Sieve analysis

A sieve analysis (or gradation test) is a practice or procedure used (commonly used in civil engineering) to assess the particle size distribution (also called gradation) of a granular material by allowing the material to pass through a series of sieves of progressively smaller mesh size and weighing the amount of material that is stopped by each sieve as a fraction of the whole mass.

The size distribution is often of critical importance to the way the material performs in use. A sieve analysis can be performed on any type of non-organic or organic granular materials including sands, crushed rock, clays, granite, feldspars, coal, soil, a wide range of manufactured powders, grain and seeds, down to a minimum size depending on the exact method. Being such a simple technique of particle sizing, it is probably the most common.[1]

Sample Net-withGraphic
Basic concepts
Particle size · Grain size
Size distribution · Morphology
Methods and techniques
Mesh scale · Optical granulometry
Sieve analysis · Soil gradation

Related concepts
Granulation · Granular material
Mineral dust · Pattern recognition
Dynamic light scattering


Laboratory sieves BMK
Sieves used for gradation test.
Laborsiebmaschine BMK
A mechanical shaker used for sieve analysis.

A gradation test is performed on a sample of aggregate in a laboratory. A typical sieve analysis involves a nested column of sieves with wire mesh cloth (screen). See the separate Mesh (scale) page for details of sieve sizing.

A representative weighed sample is poured into the top sieve which has the largest screen openings. Each lower sieve in the column has smaller openings than the one above. At the base is a round pan, called the receiver.

The column is typically placed in a mechanical shaker. The shaker shakes the column, usually for some fixed amount of time. After the shaking is complete the material on each sieve is weighed. The mass of the sample of each sieve is then divided by the total mass to give a percentage retained on each sieve. The size of the average particle on each sieve is then analysed to get a cut-off point or specific size range, which is then captured on a screen.

The results of this test are used to describe the properties of the aggregate and to see if it is appropriate for various civil engineering purposes such as selecting the appropriate aggregate for concrete mixes and asphalt mixes as well as sizing of water production well screens.

The results of this test are provided in graphical form to identify the type of gradation of the aggregate. The complete procedure for this test is outlined in the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) C 136[2] and the American Association and State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) T 27[3]

A suitable sieve size for the aggregate underneath the nest of sieves to collect the aggregate that passes through the smallest. The entire nest is then agitated, and the material whose diameter is smaller than the mesh opening pass through the sieves. After the aggregate reaches the pan, the amount of material retained in each sieve is then weighed.[4]


In order to perform the test, a sufficient sample of the aggregate must be obtained from the source. To prepare the sample, the aggregate should be mixed thoroughly and be reduced to a suitable size for testing. The total mass of the sample is also required.[4]


Graphs of cumulative percent passing versus the logarithmic sieve size.

The results are presented in a graph of percent passing versus the sieve size. On the graph the sieve size scale is logarithmic. To find the percent of aggregate passing through each sieve, first find the percent retained in each sieve. To do so, the following equation is used,

%Retained = ×100%

where WSieve is the mass of aggregate in the sieve and WTotal is the total mass of the aggregate. The next step is to find the cumulative percent of aggregate retained in each sieve. To do so, add up the total amount of aggregate that is retained in each sieve and the amount in the previous sieves. The cumulative percent passing of the aggregate is found by subtracting the percent retained from 100%.

%Cumulative Passing = 100% - %Cumulative Retained.

The values are then plotted on a graph with cumulative percent passing on the y axis and logarithmic sieve size on the x axis.[4]

There are two versions of the %Passing equations. the .45 power formula is presented on .45 power gradation chart, whereas the more simple %Passing is presented on a semi-log gradation chart. version of the percent passing graph is shown on .45 power chart and by using the .45 passing formula.

.45 power percent passing formula

% Passing = Pi = x100%


SieveLargest - Largest diameter sieve used in (mm).
Aggregatemax_size - Largest piece of aggregate in the sample in (mm).

Percent passing formula

%Passing = x100%


WBelow - The total mass of the aggregate within the sieves below the current sieve, not including the current sieve's aggregate.

WTotal - The total mass of all of the aggregate in the sample.


There are different methods for carrying out sieve analyses, depending on the material to be measured.


Here a throwing motion acts on the sample. The vertical throwing motion is overlaid with a slight circular motion which results in distribution of the sample amount over the whole sieving surface. The particles are accelerated in the vertical direction (are thrown upwards). In the air they carry out free rotations and interact with the openings in the mesh of the sieve when they fall back. If the particles are smaller than the openings, they pass through the sieve. If they are larger, they are thrown.. The rotating motion while suspended increases the probability that the particles present a different orientation to the mesh when they fall back again, and thus might eventually pass through the mesh. Modern sieve shakers work with an electro-magnetic drive which moves a spring-mass system and transfers the resulting oscillation to the sieve stack. Amplitude and sieving time are set digitally and are continuously observed by an integrated control-unit. Therefore, sieving results are reproducible and precise (an important precondition for a significant analysis). Adjustment of parameters like amplitude and sieving time serves to optimize the sieving for different types of material. This method is the most common in the laboratory sector.[5]


In horizontal sieve shaker the sieve stack moves in horizontal circles in a plane. Horizontal sieve shakers are preferably used for needle-shaped, flat, long or fibrous samples, as their horizontal orientation means that only a few disoriented particles enter the mesh and the sieve is not blocked so quickly. The large sieving area enables the sieving of large amounts of sample, for example as encountered in the particle-size analysis of construction materials and aggregates.


Tapping sieving

A horizontal circular motion overlies a vertical motion which is created by a tapping impulse. These motional processes are characteristic of hand sieving and produce a higher degree of sieving for denser particles (e.g. abrasives) than throw-action sieve shakers.


Most sieve analyses are carried out dry. But there are some applications which can only be carried out by wet sieving. This is the case when the sample which has to be analysed is e.g. a suspension which must not be dried; or when the sample is a very fine powder which tends to agglomerate (mostly < 45 µm) – in a dry sieving process this tendency would lead to a clogging of the sieve meshes and this would make a further sieving process impossible. A wet sieving process is set up like a dry process: the sieve stack is clamped onto the sieve shaker and the sample is placed on the top sieve. Above the top sieve a water-spray nozzle is placed which supports the sieving process additionally to the sieving motion. The rinsing is carried out until the liquid which is discharged through the receiver is clear. Sample residues on the sieves have to be dried and weighed. When it comes to wet sieving it is very important not to change the sample in its volume (no swelling, dissolving or reaction with the liquid).

Air Circular Jet

Air jet sieving machines are ideally suited for very fine powders which tend to agglomerate and cannot be separated by vibrational sieving. The reason for the effectiveness of this sieving method is based on two components: A rotating slotted nozzle inside the sieving chamber and a powerful industrial vacuum cleaner which is connected to the chamber. The vacuum cleaner generates a vacuum inside the sieving chamber and sucks in fresh air through the slotted nozzle. When passing the narrow slit of the nozzle the air stream is accelerated and blown against the sieve mesh, dispersing the particles. Above the mesh, the air jet is distributed over the complete sieve surface and is sucked in with low speed through the sieve mesh. Thus the finer particles are transported through the mesh openings into the vacuum cleaner.

Types of gradation

A Dense gradation
A dense gradation refers to a sample that is approximately of equal amounts of various sizes of aggregate. By having a dense gradation, most of the air voids between the material are filled with particles. A dense gradation will result in an even curve on the gradation graph.[6]
Narrow gradation
Also known as uniform gradation, a narrow gradation is a sample that has aggregate of approximately the same size. The curve on the gradation graph is very steep, and occupies a small range of the aggregate.[4]
Gap gradation
A gap gradation refers to a sample with very little aggregate in the medium size range. This results in only coarse and fine aggregate. The curve is horizontal in the medium size range on the gradation graph.[4]
Open gradation
An open gradation refers an aggregate sample with very little fine aggregate particles. This results in many air voids, because there are no fine particles to fill them. On the gradation graph, it appears as a curve that is horizontal in the small size range.[4]
Rich gradation
A rich gradation refers to a sample of aggregate with a high proportion of particles of small sizes.[6]

Types of sieves

Woven wire mesh sieves

Woven wire mesh sieves are according to technical requirements of ISO 3310-1.[7] These sieves usually have nominal aperture ranging from 20 micrometers to 3.55 millimeters, with diameters ranging from 100 to 450 millimeters.

Perforated plate sieves

Perforated plate sieves conform to ISO 3310-2 and can have round or square nominal apertures ranging from 1 millimeter to 125 millimeters.[8] The diameters of the sieves range from 200 to 450 millimeters.

American standard sieves

American standard sieves also known as ASTM sieves conform to ASTM E11 standard.[9] The nominal aperture of these sieves range from 20 micrometers to 200 millimeters, however these sieves have only 8 inches (203 mm) and 12 inches (305 mm) diameter sizes.

Limitations of sieve analysis

Sieve analysis has, in general, been used for decades to monitor material quality based on particle size. For coarse material, sizes that range down to #100 mesh (150μm), a sieve analysis and particle size distribution is accurate and consistent.

However, for material that is finer than 100 mesh, dry sieving can be significantly less accurate. This is because the mechanical energy required to make particles pass through an opening and the surface attraction effects between the particles themselves and between particles and the screen increase as the particle size decreases. Wet sieve analysis can be utilized where the material analyzed is not affected by the liquid - except to disperse it. Suspending the particles in a suitable liquid transports fine material through the sieve much more efficiently than shaking the dry material.

Sieve analysis assumes that all particle will be round (spherical) or nearly so and will pass through the square openings when the particle diameter is less than the size of the square opening in the screen. For elongated and flat particles a sieve analysis will not yield reliable mass-based results, as the particle size reported will assume that the particles are spherical, where in fact an elongated particle might pass through the screen end-on, but would be prevented from doing so if it presented itself side-on.


Gradation affects many properties of an aggregate. It affects bulk density, physical stability and permeability. With careful selection of the gradation, it is possible to achieve high bulk density, high physical stability, and low permeability. This is important because in pavement design, a workable, stable mix with resistance to water is important. With an open gradation, the bulk density is relatively low, due to the lack of fine particles, the physical stability is moderate, and the permeability is quite high. With a rich gradation, the bulk density will also be low, the physical stability is low, and the permeability is also low. The gradation can be affected to achieve the desired properties for the particular engineering application.[6]

Engineering applications

Gradation is usually specified for each engineering application it is used for. For example, foundations might only call for coarse aggregates, and therefore an open gradation is needed.

See also


  1. ^ p231 in "Characterisation of bulk solids" by Donald Mcglinchey, CRC Press, 2005.
  2. ^ ASTM International - Standards Worldwide. (2006). ASTM C136-06.
  3. ^ AASHTO The Voice of Transportation. T0 27. (2006).
  4. ^ a b c d e f Pavement Interactive. Gradation Test. (2007).
  5. ^ Texas Department of Transportation (January 2016). "Test Procedure for Sieve Analysis of Fine and Coarse Aggregates" (PDF). Texas DOT. Retrieved 2016-12-24.
  6. ^ a b c M.S. Mamlouk and J.P. Zaniewski, Materials for Civil and Construction Engineers, Addison-Wesley, Menlo Park CA, 1999
  7. ^ ISO/TC 24/SC 8. Test sieves -- Technical requirements and testing -- Part 1: Test sieves of metal wire cloth. ISO 3310-1:2000. ISO. p. 15.
  8. ^ ISO/TC 24/SC 8. Test sieves -- Technical requirements and testing -- Part 2: Test sieves of perforated metal plate. ISO 3310-2:2013. ISO. p. 9.
  9. ^ Subcommittee: E29.01. Standard Specification for Woven Wire Test Sieve Cloth and Test Sieves. ASTM E11 - 13. ASTM International. p. 9.

External links

AASHTO Soil Classification System

The AASHTO Soil Classification System was developed by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, and is used as a guide for the classification of soils and soil-aggregate mixtures for highway construction purposes. The classification system was first developed by Hogentogler and Terzaghi in 1929, but has been revised several times since.

Plasticity index of A-7-5 subgroup is equal to or less than the LL - 30. Plasticity index of A-7-6 subgroup is greater than LL - 30.


A borehole is a narrow shaft bored in the ground, either vertically or horizontally. A borehole may be constructed for many different purposes, including the extraction of water, other liquids (such as petroleum) or gases (such as natural gas), as part of a geotechnical investigation, environmental site assessment, mineral exploration, temperature measurement, as a pilot hole for installing piers or underground utilities, for geothermal installations, or for underground storage of unwanted substances, e.g. in carbon capture and storage.


Clay is a finely-grained natural rock or soil material that combines one or more clay minerals with possible traces of quartz (SiO2), metal oxides (Al2O3 , MgO etc.) and organic matter. Geologic clay deposits are mostly composed of phyllosilicate minerals containing variable amounts of water trapped in the mineral structure. Clays are plastic due to particle size and geometry as well as water content, and become hard, brittle and non–plastic upon drying or firing. Depending on the soil's content in which it is found, clay can appear in various colours from white to dull grey or brown to deep orange-red.

Although many naturally occurring deposits include both silts and clay, clays are distinguished from other fine-grained soils by differences in size and mineralogy. Silts, which are fine-grained soils that do not include clay minerals, tend to have larger particle sizes than clays. There is, however, some overlap in particle size and other physical properties. The distinction between silt and clay varies by discipline. Geologists and soil scientists usually consider the separation to occur at a particle size of 2 µm (clays being finer than silts), sedimentologists often use 4–5 μm, and colloid chemists use 1 μm. Geotechnical engineers distinguish between silts and clays based on the plasticity properties of the soil, as measured by the soils' Atterberg limits. ISO 14688 grades clay particles as being smaller than 2 μm and silt particles as being larger.

Mixtures of sand, silt and less than 40% clay are called loam. Loam makes good soil and is used as a building material.

Geotechnical investigation

Geotechnical investigations are performed by geotechnical engineers or engineering geologists to obtain information on the physical properties of soil earthworks and foundations for proposed structures and for repair of distress to earthworks and structures caused by subsurface conditions. This type of investigation is called a site investigation. Additionally, geotechnical investigations are also used to measure the thermal resistivity of soils or backfill materials required for underground transmission lines, oil and gas pipelines, radioactive waste disposal, and solar thermal storage facilities. A geotechnical investigation will include surface exploration and subsurface exploration of a site. Sometimes, geophysical methods are used to obtain data about sites. Subsurface exploration usually involves soil sampling and laboratory tests of the soil samples retrieved.

Surface exploration can include geologic mapping, geophysical methods, and photogrammetry, or it can be as simple as a geotechnical professional walking around on the site to observe the physical conditions at the site.

To obtain information about the soil conditions below the surface, some form of subsurface exploration is required. Methods of observing the soils below the surface, obtaining samples, and determining physical properties of the soils and rocks include test pits, trenching (particularly for locating faults and slide planes), boring, and in situ tests. These can also be used to identify contamination in soils prior to development in order to avoid negative environmental impacts.

Grain size

Grain size (or particle size) is the diameter of individual grains of sediment, or the lithified particles in clastic rocks. The term may also be applied to other granular materials. This is different from the crystallite size, which refers to the size of a single crystal inside a particle or grain. A single grain can be composed of several crystals. Granular material can range from very small colloidal particles, through clay, silt, sand, gravel, and cobbles, to boulders.


Gravel 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 to 4 mm or 0.079 to 0.157 in) and pebble gravel (4 to 64 mm or 0.2 to 2.5 in). ISO 14688 grades gravels as fine, medium, and coarse with ranges 2 mm to 6.3 mm to 20 mm to 63 mm. One cubic metre of gravel typically weighs about 1,800 kg (or a cubic yard weighs about 3,000 pounds).

Gravel is an important commercial product, with a number of applications. Many roadways are surfaced with gravel, especially in rural areas where there is little traffic. Globally, far more roads are surfaced with gravel than with concrete or asphalt; Russia alone has over 400,000 km (250,000 mi) of gravel roads. Both sand and small gravel are also important for the manufacture of concrete.


A hydrometer is an instrument used for measuring the relative density of liquids based on the concept of buoyancy. They are typically calibrated and graduated with one or more scales such as specific gravity.

A hydrometer usually consists of a sealed hollow glass tube with a wider bottom portion for buoyancy, a ballast such as lead or mercury for stability, and a narrow stem with graduations for measuring. The liquid to test is poured into a tall container, often a graduated cylinder, and the hydrometer is gently lowered into the liquid until it floats freely. The point at which the surface of the liquid touches the stem of the hydrometer correlates to relative density. Hydrometers can contain any number of scales along the stem corresponding to properties correlating to the density.

Hydrometers are calibrated for different uses, such as a lactometer for measuring the density (creaminess) of milk, a saccharometer for measuring the density of sugar in a liquid, or an alcoholometer for measuring higher levels of alcohol in spirits.

The hydrometer makes use of Archimedes' principle: a solid suspended in a fluid is buoyed by a force equal to the weight of the fluid displaced by the submerged part of the suspended solid. The lower the density of the fluid, the deeper a hydrometer of a given weight sinks; the stem is calibrated to give a numerical reading.

Natchez silt loam

In 1988, the Professional Soil Classifiers Association of Mississippi selected Natchez silt loam soil to represent the soil resources of the State. These soils exist on 171,559 acres (0.56% of state) of landscape in Mississippi.

Optical granulometry

Optical granulometry is the process of measuring the different grain sizes in a granular material, based on a photograph. Technology has been created to analyze a photograph and create statistics based on what the picture portrays. This information is vital in maintaining machinery in various trades worldwide. Mining companies can use optical granulometry to analyze inactive or moving rock to quantify the size of these fragments. Forestry companies can zero in on wood chip sizes without stopping the production process, and minimize sizing errors.With more photoanalysis technologies being produced, mining companies have shown an increased interest in these types of systems because of their ability to maintain efficiency throughout the mining process. Companies are saving millions of dollars annually because of this new technology, and are cutting back on maintenance costs on equipment.In order for optical granulometry to be completely successful, an accurate photo must be taken – under sufficient lighting, and using proper technology – to obtain quantified results. If these requirements are met, an image analysis system can be implemented.

Particle-size distribution

The particle-size distribution (PSD) of a powder, or granular material, or particles dispersed in fluid, is a list of values or a mathematical function that defines the relative amount, typically by mass, of particles present according to size. Significant energy is usually required to disintegrate soil, etc. particles into the PSD that is then called a grain size distribution.

Particle size

Particle size is a notion introduced for comparing dimensions of solid particles (flecks), liquid particles (droplets), or gaseous particles (bubbles). The notion of particle size applies to

colloidal particles, particles in ecology, particles present in granular material (whether airborne or not), and particles that form a granular material (see also grain size).

Particle size analysis

Particle size analysis, particle size measurement, or simply particle sizing is the collective name of the technical procedures, or laboratory techniques which determines the size range, and/or the average, or mean size of the particles in a powder or liquid sample.

Particle size analysis is part of particle science, and its determination is carried out generally in particle technology laboratories.

The particle size measurement is typically achieved by means of devices called Particle Size Analyzers (PSA) which are based on different technologies, such as high definition image processing, analysis of Brownian motion, gravitational settling of the particle and light scattering (Rayleigh and Mie scattering) of the particles.

The particle size can have considerable importance in a number of industries including the chemical,food, mining, forestry, agriculture, nutrition, pharmaceutical, energy, and aggregate industries.


A mesh strainer, also known as sift, commonly known as sieve, is a device for separating wanted elements from unwanted material or for characterizing the particle size distribution of a sample, typically using a woven screen such as a mesh or net or metal. The word "sift" derives from "sieve". In cooking, a sifter is used to separate and break up clumps in dry ingredients such as flour, as well as to aerate and combine them. A strainer is a form of sieve used to separate solids from liquid.


Silt is granular material of a size between sand and clay, whose mineral origin is quartz and feldspar. Silt may occur as a soil (often mixed with sand or clay) or as sediment mixed in suspension with water (also known as a suspended load) and soil in a body of water such as a river. It may also exist as soil deposited at the bottom of a water body, like mudflows from landslides. Silt has a moderate specific area with a typically non-sticky, plastic feel. Silt usually has a floury feel when dry, and a slippery feel when wet. Silt can be visually observed with a hand lens, exhibiting a sparkly appearance. It also can be felt by the tongue as granular when placed on the front teeth (even when mixed with clay particles).

Soil gradation

Soil gradation is a classification of a coarse-grained soil that ranks the soil based on the different particle sizes contained in the soil. Soil gradation is an important aspect of soil mechanics and geotechnical engineering because it is an indicator of other engineering properties such as compressibility, shear strength, and hydraulic conductivity. In a design, the gradation of the in situ or on site soil often controls the design and ground water drainage of the site. A poorly graded soil will have better drainage than a well graded soil.Soil is graded as either well graded or poorly graded.Soil gradation is determined by analyzing the results of a sieve analysis

or a hydrometer analysis.The process for grading a soil is in accordance with either the Unified Soil Classification System or the AASHTO Soil Classification System. Gradation of a soil is determined by reading the grain size distribution curve produced from the results of laboratory tests on the soil. Gradation of a soil can also be determined by calculating the coefficient of uniformity, Cu, and the coefficient of curvature, Cc, of the soil and comparing the calculated values with published gradation limits.

Soil mechanics

Soil mechanics is a branch of soil physics and applied mechanics that describes the behavior of soils. It differs from fluid mechanics and solid mechanics in the sense that soils consist of a heterogeneous mixture of fluids (usually air and water) and particles (usually clay, silt, sand, and gravel) but soil may also contain organic solids and other matter. Along with rock mechanics, soil mechanics provides the theoretical basis for analysis in geotechnical engineering, a subdiscipline of civil engineering, and engineering geology, a subdiscipline of geology. Soil mechanics is used to analyze the deformations of and flow of fluids within natural and man-made structures that are supported on or made of soil, or structures that are buried in soils. Example applications are building and bridge foundations, retaining walls, dams, and buried pipeline systems. Principles of soil mechanics are also used in related disciplines such as engineering geology, geophysical engineering, coastal engineering, agricultural engineering, hydrology and soil physics.

This article describes the genesis and composition of soil, the distinction between pore water pressure and inter-granular effective stress, capillary action of fluids in the soil pore spaces, soil classification, seepage and permeability, time dependent change of volume due to squeezing water out of tiny pore spaces, also known as consolidation, shear strength and stiffness of soils. The shear strength of soils is primarily derived from friction between the particles and interlocking, which are very sensitive to the effective stress. The article concludes with some examples of applications of the principles of soil mechanics such as slope stability, lateral earth pressure on retaining walls, and bearing capacity of foundations.


Thixotropy is a time-dependent shear thinning property. Certain gels or fluids that are thick or viscous under static conditions will flow (become thin, less viscous) over time when shaken, agitated, sheared or otherwise stressed (time dependent viscosity). They then take a fixed time to return to a more viscous state.

Some non-Newtonian pseudoplastic fluids show a time-dependent change in viscosity; the longer the fluid undergoes shear stress, the lower its viscosity. A thixotropic fluid is a fluid which takes a finite time to attain equilibrium viscosity when introduced to a steep change in shear rate. Some thixotropic fluids return to a gel state almost instantly, such as ketchup, and are called pseudoplastic fluids. Others such as yogurt take much longer and can become nearly solid. Many gels and colloids are thixotropic materials, exhibiting a stable form at rest but becoming fluid when agitated. Thixotropy arises because particles or structured solutes require time to organize. An excellent overview of thixotropy has been provided by Mewis and Wagner.Some fluids are anti-thixotropic: constant shear stress for a time causes an increase in viscosity or even solidification. Fluids which exhibit this property are sometimes called rheopectic. Anti-thixotropic fluids are less well documented than thixotropic fluids.


A trench is a type of excavation or depression in the ground that is generally deeper than it is wide (as opposed to a wider gully, or ditch), and narrow compared with its length (as opposed to a simple hole).In geology, trenches are created as a result of erosion by rivers or by geological movement of tectonic plates. In the civil engineering field, trenches are often created to install underground infrastructure or utilities (such as gas mains, water mains or telephone lines), or later to access these installations. Trenches have also often been dug for military defensive purposes. In archaeology, the "trench method" is used for searching and excavating ancient ruins or to dig into strata of sedimented material.


Washboarding or corrugation is the formation of periodic, transverse ripples in the surface of gravel and dirt roads. Washboarding occurs in dry, granular road material with repeated traffic, traveling at speeds above 8.0 kilometres per hour (5 mph). Washboarding creates an uncomfortable ride for the occupants of traversing vehicles and hazardous driving conditions for vehicles that travel too fast to maintain traction and control.

Retaining walls
Numerical analysis


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