Experimental Study of the Response of a Gravel Streambed to Increased Sediment Supply

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Journal/Book Title/Conference

Earth Surf. Processes Landforms

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gravel streambed, sediment supply


If increased sediment supply to a river channel exceeds its transport capacity, deposition necessarily occurs as the bed adjusts to accommodate the increased supply. Both the mean and spatial patterns in bed elevation and grain size may change and an ability to understand their relative importance is needed to predict bed response. We report on an experiment in a field-scale flume in which sediment supply is increased to a gravel bed with alternate bars. Sediment was recirculated in the experiments, but augmented in two steps, after which the bed was allowed to reach a new steady state. The transport rate at the end of the experiment was three times larger than at the start. High-resolution sediment flux and topographic measurements, grain size derived from photographs, and hydrodynamic modeling allow us to document the topographic and textural response of the bed to increased sediment supply. The spatial patterns of bed topography and texture were forced by the flume setup and the initial and final steady states included long stationary alternate bars with associated grain size sorting. The transient bed contained several scales of shorter wavelength migrating bedforms superimposed on, and temporarily replacing the stationary alternate bars. Bed topography and textural patterns adjusted to increased sediment supply over different timescales. Bed slope and mean stress increased directly with sediment supply rate to produce a new transport steady state in a time about 2.5 times the minimum needed to deposit the required sediment wedge, indicating a trap efficiency of about 40% for the aggrading wedge. Adjustments in local topography and sorting, primarily in the form of smaller, migrating bars, continued for a period approximately equal to that required to initially reach transport steady state.

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