Role of Near-Bed Turbulence Structure in Bed Load Transport and Bed Form Mechanics


  • Jonathan M. Nelson,

  • Ronald L. Shreve,

  • Stephen R. McLean,

  • Thomas G. Drake


The interactions between turbulence events and sediment motions during bed load transport were studied by means of laser-Doppler velocimetry and high-speed cinematography. Sweeps (u′ > 0, w′ < 0) which contribute positively to the mean bed shear stress, collectively move the majority of the sediment, primarily because they are extremely common. Outward interactions (u′ > 0 w′ > 0) which contribute negatively to the bed shear stress and are relatively rare, individually move as much sediment as sweeps of comparable magnitude and duration, however, and much more than bursts (u′ < 0, w′ > 0) and inward interactions (u′ < 0, w′ < 0). When the magnitude of the outward interactions increases relative to the other events, therefore, the sediment flux increases even though the bed shear stress decreases. Thus, although bed shear stress can be used to estimate bed load transport by flows with well-developed boundary layers, in which the flow is steady and uniform and the turbulence statistics all scale with the shear velocity, it is not accurate for flows with developing boundary layers, such as those over sufficiently nonuniform topography or roughness, in which significant spatial variations in the magnitudes and durations of the sweeps, bursts, outward interactions, and inward interactions occur. These variations produce significant peaks in bed load transport downstream of separation points, thus supporting the hypothesis that flow separation plays a significant role in the development of bed forms.