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Shale

Pictures of Sedimentary Rock Types

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Shale is a claystone that is fissile, splitting in layers. Shale is usually soft and does not crop out unless harder rock protects it. (more below)
A shy, soft stone
Photo (c) 2012 Andrew Alden, licensed to About.com (fair use policy)
Geologists are strict with their rules on sedimentary rocks. Sediment is divided by particle size into gravel, sand, silt and clay. Claystone must have at least twice as much clay as silt and no more than 10 percent sand. It can have more sand, up to 50 percent, but that is called a sandy claystone. (See all this in the Sand/Silt/Clay ternary diagram.) What makes a claystone shale is the presence of fissility—it splits in more or less thin layers whereas claystone is massive.

Shale can be fairly hard if it has a silica cement, making it closer to chert, but usually it is soft and easily weathers back into clay. Shale may be hard to find except in roadcuts, unless a harder stone on top of it protects it from erosion.

When shale undergoes greater heat and pressure, it becomes the metamorphic rock slate. With still more metamorphism, it becomes phyllite, then schist.

For more photos see the Sedimentary Rocks Gallery.

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