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Microstructural differences between naturally-deposited and laboratory beach sands


The orientation of, and contacts between, grains of sand reflect the processes that deposit the sands. Grain orientation and contact geometry also influence mechanical properties. Quantifying and understanding sand microstructure thus provide an opportunity to understand depositional processes better and connect microstructure and macroscopic properties. Using x-ray computed microtomography, we compare the microstructure of naturally-deposited beach sands and laboratory sands created by air pluviation in which samples are formed by raining sand grains into a container. We find that naturally-deposited sands have a narrower distribution of coordination number (i.e., the number of grains in contact) and a broader distribution of grain orientations than pluviated sands. The naturally-deposited sand grains orient inclined to the horizontal, and the pluviated sand grains orient horizontally. We explain the microstructural differences between the two different depositional methods by flowing water at beaches that re-positions and reorients grains initially deposited in unstable grain configurations.

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