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Experimental study on transient and steady-state dynamics of bedforms in supply limited configuration



The purpose of the present study is to investigate experimentally the development of bedforms in a configuration where the sediment supply is limited. The experimental setup is a rectangular closed duct combining an innovative system to control the rate of sediment supply Qin, and a digitizing system to measure in real time the 3D bedform topography. We carried out different sets of experiments with two sediment sizes (100 µm and 500 µm) varying both the sediment supply and the water flow rate to obtain a total of 46 different configurations. After a transient phase, steady sub-centimeter bedforms of various shapes have been observed: barchans dunes, straight transverse dune, linguoid transverse dunes and bedload sheets. Height, spacing, migration speed, and mean bed elevation of the equilibrium bedforms were measured. For a given flow rate, two regimes were identified with fine sediment: (i) a monotonic increasing regime where the equilibrium bedform height and velocity increase with the sediment supply rate Qin and (ii) an invariant regime for which both parameters are almost independent of Qin. For coarse sediment, only the first regime is observed. We interpret the saturation of height and velocity for fine sediment bedforms as the transition from a supply-limited regime to a transport-limited regime in which the bedload flux has reached its maximum value under the prevailing flow conditions. We also demonstrate that all experiments can be rescaled if the migration speed and height of the bedforms are, respectively, divided and multiplied by the cube of the shear velocity. This normalization is independent of grain size and of bedform morphology. These experimental results provide a new quantification of the factors controlling equilibrium height and migration speed of bedforms in supply-limited conditions against which theoretical and numerical models can be tested.