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Marl Piece of marl.JPG
Scala dei Turchi coastal marl formation, southern Sicily Scala dei Turchi panorama.jpg
Scala dei Turchi coastal marl formation, southern Sicily

Marl or marlstone is a carbonate-rich mud or mudstone which contains variable amounts of clays and silt. The term was originally loosely applied to a variety of materials, most of which occur as loose, earthy deposits consisting chiefly of an intimate mixture of clay and calcium carbonate, [1] formed under freshwater conditions. These typically contain 35–65% clay and 65–35% carbonate. [2] [3] The term is today often used to describe indurated marine deposits and lacustrine (lake) sediments which more accurately should be named 'marlstone'. [4]


Marlstone is an indurated (resists crumbling or powdering) rock of about the same composition as marl, more correctly called an earthy or impure argillaceous limestone. It has a blocky subconchoidal fracture, and is less fissile than shale. [4] The dominant carbonate mineral in most marls is calcite, but other carbonate minerals such as aragonite or dolomite may be present. [5]

Scheme of the transitional lithotypes from mud (or mudstone) to lime (or limestone), illustrating the definition of marl (marlstone) as a mix of calcium carbonate and clay Marl vs clay & lime EN.PNG
Scheme of the transitional lithotypes from mud (or mudstone) to lime (or limestone), illustrating the definition of marl (marlstone) as a mix of calcium carbonate and clay

The lower stratigraphic units of the chalk cliffs of Dover consist of a sequence of glauconitic marls followed by rhythmically banded limestone and marl layers. The Channel Tunnel follows these marl layers between France and the United Kingdom. [6] Upper Cretaceous cyclic sequences in Germany and marl–opal-rich Tortonian-Messinian strata in the Sorbas basin related to multiple sea drawdown have been correlated with Milankovitch orbital forcing. [7]

Marl as lacustrine sediment is common in post-glacial lake-bed sediments. [8] [9] [10] Chara , a macroalga also known as stonewort, thrives in shallow lakes with high pH and alkalinity, where its stems and fruiting bodies become calcified. After the alga dies, the calcified stems and fruiting bodies break down into fine carbonate particles that mingle with silt and clay to produce marl. [11] Marl ponds of the northeastern United States are often kettle ponds in areas of limestone bedrock that become poor in nutrients (oligotrophic) due to precipitation of essential phosphate. Normal pond life is unable to survive, and skeletons of freshwater molluscs such as Sphaerium and Planorbis accumulate as part of the bottom marl. [9]

Marl has been used as a soil conditioner and acid soil neutralizing agent. [9] [12] Marl from the Marlbrook Marl is used for the manufacture of cement. [13]

Economic geology

Historical use in agriculture

Marl was extensively mined in Central New Jersey as a soil conditioner in the 1800s. In 1863, the most common marl was blue marl. While the specific composition and properties of the marl varied depending on what layer it was found in, blue marl was generally composed of 38.70% silicic acid and sand, 30.67% oxide of iron, 13.91% carbonate of lime, 11.22% water, 4.47% potash, 1.21% magnesia, 1.14% phosphoric acid, and 0.31% sulphuric acid. [14]

Marl was in high demand for farms. An example of the amount of marl mined comes from a report from 1880, from Marlboro, Monmouth County, New Jersey, which reported the following tons of marl sold during the year: [15]

In the Centennial Exhibition report in 1877, marl is described in many different forms [16] and came from 69 marl pits in and around New Jersey. The report identified a number of agricultural marls types, including clay marl, blue marl, red marl, high bank marl, shell layer marl, under shell layer marl, sand marl, green marl, gray marl, and clayey marl. [17]

Modern agricultural and aquacultural uses

Marl continues to be used for agriculture into the 21st century, though less frequently. [18] The rate of application must be adjusted for the reduced content of calcium carbonate versus straight lime, expressed as the calcium carbonate equivalent. Because the carbonate in marl is predominantly calcium carbonate, magnesium deficiency may be seen in crops treated with marl if they are not also supplemented with magnesium. [12]

Marl has been used in Pamlico Sound to provide a suitable artificial substrate for oysters in a reef-like environment. [18]

Marl lakes

A marl lake has been defined variously as "[one] whose lake sediments contained > 60 % calcium carbonate as dry weight" or "whose waters average ≥ 100 mg L-1 dissolved calcium carbonate.", while Pentecost proposes a new definition of a lake "whose average surface-sediment calcium carbonate content is > 50 % of the dry weight of the inorganic fraction". [19] [20] They were first noted as a category by Charles Lyell in 1829. [19] Such lakes are seen as of ecological importance, [21] but Pentecost writing in 2009 concludes that "Marl lakes of the British Isles are being adversely affected by water pollution (particularly agricultural, but also urban), drainage, sea level rise and invasive species of plants and animals. It is likely that only the more remote inland lakes of northern Scotland will remain in their present state for the foreseeable future." [19]

See also

Related Research Articles

Limestone Sedimentary rocks made of calcium carbonate

Limestone is a common type of carbonate sedimentary rock. It is composed mostly of the minerals calcite and aragonite, which are different crystal forms of calcium carbonate. Limestone forms when these minerals precipitate out of water containing dissolved calcium. This can take place through both biological and nonbiological processes, though biological processes have likely been more important for the last 540 million years. Limestone often contains fossils, and these provide scientists with information on ancient environments and on the evolution of life.

Shale Fine-grained, clastic sedimentary rock

Shale is a fine-grained, clastic sedimentary rock, formed from mud that is a mix of flakes of clay minerals and tiny fragments of other minerals, especially quartz and calcite. Shale is characterized by its tendency to split into thin layers (laminae) less than one centimeter in thickness. This property is called fissility. Shale 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 mineral or organic particles at the Earth's surface, followed by cementation. 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. The geological detritus originated from weathering and erosion of existing rocks, or from the solidification of molten lava blobs erupted by volcanoes. The geological detritus is transported to the place of deposition by water, wind, ice or mass movement, 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.

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.

Concretion Compact mass formed by precipitation of mineral cement between particles

A concretion is a hard, compact mass of matter formed by the precipitation of mineral cement within the spaces between particles, and is found in sedimentary rock or soil. Concretions are often ovoid or spherical in shape, although irregular shapes also occur. The word 'concretion' is derived from the Latin concretio "(act of) compacting, condensing, congealing, uniting", itself from con meaning 'together' and crescere meaning "to grow". Concretions form within layers of sedimentary strata that have already been deposited. They usually form early in the burial history of the sediment, before the rest of the sediment is hardened into rock. This concretionary cement often makes the concretion harder and more resistant to weathering than the host stratum.

Tufa Porous limestone rock formed when carbonate minerals precipitate out of ambient temperature water

Tufa is a variety of limestone formed when carbonate minerals precipitate out of ambient temperature water. Geothermally heated hot springs sometimes produce similar carbonate deposits, which are known as travertine. Tufa is sometimes referred to as (meteogene) travertine. It should not be confused with hot spring (thermogene) travertine. Tufa, which is calcareous, should not be confused with tuff, a porous volcanic rock with a similar etymology that is sometimes also called "tufa".

Green River Formation

The Green River Formation is an Eocene geologic formation that records the sedimentation in a group of intermountain lakes in three basins along the present-day Green River in Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah. The sediments are deposited in very fine layers, a dark layer during the growing season and a light-hue inorganic layer in the dry season. Each pair of layers is called a varve and represents one year. The sediments of the Green River Formation present a continuous record of six million years. The mean thickness of a varve here is 0.18 mm, with a minimum thickness of 0.014 mm and maximum of 9.8 mm.

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

Conglomerate is a clastic sedimentary rock that is composed of a substantial fraction of rounded to subangular gravel-size clasts. A conglomerate typically contain a matrix of finer grained sediments, such as sand, silt, or clay, which fills the interstices between the clasts. The clasts and matrix are typically cemented by calcium carbonate, iron oxide, silica, or hardened clay.


Phosphorite,phosphate rock or rock phosphate is a non-detrital sedimentary rock that contains high amounts of phosphate minerals. The phosphate content of phosphorite (or grade of phosphate rock) varies greatly, from 4% to 20% phosphorus pentoxide (P2O5). Marketed phosphate rock is enriched ("beneficiated") to at least 28%, often more than 30% P2O5. This occurs through washing, screening, de-liming, magnetic separation or flotation. By comparison, the average phosphorus content of sedimentary rocks is less than 0.2%. The phosphate is present as fluorapatite Ca5(PO4)3F typically in cryptocrystalline masses (grain sizes < 1 μm) referred to as collophane-sedimentary apatite deposits of uncertain origin. It is also present as hydroxyapatite Ca5(PO4)3OH or Ca10(PO4)6(OH)2, which is often dissolved from vertebrate bones and teeth, whereas fluorapatite can originate from hydrothermal veins. Other sources also include chemically dissolved phosphate minerals from igneous and metamorphic rocks. Phosphorite deposits often occur in extensive layers, which cumulatively cover tens of thousands of square kilometres of the Earth's crust.

Mudstone Fine grained sedimentary rock whose original constituents were clays or muds

Mudstone, a type of mudrock, is a fine-grained sedimentary rock whose original constituents were clays or muds. Mudstone is distinguished from shale by its lack of fissility.

Caliche Calcium carbonate based concretion of sediment

Caliche is a sedimentary rock, a hardened natural cement of calcium carbonate that binds other materials—such as gravel, sand, clay, and silt. It occurs worldwide, in aridisol and mollisol soil orders—generally in arid or semiarid regions, including in central and western Australia, in the Kalahari Desert, in the High Plains of the western USA, in the Sonoran Desert, Chihuahuan Desert and Mojave Desert of North America, and in Eastern Saudi Arabia at Al-Hasa. Caliche is also known as calcrete or kankar. It belongs to the duricrusts. The term caliche is Spanish and is originally from the Latin calx, meaning lime.

Calcareous Adjective meaning mostly or partly composed of calcium carbonate

Calcareous is an adjective meaning "mostly or partly composed of calcium carbonate", in other words, containing lime or being chalky. The term is used in a wide variety of scientific disciplines.

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 116 mm and are too small to study readily in the field. At first sight, the rock types appear quite similar; however, there are important differences in composition and nomenclature.


In geology, interbedding occurs when beds of a particular lithology lie between or alternate with beds of a different lithology. For example, sedimentary rocks may be interbedded if there were sea level variations in their sedimentary depositional environment.

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, and silica phases like cristobalite, iron oxides, and clay minerals; other mineral cements also occur.

Lamination (geology)

In geology, lamination is a small-scale sequence of fine layers that occurs in sedimentary rocks. Laminae are normally smaller and less pronounced than bedding. Lamination is often regarded as planar structures one centimetre or less in thickness, whereas bedding layers are greater than one centimetre. However, structures from several millimetres to many centimetres have been described as laminae. A single sedimentary rock can have both laminae and beds.

Shallow water marine environment

Shallow water marine environment refers to the area between the shore and deeper water, such as a reef wall or a shelf break. This environment is characterized by oceanic, geological and biological conditions, as described below. The water in this environment is shallow and clear, allowing the formation of different sedimentary structures, carbonate rocks, coral reefs, and allowing certain organisms to survive and become fossils.

Lawrence Alexander Hardie

Lawrence Alexander Hardie was an American geologist, sedimentologist, and geochemist.

Lacustrine deposits are sedimentary rock formations which formed in the bottom of ancient lakes. A common characteristic of lacustrine deposits is that a river or stream channel has carried sediment into the basin. Lacustrine deposits form in all lake types including rift graben lakes, oxbow lakes, glacial lakes, and crater lakes. Lacustrine environments, like seas, are large bodies of water. They share similar sedimentary deposits which are mainly composed of low-energy particle sizes. Lacustrine deposits are typically very well sorted with highly laminated beds of silts, clays, and occasionally carbonates. In regards to geologic time, lakes are temporary and once they no longer receive water, they dry up and leave a formation.




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Further reading