What is Sedimentology?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Sedimentology is a branch of geology which is focused on the study of sedimentary rock and geological sediments. A practitioner of sedimentology is known as a sedimentologist. There are a number of avenues of interest within this field which people can pursue, and sedimentologists can pop up in some surprising places, from city planning offices to archeology departments. People who work in this field often pursue graduate degrees so that they can receive highly specialized training, and they can work for private companies, universities and colleges, and government agencies which are concerned with geology.

A sedimentology geologist may examine geological formations and geologic strata to reach conclusions about events in Earth's history.
A sedimentology geologist may examine geological formations and geologic strata to reach conclusions about events in Earth's history.

Sedimentary rock can form in a number of different ways, and one of the interests within the field of sedimentology is the study of how sedimentary rocks form, and which factors can impact the formation of rocks. Some form through gradual deposition of sediments which are later compressed, for example, while others form as water trickles through a formation and transports sediments which slowly solidify into a rock formation over the course of centuries. Sedimentologists are also interested in disruptive processes which can impact sedimentary rock, such as geologic uplift which breaks up geologic strata.

The earth's sedimentary rocks contain a relatively large amount of fossils that formed from plants, animals and marine life preserved long ago in sand, silt or mud.
The earth's sedimentary rocks contain a relatively large amount of fossils that formed from plants, animals and marine life preserved long ago in sand, silt or mud.

Sedimentologists also are interested in how sediments form, and the deposition processes involved in the transport of sediments around the world. Sediments can cross continents and oceans, carrying along fascinating geological information, and they are formed through processes like weathering, geologic trauma, and even human activity. Understanding both how sediments develop and how sedimentary rocks form is an important part of sedimentology.

These geologists can apply their skills in a number of ways. Some are interested in the Earth's geologic history, examining geological formations and geological strata to draw conclusions about traumatic events in the Earth's history. Others may assist archaeologists in the study of ancient life forms by studying the formation of fossils, dating strata in which fossils are found, providing information about sediments found at archaeological sites, and performing similar tasks.

People who are interested in the history of the Earth's climate may also study sedimentology or hire sedimentologists to perform research. A great deal of information about climate and weather patterns can be found in sediments, for those who know what to look for, and studying the Earth's geologic history can also provide data which may help people understand the Earth's climate. Knowing, for example, that particular patterns appear when sediments are transported by wind versus water can provide insights into how particular formations developed and what the climate conditions were like when they appeared.

Sedimentology focuses on sedimentary rocks.
Sedimentology focuses on sedimentary rocks.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@Azuza - Sedimentologists could probably shed some light on global warming by studying out past climate too.

I think it's kind of a fun fact that sediments can be transported around the world. I always thought most stuff kind of stayed where it was, you know?


This does sound like a highly specialized field. I can understand why someone would pursue a masters degree and maybe beyond!

I think it would be really cool to learn about the history of the Earth's climate. I'm hoping maybe this field will get more attention one day soon. Maybe if people were a little more well versed in the history of the Earth, they wouldn't be freaking out about the end of the world every two seconds! Strange weather has always happened!


@ysmina-- Yes, there is a subfield of sedimentology called 'environmental sedimentology' that deals with the issues you mentioned in your post.

Environmental sedimentology has been around for a while but is not too well known by people outside of the field. It does look at how human activity impacts sediments and how pollution, sediments and weather relate to each other. It also looks at natural environmental events (not man-made) and how that impacts sediments.


Is the study of sedimentology also useful for working in environmental issues like pollution?

I'm studying environmental pollution right now and I read that most of the earth's surface is composed of sediments. This grabbed my attention, because much of the environmental pollution also happens on the earth's surface. We pollute the soil and surface waters like rivers and lakes with chemicals. We do farming, we engage in deforestation, we pour cement into the oceans to provide more surface area for buildings and we put trash into the soil.

All of these activities must have a big influence on the earth's sediments. I'm sure we are also impacting the weather, the air and water flows this way too. I think sedimentologists should also work for environmental agencies. Their knowledge could benefit this field so much.


I thought that archeologists were the only ones who studied soil and rock to find out about the earth's history and the species that lived in it. I didn't know that sedimentologists do this kind of work too.

I was interested in archaeology, but after learning a little bit about sedimentology, it sounds more interesting to me.

What I like the most about sedimentology is that depending on what sedimentologists concentrate on, they can learn about past events as well as brainstorm about future events on the earth. Archaeologists, on the other hand, only work to discover about the past. I think that sedimentology has more options for research and work.

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