Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Civil and Environmental Engineering

Committee Chair(s)

Blake P. Tullis


Blake P. Tullis


Steven L. Barfuss


Michael C. Johnson


Gary P. Merkley


William J. Rahmeyer


Quantifying hydraulic roughness coefficients is commonly required in order to calculate flow rate in open channel applications. An assumption typically coupled with the use of Manning’s equation is that a roughness coefficient (n) that is solely dependent upon a boundary roughness characteristic (k) may be applied. Even though Manning reported unique values of n and x’ (the exponent of the hydraulic radius in Manning’s equation) for each of the different boundary roughness materials he tested, he chose x’ = 2/3 as representative, assumed a constant n value, and suggested that it was sufficiently accurate.

More recent studies have suggested that in addition to k; Rh, Se, and Fr can influence n. While research points to situations where n may vary, it is always a temptation to simply apply the constant n assumption especially in the case of more complicated channels such as composite channels where different roughness materials line different parts of a channel cross section.

This study evaluates the behavior of n as a function of Re, Rh, k, So, and Fr for four different boundary roughness materials ranging from smooth to relatively rough in a rectangular tilting flume. The results indicate that for the relatively rough materials n is best described by its relationship with Rh where it varies over a lower range of Rh but approaches and at a point maintains a constant value as Rh increases. The constant value of n is attributed to both the physically smooth boundary materials and a quasi-smooth flow condition in the rougher boundary materials. The study shows that an x’ = 2/3 (the basis of Manning’s equation) correlated to the assumption of a constant n value only applies to smooth boundary roughness materials and a quasi-smooth flow condition in the rougher boundary materials; otherwise, either n or x’ must vary.

These findings are then applied to compare 16 published composite channel relationships. The results identify the importance of applying a varying n where applicable due to the potential for error in assuming and applying a constant n. They also indicate that the more complicated predictive methods do not produce more accurate results than the simpler methods of which the most consistent is the Horton method.