Abstract

Acoustic and electroacoustic measurements of particle-size distribution (PSD) and zeta potential (ζ potential), respectively, were used to obtain in situ measures of the effects of suspension concentration and pH on interactions between mixed-charge clays and clay minerals from a highly weathered sediment. Measurements were obtained in concentrated suspensions as a function of weight fraction and as a function of pH during titrations. Standard dispersion and centrifugation methods were used to obtain a comparative measure of PSD. Thermogravimetric analysis and X-ray diffraction patterns were used to obtain semi-quantitative and descriptive analyses, respectively, of the sediment, which is composed of Fe oxide minerals, kaolinite, gibbsite, quartz, crandallite, chlorite and traces of other clay minerals. Acoustic measurements showed that the PSD of the clay fraction varied with suspension concentration, and electroacoustic measurements showed the ‘bulk’ ζ potential increased in absolute value as the suspension concentration decreased. Titration results were also sensitive to suspension concentration. Acoustic measurements indicated that the suspensions became unstable at ~pH 7.5–8.0, as the attenuation spectra changed character near this pH and the calculated PSD shifted to a larger particle size. This pH value is near the points of zero charge of goethite and gibbsite, as verified by titrations on mineral standards. The results confirm the central role oxide minerals play in regulating clay mineral interactions in highly weathered sediments, and indicate that the average ζ potential of a suspension may be a poor indicator of controls on suspension stability.

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