Sedimentary rocks are formed from pre-existing rocks or pieces of once-living organisms. They form from deposits that accumulate on the Earth's surface. Sedimentary rocks often have distinctive layering or bedding. Many of the picturesque views of the desert southwest show mesas and arches made of layered sedimentary rock.
Common Sedimentary Rocks:
Common sedimentary rocks include sandstone, limestone, and shale. These rocks often start as sediments carried in rivers and deposited in lakes and oceans. When buried, the sediments lose water and become cemented to form rock. Tuffaceous sandstones contain volcanic ash.
Clastic Sedimentary Rocks:
Clastic sedimentary rocks are the group of rocks most people think of when they think of sedimentary rocks. Clastic sedimentary rocks are made up of pieces (clasts) of pre-existing rocks. Pieces of rock are loosened by weathering, then transported to some basin or depression where sediment is trapped. If the sediment is buried deeply, it becomes compacted and cemented, forming sedimentary rock. Clastic sedimentary rocks may have particles ranging in size from microscopic clay to huge boulders. Their names are based on their clast or grain size. The smallest grains are called clay, then silt, then sand. Grains larger that 2 millimeters are called pebbles. Shale is a rock made mostly of clay, siltstone is made up of silt-sized grains, sandstone is made of sand-sized clasts, and conglomerate is made of pebbles surrounded by a matrix of sand or mud.
Biologic Sedimentary Rocks:
Biologic sedimentary rocks form when large numbers of living things die, pile up, and are compressed and cemented to form rock. Accumulated carbon-rich plant material may form coal. Deposits made mostly of animal shells may form limestone, coquina, or chert.
Chemical Sedimentary Rocks:
Chemical sedimentary rocks are formed by chemical precipitation. The stalactites and stalagmites you see in caves form this way, so does the rock salt that table salt comes from. This process begins when water traveling through rock dissolves some of the minerals, carrying them away from their source. Eventually these minerals can be redeposited, or precipitated, when the water evaporates away or when the water becomes over-saturated with minerals.
Source: U.S. Geological Survey