Experimental study of sediment supply control on step formation, evolution, and stability

Saletti, Matteo; Hassan, Marwan A.

We present results from an experimental campaign conducted in a steep flume subject to longitudinal width variations and different sediment feed rates. The experiments were designed to study how sediment supply influences step formation, step location, and step stability. Our results show that steps are more likely to form in segments of the channel where the width narrows because of particle jamming, and these steps are also more stable. Sediment feed increases particle activity which generates a dynamic channel morphology with steps forming and collapsing. A comparison with experiments without sediment feed shows that sediment supply does not inhibit step formation. Time series of step formation, evolution, and destruction show that the maximum number of steps is achieved when the sediment feed is larger than zero but smaller than the transport capacity. We summarize this outcome in a conceptual model where the dependence of step frequency on sediment supply is expressed by a bell curve. Sediment yield measured at the channel outlet followed the sediment feed at the inlet closely, even when we fed 50 % more and 50 % less than the calculated transport capacity. This outcome challenges the applicability of the concept of transport capacity to steep channels and highlights the key role played by sediment feed in dictating sediment yield and channel response. Finally, we detected a positive correlation between sediment concentration and step destruction, which stresses the importance of particle interactions for step formation and stability.

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Saletti, Matteo / Hassan, Marwan A.: Experimental study of sediment supply control on step formation, evolution, and stability. 2020. Copernicus Publications.

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