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Sediment transport,

from theory to practice,

or the other way round?
Jean J. Peters

Sediment transport mechanisms, other
Bed load measurements and computations
Bed forms and resistance to the flow
Plan form changes and bank erosion

These days the rivers are in the news!
People ask about the causes of these recent
catastrophic floods: climate change, el
Nino, greenhouse effects.
There are also the natural changes: soil
erosion, tectonics, sediment unbalance in
river channels, so what?

River engineering has contributed to modify
the morphology and flow conveyance in
many rivers.
We need tools to handle the issues related to
river morphology, and sediment theories to
set up reliable (numerical) models.
Our knowledge and understanding of
sediment transport is still quite poor.

Most theories in sediment transport were
developed from laboratory experiments.
Many field observations were never
thoroughly investigated.
Concepts on which are based formulas and
models need to be improved with feed-back
from the field, from practice.

Sediment Transport Mechanisms

The sediment transport definition ISO 3716, 1977,

does not consider the near-bed transport observed
in the field.

Sediment Transport Mechanisms

The segregation of sediment fractions in a
X-section are known since long (Meade )
Observations in several major rivers have
revealed a near-bed transport of bed
material, a population different from the
suspended load observed at higher levels.
The thickness of the near-bed transport
layer may amount to several decimetres.

Near-bed Sediment Transport

Sampling in Congo River revealed near-bed

sediment transport in layer up to 0.5 m thick

Brahmaputra - 1995
Sand transport measured with Delft Bottle

Solid discharge in m3/m

Particle size d10 - d50 d90

Sediment Transport Mechanisms

Sediment segregation creates heterogeneous
distribution of the bottom sediment in terms
of particle size.
How do we model a river channel when the
d50 in a X-section varies from 0.150 mm to
more than 1 mm, knowing that bedforms
may be different for sizes over and under a
0.600 mm limit?

Bed load Issues

Bed load is difficult to measure, however
traditional samplers work (there are no good or
bad samplers, there are good and bad ways to use them)

A combination of samplers may provide an

improved picture of the sediment transport
processes in a river.
Interpretation of sediment measurements
requires comprehensive flow data.

Bed load Measurements

Contact load can be measured with
samplers such as Bedload Transport Metre
Arnhem (BTMA), Helley-Smith (or its FISP
version US BL-84).
Near-bed sand transport can be measured
with the Delft Bottle (frame mounted).
Suspended sand transport can be sampled
with the Delft Bottle (cable-suspended).

Near-bed load Rating Curve

Congo (Zaire) River
Main gauging station
Ntua-Nkulu (86% of flow)
Solid discharge measured
in layer between 5 and 35cm
from riverbed

Upper flow regime

Lower flow regime

Suspended Sediment Sampling

The Punjab sampler
(India) is an example of
a device not suitable for
suspended sediment
sampler, non iso-kinetic.
For sand transport, the
uncertainty on the data is
large because the
samples are usually to

Sediment Measurements
Broad-Band Acoustic Current Profilers (the
ADCPs) are not yet able to determine
sediment transport rates, only qualitatively
the sediment distribution in X-sections.
Many samplers are inadequate for sand.
To determine the complete size distribution
in suspension for sand mixed with fine solid
collapsible-bag samplers are recommended
(such as the Chinese ANX-HW samplers).

Sediment Measurements
Among the information needed to interpret
or calculate sediment transport, shear stress
or velocity is a key element, but no one was
able yet to measure it directly in real rivers.
The determination of the shear stress with
the slope of the energy grade lane is not
reliable and it is recommended to use
vertical velocity profiles instead.

Bed forms in the

Congo River
Well developed
dunes 33,000 m3/s
Washed-out dunes
with smaller bed
forms superposed
at 40,000 m3/s
Smaller bed forms
developed further
over a plane bed at
50,000 m3/s

Bed forms in the Congo River

Plaster model of one channel; area: 4 x 1.5 Km

Changes observed during 12 months
Transition occurs differently according to location

Bed forms in the Congo River

Congo River Data on

Bed Forms and Flow Resistance
Bed forms measured at same discharges in
two branches of the river, taking both about
43 % of the total discharge show different
behaviour of bed forms when passing from
lower to upper flow regime, explained by
the difference in riverbed particle size.
Studies on these data in Delft Hydraulics in
1985 showed the limitations of bed form
and roughness prediction.

Bed Forms and Flow Resistance

Study on bed forms made in Delft Hydraulics in 1985/86


Bed Forms and Flow Resistance

Classification of bed forms comes mainly
from laboratory experiments.
Bed form predictors are not reliable.
Data on bed form changes from lower to
upper flow regime in real rivers are scarce.
The relationship of flow resistance to bed
form shape and size is uncertain, as the head
loss in rivers depend on many parameters.

Plan Form Changes

Need for understanding better the processes
of plan form change and their causes.
River engineering not always done properly
because of the lack of understanding.
Role of bed load usually underestimated.
A lot can be learned from the observation
and interpretation of plan form changes
with topo-bathymetric charts.

Plan Form Changes

From the observation of sandbars in the
Congo River, typical bed features were used
to predict the further evolutions.
The influence of changes in water flow - in
water level and velocity - on morphology
has to be assessed properly to understand
the dynamic behaviour of sandbars.

Sandbars with sand arrows, river in Punjab, India

Formation of the sand arrows is typical
and explained by bed load paths.
When such a sandbar is again attacked by
the flow during lower stages, erosion at the
upstream tip may deflect the currents,
creating new sand arrows and new bar.
The deflected flow attacks the banks, with
new patterns of erosion and sedimentation.

The sandbar may evolve differently if the
flow continues to pass over its top, bringing
sediment in the shadow zone behind de
sandbar, in between the sand arrows.

Location of verticals for sand transport sampling in area where plan form changes hampered navigation

Channel Bifurcation (Congo)


The change was triggered by the advance of a

sandbar towards the secondary channel.
Control by hard points had significant influence.

Channel Bifurcation (Mexico)

A structure was built to control a bifurcation
of the Grijalva river in the Samaria and
Carrizal branches.
Numerical modelling started, fortunately
also sediment measurements with specific
hydrographic measurements.
The morphological response to the
engineering works is already visible.

Many sediment and morphological processes are
still poorly understood.
Laboratory experiments are very useful but have
limitations because of scale effects.
Numerical simulations use formulas derived from
fluid mechanics theories and laboratory
experiments, rather than from field observations.
More field surveys and studies are needed, and :

I have no data yet.

It is a capital mistake to
theorise before one has data.
Insensibly one begins to twist
the facts to suit theories,
instead of theories to suit the

is what Sherlock Holmes said to Dr Watson,
in the novel A scandal in Bohemia, by Sir
A. Conan Doyle.
It applies to sediment transport too, and it is
urgent to devote more efforts to get the data.
Decision makers should realise the value of
good field observations and data in sediment
transport and river morphology.

To measure sediment transport is not an
easy task, too often left to observers.
It requires experience, to be gained in the
field, not with books.
And repeating what I have said previously
in training courses:

To those who want trying

to measure sediment in rivers
It will not be easy
Youll have to accept adversity
If you do not like difficulties
If you want to remain happy
Do not measure sediment

The End
Thank you for your attention