Soil and sediments scientists have long understood the importance of particle size distribution to their field. Various approaches have been developed to classify samples into formats useful for categorizing samples and predicting behavior. Some soil scientists classify soil particles into sand, silt and clay, and the relative quantities are used to define the texture of a sample. Sizes of soil separates according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture classification system are as follows:

Very coarse sand 2.0-1.0 mm
Coarse sand 1.0-0.5 mm
Medium sand 0.5-0.25 mm
Fine sand 0.25-0.10 mm
Very fine sand 0.10-0.05 mm
Silt 0.05-0.002 mm
Clay <0.002 mm

Analysis and classification of the sample can be used to create a texture triangle as shown below:


Soil fractions give specific characteristics to the soil. Clay improves the nutrient holding capacity, increases water retention, soil stability, but is sometimes difficult to till. Soils high in sand characteristically have good drainage, aeration, and are relatively easy to till. Soils high in silt will be intermediate.

Another approach to classifying soil and sediment samples uses the Phi scale – see below:


Particle size information of sediments can also be used in conjunction with current velocity data to predict whether the sample is more likely to deposit in the river bed or be transported downstream. The Hjulstrom diagram shown below is used for this kind of prediction.


HORIBA systems have been used successfully for a range of soil and sediment applications. The LA-960 Particle Size Analyzer is uniquely qualified for soil and sediment samples since the dynamic range of 0.01 – 5,000 micron - broadest of any system available. For solid samples where particle size exceeds 5 mm the CAMSIZER can provide not only size, but also valuable shape information.

Download Application Note 144: Particle Size of Soils and Sediments (You need to be logged in).

Download Application Note 173: Particle Size and Shape Analysis of Sand Using Digital Image Analysis (You need to be logged in).


Webinar: Particle Size Analysis for Soils and Sediments

Expert speaker Dr. Andy Ward discusses the critical role particle size analysis plays in the characterization of soils and sediments. An Adjunct Professor at Washington State University and former Senior Scientist at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Dr. Ward is currently a Consultant Geohydrologist with the Caribbean Institute of Meterology and Hydrology. Data from multiple experiments involving the LA-950 Particle Size Analyzer are featured.

View Webinar AP027: Importance of Particle Size Analysis for Soils and Sediments (You need to be logged in).


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