It is well known that sediment sorting according to size, shape and density occurs, but the exact mechanisms involved are poorly understood. To assess the effects of size and density, sand-size spheres of two densities were transported and deposited under controlled flume conditions. Observations on the motion of discrete particles show that grains smaller than bed-roughness grains move continuously and have the same transport velocities regardless of density. For grains near and slightly larger than the roughness, movement is intermittent and, for a given size, heavy particles move more slowly than lights. For grains much larger than bed roughness grains, movement is continuous over the rough surface and light and heavy grains have nearly the same transport velocities.
Analyses of bulk sediment deposited from plane-bed transport, show that the size and proportion of heavies decreases and that of lights increases with distance transported. For ripple bed transport, however, the size relations between associated light and heavy grains remains essentially unchanged with transport distance and the proportion of light and heavy grains is extremely variable.
These results suggest that size-density sorting in plane-bed transport is a function of the transportabilities identified in the discrete grain studies but that sorting in ripple-bed transport is related to deposition on, and recycling through, the bed forms. Application of these findings to the concept of hydraulic equivalence implies that some indication of bed configuration may be necessary for the concept to be useful.