Sediments of the Deep Ocean: Types & Formation

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

This lesson discusses the major forms of sediments found out in the deep ocean, including lithogenous sediments as well as two forms of biogenous sediment. It also looks at their composition/formation.

Clay & Ooze

When you walk into the water with your bare feet, you probably notice the feel of the sediment. Sometimes it's sandy; other times rocky. Perhaps it's a bit slimy and soft in other instances. All that stuff is sediment, or the broken down particles of various inorganic and/or organic substances that settle to the bottom of, in this lesson's case, the ocean. Let's look at the three major kinds of sediments you may find out in the deep ocean: lithogenous and two types of oozes.

A Few Important Notes

Please note something important. Ocean sediments can be divided up into different categories, including by their size and type. As such, there are a few different classification schemes, groupings, and names for them that you might encounter.

These groupings, regardless of what they are, are somewhat arbitrary. That's because ocean sediments are a mixture of different types of sediments. It's like the composition of a beach: you won't find that a beach is pure sand. You'll find bits of seashells in the sand, rocks, and so on. Yet we nonetheless call it a 'sandy beach.'

Commonly, a sediment is classified as a certain type when 30% or more of the sediment mixture is composed of that specific type of sediment. So if our beach was 80% sand and 20% seashells, we'd call it a sandy beach. If our beach was 15% sand and 85% rocks, we'd call it a rocky beach.

Here, we focus on the major forms of sediments you might find in the deep ocean. These deep sea sediments cover roughly two thirds of the planet's surface. Keep in mind, there is no technical consensus on where, in terms of water depth, deep ocean sediments begin and end.

Biogenous Sediment

One of the most important forms of sediments in the deep ocean is biogenous sediment. Biogenous sediment is sediment that forms as a result of biological activity in the ocean. This mainly refers to the breakdown of skeletal and shell remains from dead organisms. Which organisms? Well, primarily phytoplankton and zooplankton in the deep ocean, but remains of corals and clams may be found there as well.

Biogenous sediment, of course, can also be found near the shore. So when we speak of biogenic sediment out in the open or deep ocean, we call it ooze. There are two main types of ooze:

  • Calcaerous ooze: mainly made up of organisms, like foraminifera, coccoliths, and corals, which had shells or skeletons composed of calcium carbonate.
  • Siliceous ooze: ooze that's composed largely of organisms, such as diatoms and radiolaria, which had silica based shells/skeletons.

Lithogenous Sediment

Another major type of sediment in the deep ocean is lithogenous. Lithogenous sediment is, in short, sediment that comes from land, as in rock-like material. Wind erosion, water movement, and even glaciers scraping the Earth's surface all form this type of sediment.

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