Worldwide, rivers and streams make up dense, interconnected conveyor belts of sediment– removing carved away earth and transporting it downstream. The propensity of alluvial river beds to self-organize into complex trains of bedforms (i.e. ripples and dunes) suggests that the associated fluid and sediment dynamics over individual bedforms are an integral component of bedload transport (sediment rolled or bounced along the river bed) over larger scales. Generally speaking, asymmetric bedforms (such as alluvial ripples and dunes) migrate downstream via erosion on the stoss side of the bedform and deposition on the lee side of the bedform. Thus, the migration of bedforms is intrinsically linked to the downstream flux of bedload sediment. Accurate quantification of bedload transport is important for the management of waters, civil engineering, and river restoration efforts. Although important, accurate qualification of bedload transport is a difficult task that continues t elude researchers. This dissertation focuses on improving our understanding and quantification of bedload transport on the two spatial scales: the bedform scale and the reach (~100m) scale.
Despite a breadth of work investigating the spatiotemporal details of fluid dynamics over bedforms and bedload transport dynamics over flat beds, there remains a relative dearth of investigations into the spatiotemporal details of bedload transport over bedforms and on a sub-bedform scale. To address this, we conducted two sets of flume experiments focused on the two fundamental regions of flow associated with bedforms: flow separation/reattachment on the lee side of the bedform (Chapter 1; backward facing-step) and flow reacceleration up the stoss side of the next bedform (Chapter 2; two-dimensional bedform). Using Laser and Acoustic Doppler Velocimetry to record fluid turbulent events and manual particle tracking of high-speed imagery to record bedload transport dynamics, we identified the existence and importance of “permeable splat events” in the region proximal to flow reattachment.
These coupled turbulent and sediment transport events are integral to the spatiotemporal pattern of bedload transport over bedforms. Splat events are localized, high magnitude, intermittent flow features in which fluid impinges on the bed, infiltrates the top portion of bed, and then exfiltrates in all directions surrounding the point of impingement. This initiates bedload transport in a radial pattern. These turbulent structures are primarily associated with quadrant 1 and 4 turbulent structures (i.e. instantaneous fluid fluctuations in the streamwise direction that bring fluid down into the bed in the case of quadrant 1 events, or up away from the bed in the case of quadrant 4 events) and generate a distinct pattern of bedload transport compared to transport dynamics distal to flow reattachment. Distal to flow reattachment, bedload transport is characterized by relatively unidirectional transport. The dynamics of splat events, specifically their potential for inducing significant magnitudes of cross-stream transport, has important implications for the evolution of bedforms from simple, two dimensional features to complex, three-dimensional features.
New advancements in sonar technology have enabled more detailed quantification of bedload transport on the reach scale, a process paramount to the effective management of rivers with sand or gravel-dominated bed material. However, a practical and scalable field methodology for reliably estimating bedload remains elusive. A popular approach involves calculating transport from the geometry and celerity of migrating bedforms, extracted from time-series of bed elevation profiles (BEPs) acquired using echosounders. Using two sets of repeat multibeam sonar surveys from the Diamond Creek USGS gage station in Grand Canyon National Park with large spatio-temporal resolution and coverage, we compute bedload using three field techniques for acquiring BEPs: repeat multi-, single-, and multiple single-beam sonar. Significant differences in flux arise between repeat multibeam and single beam sonar. Mulitbeam and multiple single beam sonar systems can potentially yield comparable results, but the latter relies on knowledge of bedform geometries and flow that collectively inform optimal beam spacing and sampling rate. These results serve to guide design of optimal sampling, and for comparing transport estimates from different sonar configurations.