Journal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface

The influence of vegetation on turbulence and bed load transport


  • E. M. Yager,

    Corresponding author
    1. Center for Ecohydraulics Research, Department of Civil Engineering, University of Idaho, Boise, Idaho, USA
    • Corresponding author: E. M. Yager, Center for Ecohydraulics Research, Department of Civil Engineering, University of Idaho, Boise, ID 83702, USA. (

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  • M. W. Schmeeckle

    1. School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona, USA
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[1] Vegetation is ubiquitous in river channels and floodplains and alters mean flow conditions and turbulence. However, the effects of vegetation patches on near-bed turbulence, bed load transport rates, and sedimentation are not well understood. To elucidate the influence of emergent vegetation on local and patch-averaged bed load transport, we conducted a set of experiments in which we varied the mean flow velocity (U), total boundary shear stress (τ), or vegetation density between runs. We measured 2D velocity fields using Particle Imaging Velocimetry and bed load fluxes using high-speed video. Simulated rigid vegetation caused bed load fluxes to vary spatially by an order of magnitude, causing distinct scour zones adjacent to, and depositional bed forms between stems. These local patterns of sedimentation could impact recruitment and survival of other plants. Large bed load fluxes were collocated with high near-bed turbulence intensities that were three to four times larger than spatially averaged values. Higher vegetation densities increased the importance of inward and outward interactions, particularly downstream of vegetation. At the patch scale, greater stem densities caused either an increase or decrease in run-averaged bed load fluxes, depending on whether U or τ was held constant between runs. This implies that sedimentation in vegetation patches is not only a function of bed grain size, sediment supply, and vegetation density and species, but whether vegetation significantly impacts mean and local flow properties, which could depend on vegetation location. Commonly used bed load transport equations did not accurately predict average sediment fluxes in our experiments unless they accounted for the spatial variability in the near-bed Reynolds stress.