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U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2005-1001
USGS East-Coast Sediment Analysis: Procedures, Database, and GIS Data
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Wet Sieve Method

Video Length: 2 minutes, 43 seconds
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Close-up of sample showing coarse and fine fraction.
Wet sieving is used to separate the coarse fraction of a sample, which is composed of gravel and sand, from the fine fraction, composed of silt and clay.
Photo showing items required to complete wet sieving process.

A typical assembly for wet sieving requires:

  • an 8-inch diameter, 62 micron, number 230 stainless steel sieve
  • a funnel large enough to accommodate the sieve
  • a tripod to support the funnel
  • a pre-weighed beaker for the coarse
  • and a mason jar for the fine fraction
Photo showing sediment sample pre-soaking in beaker.
Although unconsolidated, sediment samples are first pre-soaked for 1 to 2 hours to aide disaggregation.
Image showing sample being washed into sieve with a squeeze bottle.
The sample is washed into the sieve with a squeeze bottle. If the fine fraction is to be analyzed by Coulter Counter, distilled water is used during wet sieving. However, if the fine fraction is very small, but still to be analyzed by Coulter Counter, a 4% electrolyte solution may be used. If the fine fraction is to be analyzed by pipette, a 0.5% sodium hexametaphosphate solution is used.
Image showing sample being agitated with a rubber policeman while liquid is gradually added.
Once on the sieve, the sample is gently agitated with a rubber policeman or the analyst’s fingers while liquid is gradually added. Enough liquid must be present to wash the fine fraction through the sieve, but the total volume of liquid used during this part of the analysis must not exceed that of the Mason jar, or about 800 ml.
Image showing fine fraction of sample sealed in labeled Mason jar.
When the separation is complete, the fine fraction is sealed in a labeled Mason jar and reserved for analysis by Coulter Counter or pipette.
Image showing remaining coarse fraction of sample being rinsed with tap water.
The coarse fraction is rinsed with tap water to remove any electrolyte or remaining fines, and washed into a pre-weighed beaker. A small cropped funnel and crystallizing dish help transfer the washed coarse fraction from the sieve without any loss of sediment.
Shot of sample placed in oven for drying.
This fraction is then oven dried and reserved for analysis by dry sieving or rapid sediment analyzer.
Sieve being placed in sonic bath for cleaning.
The sieve should be cleaned by emersion in a sonic bath after about every fourth sample, to remove any particles lodged in the screen mesh.
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Coastal and Marine Geology Program
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