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Arabian Journal of Geosciences

ISSN 1866-7511
Volume 6
Number 5

Arab J Geosci (2013) 6:1371-1380
DOI 10.1007/s12517-011-0423-3
Distribution of grain size, clay mineralogy
and organic matter of surface sediments
from Tirumalairajanar Estuary,
Tamilnadu, east coast of India
Senapathi Venkatramanan,
Thirunavukkarasu Ramkumar &
Irudhayanathan Anithamary
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Distribution of grain size, clay mineralogy and organic
matter of surface sediments from Tirumalairajanar Estuary,
Tamilnadu, east coast of India
Senapathi Venkatramanan &
Thirunavukkarasu Ramkumar &
Irudhayanathan Anithamary
Received: 4 May 2011 / Accepted: 27 September 2011 / Published online: 18 October 2011
# Saudi Society for Geosciences 2011
Abstract The aim of this study is to understand the
various sources and factors controlling the abundance
and distribution of clay minerals, sand, silt, clay and
organic matter of the surface sediments of Tirumalair-
ajanar Estuary in two different seasons. The study was
undertaken for two seasons, based on ten selected
stations all along the estuary, mouth and freshwater
zone. Furthermore, along the estuary region, clay and
silt were observed and also at few stations in the
upstream end. Organic matters in the sediments
appeared to be the main mechanisms for the distribution
of clay minerals in estuary indicated that the distribu-
tions of clay minerals were comparatively higher during
postmonsoon than in premonsoon season. The clay
mineral assemblage consists mainly of chlorite, kaolin-
ite, montmorillonite, illite and very scarce gibbsite. The
clay from the sediments has been separated and studied
for mineral identification using X-ray diffraction analy-
sis. The present study also reveals that sediment texture
is one of the main controlling factors for the distribution
of organic matter.
Keywords Clay minerals
East coast of India
Textural characteristics of estuarine sediments are strongly
influenced by several factors, including source area
composition of adjacent lands, climate, length and energy
of sediment transport and redox conditions in the deposi-
tional environments (Bhatia and Cook 1986; Fralick and
Kronberg 1997; Dickhudt et al. 2011). Numerous studies
have analysed grain size properties which can suggest
sources and hydrodynamic conditions of marine sediments
(Carranza-Edwards et al. 2005). Moreover, spatial varia-
tions in sand, silt and clay ratio can help to determine
present estuary environment conditions (Anithamary et al.
2011). The wave activity, the near bed currents, the
prevailing climatic conditions, the extreme variations of
the discharged load, as well as the grain size and the
mineralogical composition of the suspended load, control
the grain size distribution in the Thermaikos Gulf (Poulos et
al. 2000). The general scarcity of clay-sized sediments in
estuary, due to winnowing through the action of waves,
tides and currents, contrasts with the huge accumulations of
argillaceous deposits in the rest of the oceans. Where they do
occur, source mixing during transportation, flocculation and
differential settling processes appear to be the main mecha-
nisms for their distribution (Griffin et al. 1968; Chamley
1989). Additionally, Chamley (1989) suggests that the
aggregation of clay particles by marine organic matter
appears to be a widespread phenomenon, mainly responsible
for the rapid sinking of land-derived materials.
In this present study, the grain size distribution, clay
mineralogy and organic matter of surface sediments from
S. Venkatramanan (*)
T. Ramkumar
I. Anithamary
Department of Earth Sciences, Annamalai University,
Chidambaram, Tamilnadu, India
T. Ramkumar
Arab J Geosci (2013) 6:13711380
DOI 10.1007/s12517-011-0423-3
Author's personal copy
the Thirumalairajanar Estuary are examined. In addition,
the mechanisms responsible for the grain size distribution
into the estuary are investigated.
Description of the study area
River Tirumalairajanar is one of the important tributar-
ies of Cauvery River, state of Tamilnadu. It is a bar-
built estuary along the east coast of India. The
sampling locations are shown in Fig. 1. The study area
is surrounded by Tanjore District in the west, Cudda-
lore District in the North, Palk straight in the South
and Bay of Bengal in the east. Distribution of the
Cauvery, Arasalar, Tirmalarajanar, Vellar, Adappar,
Vettar and Vedaranyam canal are the main rivers
flowing in this area and debauches into the Bay of
Bengal. Geologically, the study area of Tirumalairajanar
is covered by Quaternary sediments. The average
annual rainfall in premonsoon season is 148.8 and
235.39 mm in postmonsoon.
Materials and methods
Surface sediment samples were collected from ten
selected stations in two different seasons (post- and
premonsoon of 2009), all along the length of the
estuary, mouth and fresh water zone onboard a fishing
trawler. Sediment samples were collected by using Van
Veen grab. From the grab sampler, the upper 5-cm
sediment was collected by using plastic spatula as a
representative of surface sediment. Collected sediment
samples were transferred to pre-cleaned polyethylene
bags. The sediment samples were preserved in the deep
freezer. Sieving technique is applied to separate the
grains of various size classes (Ingram 1970). Initially
100 g of sample is prepared by treating with 10% dilute
hydrochloric acid and 6% hydrogen peroxide, respective-
ly. Sieving was carried out in ASTM sieve at one fourth
intervals for about 20 min in a digital sieve shaker (Retsch
AS 200). This basic data, i.e. weight percentage frequency
data, are converted into cumulative weight percentage
data, which served as basic tool for the generation of other
statistical parameters using GSSTAT and SEDPLOT
programs developed by USGS. The input for the sediment
fractions (inclusive graphics, Folk 1974) is weight
percentages in one half phi notation (Krumbein 1934;
Inman 1952). The analysed data to generate the spatial
distribution map using Arc GIS 9.3. Another part of the
sample was used to determine organic matter using Loss
on Ignition method (Watson et al. 1985). Clay mineral
samples were analysed under air-dried conditions, under
ethylene glycol-solvated conditions, and after enough
heating, to collapse any expandable layers. The air-dried
oriented clay slide was immediately analysed using an
Fig. 1 Location map of the study area
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X-ray diffractometer. The clay slide was then exposed
to ethylene glycol vapour in desiccators for 24 h and
subsequently reanalysed. Another slide was treated by
heating at 540 C for 3 h and 30 min and then analysed.
The X-ray diffractometer used was a PANalytical XPert
MRD equipped with a Co target operating at 30 kV/
40 mA. The relative abundance of major clay minerals
was semiquantitatively determined by peak area on d001
reflections, on ethylene glycol diffractograms. This
method was adapted from (Holtzapffels 1985) and took
ground noise into account (Dunoyer de Segonzac 1969).
Test runs revealed an average error of 5%. Major clay
minerals like kaolinite+chlorite, illite, montmorillonite and
gibbsite were identified from the reflection peaks (Table 1).
Results and discussion
Spatial distribution of sand, silt, clay and organic matter
Seasonal variations in sediment components and organic
matter are detailed below. During postmonsoon, sand
Fig. 2 Spatial distribution of sand (postmonsoon)
Table 1 Distribution of sand, silt, clay and organic matter of the study area
Station Postmonsoon Premonsoon
Sand% Silt% Clay% Organic matter% Sand% Silt% Clay% Organic matter%
S1 96.78 3.21 0.01 1.988 97.04 2.53 0.43 1.471
S2 72.02 24.77 3.21 1.795 59.92 39.83 0.25 1.067
S3 77.56 22.23 0.21 2.598 62.43 37.35 0.22 2.128
S4 68.76 26.92 4.32 3.334 66.03 33.74 0.23 2.566
S5 96.61 2.5 0.89 2.216 97.47 2.45 0.08 3.19
S6 98.21 1.34 0.45 1.876 98.38 1.08 0.54 2.761
S7 96.68 3.24 0.08 2.349 95.92 3.65 0.43 1.697
S8 95.23 4.54 0.23 1.362 94.45 4.32 1.23 1.119
S9 96.62 2.04 1.34 1.814 96.45 2.33 1.22 1.618
S10 97.34 2.62 0.04 1.221 96.71 3.21 0.08 1.412
Minimum 68.76 1.34 0.01 1.221 59.92 1.08 0.08 1.067
Maximum 98.21 26.92 4.32 3.334 98.38 39.83 1.23 3.19
Average 88.57 10.14 1.26 2.092 85.26 14.28 0.50 1.941
Arab J Geosci (2013) 6:13711380 1373
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content for the studied samples varies from 68.76% to
98.21%, whereas silt and clay content varies from
1.34% to 26.92% and 0.01% to 4.32%, respectively
(Figs. 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6). Sand content shows decreasing
trend from station 2 up to the station 4 and further
upstream shows an increasing trend. Whereas silt and
clay show an increasing trend up to stations 2, 3, 4 and 5
respectively, these decrease towards the upstream. This
majority of the sediments are relatively coarse and
represent bed load derived from the Cauvery River Basin.
Due to selective deposition, the fine particle sediments are
transported into the mouth bar area and the outer estuary,
while the coarse sediments are deposited in the upper
reaches of the estuary. So, this is may be due to the
nonlinear sandmud mixing under complex hydrodynamic
conditions. Organic matter in the same season varies from
1.22% to 3.33% which follows similar trend as that of the
silt and clay. It is mainly controlled grain size patterns.
The abundance of organic matter depicts that the sedi-
ments are immature and appears to have been derived
Fig. 4 Spatial distribution of clay (postmonsoon)
Fig. 3 Spatial distribution of silt (postmonsoon)
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from marine sources (Evans and Tokar 2000; Dubrulle et
al. 2007; Liu et al. 2009).
In the case of premonsoon, sand, silt, clay and organic
matter vary from 59.92% to 98.38%, 1.08% to 39.83%,
0.08% to 1.23% and 1.06% to 3.19%, respectively (Figs. 7,
8, 9 and 10). Sand content shows decreasing trend from
station 1 up to the station 4 and further increases towards
the upstream side. Silt shows an increasing trend up to the
stations 14 with lower value at stations 510 showing a
decreasing trend. In general, clay and organic matter show a
decreasing trend from station 7 up to the station 10, and
further downstream, they show an increasing trend till
station 1 and then show an increasing trend towards the
estuary. It indicates the tidal mixing of shallow near shore
waters and different current speeds of near- and offshore
surface waters. In general, sand is dominating in the
freshwater region, i.e. up to the stations 510, whereas silt,
clay and organic matter are mostly enriched in the estuary
region. In the present study, highest organic matter contents
were found in the silt and clay fraction. Sorption behaviour
is known to differ the origin and composition of the organic
material (Chen et al. 1995; Flemming et al. 1996). In
contrast to the organic matter, decreases were observed
continuously from the clay to the sand fraction. This similar
Fig. 6 Spatial distribution of sand (premonsoon)
Fig. 5 Spatial distribution of organic matter (postmonsoon)
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kind of observation was made by Dessai and Nayak (2009)
and Manning et al. (2010).
Clay mineral distribution
Clay minerals that are identified in this work are
kaolinite+chlorite, montmorillonite, illite and gibbsite. There
are no significant regional variations in the lithology or
climate of the adjacent land mass and reported soil and
estuarine clay mineralogy (Nair 1976; Varghese and Aiyer
1980) is markedly different from the clay minerals observed
in the study area. The main clay minerals were chlorite and
kaolinite, this peak indicating its dominance and abundance
over other minerals. It should be noted here that geologically
the Tirumalairajanar Estuary comprises of quaternary sedi-
mentary formation of ferruginous laterite. In postmonsoon
Fig. 8 Spatial distribution of clay (premonsoon)
Fig. 7 Spatial distribution of silt (premonsoon)
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season (Fig. 11), kaolinite and chlorite peak were recorded in
the stations (S1S10). There is no marked variation in the
premonsoon season. More or less the same kind of result was
observed in sediment sample. A montmorillonite show on
smaller amount occurred in the both seasons, but lowest peak
value observed at station S8. The variability of kaolinite
+chlorite contents is very high in both seasons. That regional
variability in river sediments is controlled by local and
regional factors such as mixing of clay minerals from rivers
by along-shore drift and currents; topography sediment type,
especially grain size and urbanization of the coastal zone
(Lim et al. 2006; Liu et al. 2007). Despite all these variables,
it is clear from the nearly identical mean claymineral suites
for the rivers that the primary source of clay minerals to the
Tirumalairajanar rivers draining the adjacent region. Illite
and gibbsite is the least abundant clay mineral in the
sediments of the Tirumalairajanar River in both seasons.
Illite concentration observed in mouth region may be
attributed to the formation of this mineral from montemor-
illonite. It is observed on illite by absorbing more potassium
ions from saline waters (Mohan and Damodaran 1992; Liu et
al. 2008). Gibbsite is most important product of silicate
alteration in laterites and lateritic soils wherein strong
leaching produces moderate dislocation and results in the
formation of kaolinite. While intense leaching results in
complete dislocation so that octahedral layer remains free
eventually crystallising to gibbsite.
It is generally accepted that most of the clay minerals in
the Tirumalairajanar River principally originate from
terrigenous matters. After the terrigenous clay minerals
are discharged into the sea, transportation, diffusion and
flocculation could be involved in the formation process.
But the chemical character of the clay minerals would be
kept with few changes (Riley and Chester 1976; Yang et al.
2004; Zhou et al. 2004), i.e. they would still take on the
primary properties of the sources. However, in this study
area, chemical or colloid chemical differentiation and
mechanical sedimentary differentiation usually cause the
zonation of clay minerals.
Based on this study, it can be concluded that the spatial
distribution of the sand is deposited in the freshwater
zone and silt and clay are transported to the estuary
region by the ebb-dominated tidal flow and current in
both seasons. However, intensive sediment exchange
occurs in the inner estuary due to the sandsiltclay
mixing, which is controlled by the bidirectional tidal
flows. In both seasons, higher organic matter was found
in the clay and silt fractions. The organic matter
associated with different size fractions of the sediment
in the Tirumalairajanar Estuary. The X-ray diffraction
analysis of sediment samples from the different stations
of Tirumalairajanar indicates the presence of kaolinite,
chlorite, montmorillonite, ilite and gibbsite. During
post- and premonsoon seasons, kaolinite and chlorite
are the dominate clay minerals formed due to chemical
weathering of the bed rocks. Higher contents of
chlorite, kaolinite and montmorillonite in the estuary
sediments are prostrated mainly from the contribution of
Tirumalairajanar and Arasalar rivers via the Bay of
Fig. 9 Spatial distribution of organic matter (premonsoon)
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Fig. 10 XRD diffractograms
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Fig. 11 XRD diffractograms (premonsoon)
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Acknowledgements The authors acknowledge the valuable sugges-
tions given by Abdullah M. Al-Amri, Editor-in-Chief, which greatly
helped in the final presentation of the paper. The authors are grateful
to anonymous referees for their constructive comments and sugges-
tions which led to significant improvements to the manuscript.
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