passes, but these beds can also form during rapid depositional events. They are perhaps best represented in turbidite strata, where they indicate a sudden strong current that deposits heavy, coarse sediments first, with finer ones following as the current weakens. They can also form in terrestrial stream deposits.

Siliciclastic Detrital clastic rock almost entirely made of quartz

Siliciclastic rocks are clastic noncarbonate sedimentary rocks that are almost exclusively silica-bearing, either as forms of quartz or other silicate minerals. All siliciclastic rocks are formed by inorganic processes, or deposited through some mechanical process, such as stream deposits that are subsequently lithified. They are sandstone based rocks accounting for about 50 - 60% of the world oil and gas exploration. The other silicate minerals that are generally present in siliciclastic sedimentary rocks are feldspar, biotite, etc....

This glossary of geology is a list of definitions of terms and concepts relevant to geology, its sub-disciplines, and related fields. For other terms related to the Earth sciences, see Glossary of geography terms.

Cementation (geology) Process of chemical precipitation bonding sedimentary grains

Cementation involves ions carried in groundwater chemically precipitating to form new crystalline material between sedimentary grains. The new pore-filling minerals forms "bridges" between original sediment grains, thereby binding them together. In this way sand becomes "sandstone", and gravel becomes "conglomerate" or "breccia". Cementation occurs as part of the diagenesis or lithification of sediments. Cementation occurs primarily below the water table regardless of sedimentary grain sizes present. Large volumes of pore water must pass through sediment pores for new mineral cements to crystallize and so millions of years are generally required to complete the cementation process. Common mineral cements include calcite, quartz or silica phases like cristobalite, iron oxides, and clay minerals, but other mineral cements also occur.

Roundness (geology) the smoothness of clastic particles

Roundness is the degree of smoothing due to abrasion of sedimentary particles. It is expressed as the ratio of the average radius of curvature of the edges or corners to the radius of curvature of the maximum inscribed sphere.


  1. Essentials of Geology, 3rd Ed, Stephen Marshak, p. G-3
  2. Essentials of Geology, 3rd Ed, Stephen Marshak, p. G-5
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  4. 1 2 Neuendorf, Klaus; Mehl, James; Jackson, Julia Glossary of Geology, Fifth Edition. American Geological Institute: Alexandria, VA; 2005.
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  6. Spears, D.A., Sam. Towards a classification of Shales. J. geol. soc., London, 137, 1990.
  7. Blatt, h., Middleton, G. V. & Murray, R. C. 1972. Origin of Sedimentary Rocks. Prentice Hall Inc., Englewood Cliffs, 634 pp.