skip to main content

This content will become publicly available on April 9, 2024

Title: Controls of local grain size distribution, bed structure and flow conditions on sediment mobility

Steep, boulder bed streams often contain sediment patches, which are areas of the bed with relatively well‐defined boundaries that are occupied by distinct grain size distributions (GSD). In sediment mixtures, the underlying GSD affects the critical Shields stress for a given grain size, which is commonly predicted using hiding functions. Hiding functions may vary with reach‐wide bed GSD, but the effect of local GSD on relative sediment mobility between sediment patches is poorly understood. We explore the effects of patch‐scale GSD on sediment mobility using tracer particles combined with local shear stresses to develop hiding functions for different patch classes within a steep stream. Hiding functions for all tested patch classes were similar, which indicates that the same hiding function can be used for different patches. However, the critical Shields stress for a given grain size generally decreased with lower patch median grain size (D50) suggesting that patches control the relative mobility of each size through both the underlying GSD and local shear stresses. The effects of the underlying GSD partly depend on grain protrusion, which we measured for all grain sizes present on each patch class. Protrusion was generally greater for larger grains regardless of patch class, but for a given grain size, protrusion was increased with smaller patchD50. For a given grain size, higher protrusion results in greater applied fluid forces and reduced resisting forces to partly explain our lower critical Shields stresses in finer patches. Patches therefore can importantly modulate relative sediment mobility through bed structure and may need to be included in reach‐scale sediment transport and channel stability estimates.

more » « less
Author(s) / Creator(s):
 ;  ;  ;  ;  
Publisher / Repository:
Wiley Blackwell (John Wiley & Sons)
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Earth Surface Processes and Landforms
Page Range / eLocation ID:
p. 1990-2004
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract

    Estimates of the onset of sediment motion are integral for flood protection and river management but are often highly inaccurate. The critical shear stress (τ*c) for grain entrainment is often assumed constant, but measured values can vary by almost an order of magnitude between rivers. Such variations are typically explained by differences in measurement methodology, grain size distributions, or flow hydraulics, whereas grain resistance to motion is largely assumed to be constant. We demonstrate that grain resistance varies strongly with the bed structure, which is encapsulated by the particle height above surrounding sediment (protrusion,p) and intergranular friction (ϕf). We incorporate these parameters into a novel theory that correctly predicts resisting forces estimated in the laboratory, field, and a numerical model. Our theory challenges existing models, which significantly overestimate bed mobility. In our theory, small changes inpandϕfcan induce large changes inτ*cwithout needing to invoke variations in measurement methods or grain size. A data compilation also reveals that scatter in empirical values ofτ*ccan be partly explained by differences inpbetween rivers. Therefore, spatial and temporal variations in bed structure can partly explain the deviation ofτ*cfrom an assumed constant value. Given that bed structure is known to vary with applied shear stresses and upstream sediment supply, we conclude that a constantτ*cis unlikely. Values ofτ*care not interchangeable between streams, or even through time in a given stream, because they are encoded with the channel history.

    more » « less
  2. Abstract

    To explore the causes of history‐dependent sediment transport in rivers, we use a 19‐year record of coarse sediment transport from a steep channel in Switzerland. We observe a strong dependence of the threshold for sediment motion (τc) on the magnitude of previous flows for prior shear stresses ranging from 104 to 340 Pa, resulting in seasonally increasingτcfor 10 of 19 years. This stabilization occurs with and without measureable bedload transport, suggesting that small‐scale riverbed rearrangement increasesτc. Following large transport events (>340 Pa), this history dependence is disrupted. Bedload tracers suggest that significant reorganization of the bed erases memory of previous flows. We suggest that the magnitude of past flows controls the organization of the bed, which then modifiesτc, paralleling the evolution of granular media under shear. Our results support the use of a state function to better predict variability in bedload sediment transport rates.

    more » « less
  3. Abstract

    Turbidity current and coastal storm deposits are commonly characterized by a basal sandy massive (structureless) unit overlying an erosional surface and underlying a parallel or cross‐laminated unit. Similar sequences have been recently identified in fluvial settings as well. Notwithstanding field, laboratory and numerical studies, the mechanisms for emplacement of these massive basal units are still under debate. It is well accepted that the sequence considered here can be deposited by waning‐energy flows, and that the parallel‐laminated units are deposited under transport conditions corresponding to upper plane bed at the dune–antidune transition. Thus, transport conditions that are more intense than those at the dune–antidune transition should deposit massive units. This study presents experimental, open‐channel flow results showing that sandy massive units can be the result of gradual deposition from a thick bedload layer of colliding grains called sheet flow layer. When this layer forms with relatively coarse sand, the non‐dimensional bed shear stress associated with skin friction, the Shields number, is larger than a threshold value approximately equal to 0·4. For values of the Shields number smaller than 0·4 the sheet flow layer disappeared, sediment was transported by a standard bedload layer one or two grain diameters thick, and the bed configuration was characterized by downstream migrating antidunes and washed out dunes. Parallel laminae were found in deposits emplaced with standard bedload transport demonstrating that the same dilute flow can gradually deposit the basal and the parallel‐laminated unit in presence of traction at the depositional boundary. Further, the experiments suggested that two different types of upper plane bed conditions can be defined, one associated with standard bedload transport at the dune–antidune transition, and the other associated with bedload transport in sheet flow mode at the transition between upstream and downstream migrating antidunes.

    more » « less
  4. For plate tectonics to operate on a planet, mantle convective forces must be capable of forming weak, localized shear zones in the lithosphere that act as plate boundaries. Otherwise, a planet's mantle will convect in a stagnant lid regime, where subduction and plate motions are absent. Thus, when and how plate tectonics initiated on Earth is intrinsically tied to the ability of mantle convection to form plate boundaries; however, the physics behind this process are still uncertain. Most mantle convection models have employed a simple pseudoplastic model of the lithosphere, where the lithosphere "fails" and develops a mobile lid when stresses in the lithosphere reach the prescribed yield stress. With pseudoplasticity high mantle temperatures and high rates of internal heating, conditions relevant for the early Earth, impede plate boundary formation by decreasing lithospheric stresses, and hence favor a stagnant lid for the early Earth. However, when a model for shear zone formation based on grain size reduction is used, early Earth thermal conditions do not favor a stagnant lid. While lithosphere stress drops with increasing mantle temperature or heat production rate, the deformational work, which drives grain size reduction, increases. Thus the ability of convection to form weak plate boundaries is not impeded by early Earth thermal conditions. However, mantle thermal state does change the style of subduction and lithosphere mobility; high mantle temperatures lead to a more sluggish, drip-like style of subduction. This "sluggish lid" convection may be able to explain many of the key observations of early Earth crust formation processes preserved in the geologic record. Moreover, this work highlights the importance of understanding the microphysics of plate boundary formation for assessing early Earth tectonics, as different plate boundary formation mechanisms are influenced by mantle thermal state in fundamentally different ways. 
    more » « less
  5. Abstract

    Mountain rivers often receive sediment in the form of episodic, discrete pulses from a variety of natural and anthropogenic processes. Once emplaced in the river, the movement of this sediment depends on flow, grain size distribution, and channel and network geometry. Here, we simulate downstream bed elevation changes that result from discrete inputs of sediment (∼10,000 m3), differing in volume and grain size distribution, under medium and high flow conditions. We specifically focus on comparing bed responses between mixed and uniform grain size sediment pulses. This work builds on a Lagrangian, bed‐material sediment transport model and applies it to a 27 km reach of the mainstem Nisqually River, Washington, USA. We compare observed bed elevation change and accumulation rates in a downstream lake to simulation results. Then we investigate the magnitude, timing, and persistence of downstream changes due to the introduction of synthetic sediment pulses by comparing the results against a baseline condition (without pulse). Our findings suggest that bed response is primarily influenced by the sediment‐pulse grain size and distribution. Intermediate mixed‐size pulses (∼50% of the median bed gravel size) are likely to have the largest downstream impact because finer sizes translate quickly and coarser sizes (median bed gravel size and larger) disperse slowly. Furthermore, a mixed‐size pulse, with a smaller median grain size than the bed, increases bed mobility more than a uniform‐size pulse. This work has important implications for river management, as it allows us to better understand fluvial geomorphic responses to variations in sediment supply.

    more » « less