Stabilizing self-organized structures in gravel-bed stream channels: Field and experimental observations


  • Michael Church,

  • Marwan A. Hassan,

  • John F. Wolcott


Stable reticulate structures, which we call “stone cells,” have been observed in cobble-gravel channel beds with low bed material transport rates. Experiments show that such structures develop simultaneously with the armor layer during an extended period when flows do not exceed the Shields threshold by more than ∼2 times, so that bed material transport is low. They are constructed by particles moving from less stable positions into more stable configurations against each other. Intermediate developments include clusters and stone lines. They reduce sediment transport by orders of magnitude and are evidently a major stability-promoting mechanism in gravel channels. The timescale for their development suggests that the boundaries of many gravel-bed channels are not in equilibrium with recent competent flows but reflect the history of recent “dominant” flows.