Gravel (largest fragment in this photo is about 4 cm)
Gravel (largest fragment in this photo is about 4 cm)

Gravel /ˈɡrævəl/ is a loose aggregation of rock fragments. Gravel is classified by particle size range and includes size classes from granule- to boulder-sized fragments. In the Udden-Wentworth scale gravel is categorized into granular gravel (2–4 mm or 0.079–0.157 in) and pebble gravel (4–64 mm or 0.2–2.5 in). ISO 14688 grades gravels as fine, medium, and coarse, with ranges 2–6.3 mm to 20–63 mm. One cubic metre of gravel typically weighs about 1,800 kg (or a cubic yard weighs about 3,000 lb).

Gravel is an important commercial product, with a number of applications. Almost half of all gravel production is used as aggregate for concrete. Much of the rest is used for road construction, either in the road base or as the road surface (with or without asphalt or other binders.) Naturally occurring porous gravel deposits have a high hydraulic conductivity, making them important aquifers.

Definition and properties

Sand and gravel separator in a gravel pit in Germany
Sand and gravel separator in a gravel pit in Germany

The definition of gravel varies by region and by area of application. Many geologists define gravel simply as loose rounded rock particles over 2 mm (0.079 in) in diameter, without specifying an upper size limit.[1][2][3][4] Gravel is sometimes distinguished from rubble, which is loose rock particles in the same size range but angular in shape.[5] The Udden-Wentworth scale, widely used by geologists in the US, defines granular gravel as particles with a size from 2 to 4 mm (0.079 to 0.157 in) and pebble gravel as particles with a size from 4 to 64 mm (0.16 to 2.52 in). This corresponds to all particles with sizes between coarse sand and cobbles.[6]

The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Soil Science Society of America define gravel as particles from 2 to 80 mm (0.079 to 3.150 in) in size, while the German scale (Atterburg) defines gravel as particles from 2 to 200 mm (0.079 to 7.874 in) in size.[7] The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers defines gravel as particles under 3 in (76 mm) in size that are retained by a number 4 mesh, which has a mesh spacing of 4.76 mm (0.187 in).[8][1] ISO 14688 for soil engineering grades gravels as fine, medium, and coarse with ranges 2 mm to 6.3 mm to 20 mm to 63 mm.[9]

The bulk density of gravel varies from 1,460 to 1,920 kg/m3 (2,460 to 3,240 lb/cu yd).[10] Natural gravel has a high hydraulic conductivity, sometimes reaching above 1 cm/s.[11]


Most gravel is derived from disintegration of bedrock as it weathers. Quartz is the most common mineral found in gravel, as it is hard, chemically inert, and lacks cleavage planes along which the rock easily splits. Most gravel particles consist of multiple mineral grains, since few rocks have mineral grains coarser than about 8 millimeters (0.31 in) in size. Exceptions include quartz veins, pegmatites, deep intrusions, and high-grade metamorphic rock. The rock fragments are rapidly rounded as they are transported by rivers, often within a few tens of kilometers of their source outcrops.[12]

Gravel is deposited as gravel blankets or bars in stream channels;[13] in alluvial fans;[14] in near-shore marine settings, where the gravel is supplied by streams or erosion along the coast;[15][16][13] and in the deltas of swift-flowing streams.[17] The upper Mississippi embayment contains extensive chert gravels thought to have their origin less than 100 miles (160 km) from the periphery of the embayment.[18]

It has been suggested that wind-formed (aeolian) gravel "megaripples" in Argentina have counterparts on the planet Mars.[19]

Production and uses

A gravel road in Finland.
A gravel road in Finland.

Gravel is a major basic raw material in construction.[20] Sand is not usually distinguished from gravel in official statistics, but crushed stone is treated as a separate category. In 2020, sand and gravel together made up 23% of all industrial mineral production in the U.S., with a total value of about $12.6 billion. Some 960 million tons of construction sand and gravel were produced. This greatly exceeds production of industrial sand and gravel (68 million tons), which is mostly sand rather than gravel.[21]

It is estimated that almost half of construction sand and gravel is used as aggregate for concrete. Other important uses include in road construction, as road base or in blacktop; as construction fill; and in myriad minor uses.[20]

Gravel is widely and plentifully distributed, mostly as river deposits, river flood plains, and glacial deposits, so that environmental considerations and quality dictate whether alternatives, such as crushed stone, are more economical. Crushed stone is already displacing natural gravel in the eastern United States, and recycled gravel is also becoming increasingly important.[21]


The word gravel comes from the Old French gravele[22] or gravelle.[23]

Gravel often has the meaning a mixture of different size pieces of stone mixed with sand and possibly some clay. In American English, rocks broken into small pieces by a crusher are known as crushed stone.[24][25]


Naturally occuring sedimentary gravel bed
Naturally occuring sedimentary gravel bed
Graded mechanically crushed stone, with particle sizes roughly between 5 and 15 mm
Graded mechanically crushed stone, with particle sizes roughly between 5 and 15 mm

Types of gravel include:

Relationship to plant life

In locales where gravelly soil is predominant, plant life is generally more sparse.[32] This outcome derives from the inferior ability of gravels to retain moisture, as well as the corresponding paucity of mineral nutrients, since finer soils that contain such minerals are present in smaller amounts.

In the geologic record

When sediments containing over 30% gravel become lithified into solid rock, the result is a conglomerate.[2] Conglomerates are widely distributed in sedimentary rock of all ages, but usually as a minor component, making up less than 1% of all sedimentary rock.[3] Alluvial fans likely contain the largest accumulations of gravel in the geologic record.[14] These include conglomerates of the Triassic basins of eastern North America and the New Red Sandstone of south Devon.[33]

See also


  1. ^ a b Jackson, Julia A., ed. (1997). "gravel". Glossary of geology (Fourth ed.). Alexandria, Viriginia: American Geological Institute. ISBN 0922152349.
  2. ^ a b Blatt, Harvey; Tracy, Robert J. (1996). Petrology : igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic (2nd ed.). New York: W.H. Freeman. p. 523. ISBN 0716724383.
  3. ^ a b Boggs, Sam (2006). Principles of sedimentology and stratigraphy (4th ed.). Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Pearson Prentice Hall. p. 135. ISBN 0131547283.
  4. ^ Allaby, Michael (2013). "gravel". A dictionary of geology and earth sciences (Fourth ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780199653065.
  5. ^ Prothero, Donald R.; Schwab, Fred (2004). Sedimentary geology : an introduction to sedimentary rocks and stratigraphy (2nd ed.). New York: W.H. Freeman. p. 67. ISBN 0-7167-3905-4.
  6. ^ Krumbein, W. C. (1934). "Size frequency distributions of sediments". Journal of Sedimentary Petrology. 2 (4). doi:10.1306/D4268EB9-2B26-11D7-8648000102C1865D.
  7. ^ Blatt, Harvey; Middletone, Gerard; Murray, Raymond (1980). Origin of sedimentary rocks (2d ed.). Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall. p. 57. ISBN 0136427103.
  8. ^ Blatt, Harvey; Middletone, Gerard; Murray, Raymond (1980). Origin of sedimentary rocks (2d ed.). Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall. p. 631. ISBN 0136427103.
  9. ^ a b "ISO 14688-1:2002 – Geotechnical investigation and testing – Identification and classification of soil – Part 1: Identification and description". ISO.
  10. ^ Hartman, H L., ed. (1992). Society for mining, metallurgy and exploration (SME) Mining Engineering Handbook. 2 (2nd ed.). Littleton, Colorado, USA: Society for mining, metallurgy and exploration (SME). ISBN 978-0873351003.
  11. ^ Freeze, R. Allan (1979). Groundwater. Cherry, John A. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall. ISBN 0-13-365312-9. OCLC 4493153.
  12. ^ Prothero & Schwab 2004, pp. 68–70.
  13. ^ a b Prothero & Schwab 2004, p. 74.
  14. ^ a b Leeder, Mike (2011). Sedimentology and sedimentary basins : from turbulence to tectonics (2nd ed.). Chichester, West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell. p. 290. ISBN 9781405177832.
  15. ^ Jennings, S.; Smyth, C. (January 1990). "Holocene evolution of the gravel coastline of East Sussex". Proceedings of the Geologists' Association. 101 (3): 213–224. doi:10.1016/S0016-7878(08)80006-5.
  16. ^ Bridgland, D. R.; Saville, A.; Sinclair, J. M. (June 1997). "New evidence for the origin of the Buchan Ridge Gravel, Aberdeenshire". Scottish Journal of Geology. 33 (1): 43–50. doi:10.1144/sjg33010043. S2CID 129225730.
  17. ^ Cary, Allen S. (January 1951). "Origin and Significance of Openwork Gravel". Transactions of the American Society of Civil Engineers. 116 (1): 1296–1308. doi:10.1061/TACEAT.0006486.
  18. ^ Potter, Paul Edwin (January 1955). "The Petrology and Origin of the Lafayette Gravel: Part 1. Mineralogy and Petrology". The Journal of Geology. 63 (1): 1–38. Bibcode:1955JG.....63....1P. doi:10.1086/626223. S2CID 128550835.
  19. ^ de Silva, S. L.; Spagnuolo, M. G.; Bridges, N. T.; Zimbelman, J. R. (1 November 2013). "Gravel-mantled megaripples of the Argentinean Puna: A model for their origin and growth with implications for Mars". Geological Society of America Bulletin. 125 (11–12): 1912–1929. Bibcode:2013GSAB..125.1912D. doi:10.1130/B30916.1.
  20. ^ a b Bolen, W.P. (2000). "Sand and gravel construction" (PDF). US Geological Survey Minerals Yearbook. Retrieved 26 July 2021.
  21. ^ a b c d U.S. Geological Survey (2021). "Mineral Commodity Summaries": 141–143. doi:10.3133/mcs2021. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  22. ^ Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 11th Edition. Retrieved 30 August 2012 from website:
  23. ^ Gravel, n., Oxford English Dictionary Second Edition on CD-ROM (v. 4.0) © Oxford University Press 2009
  24. ^ "gravel." Noah Webster's 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language. 2015. (8 January 2015)
  25. ^ "Gravel, n." def. 1. Whitney, William Dwight. The Century Dictionary; an Encyclopedic Lexicon of the English Language,. Vol. 3. New York: Century, 1889. 2607. Print.
  26. ^ Jackson 1997, "bank gravel".
  27. ^ Jackson 1997, "bench gravel".
  28. ^ "Quarry Process – QP, DGA – NJ, NY, NYC, PA".
  29. ^ Jackson 1997, "pea gravel".
  30. ^ Jackson 1997, "piedmont gravel".
  31. ^ Jackson 1997, "plateau gravel".
  32. ^ C.Michael Hogan. 2010. Abiotic factor. Encyclopedia of Earth. eds Emily Monosson and C. Cleveland. National Council for Science and the Environment Archived 8 June 2013 at the Wayback Machine. Washington DC
  33. ^ Blatt, Middleton & Murray 1980, p. 631.

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