Sedimentation by river-induced turbidity currents: field measurements and interpretation


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    Department of Geology, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80301, USA.


Turbidity currents, initiated from spring runoffs of an influent river, were observed in the upper region of a reservoir in Hokkaido, Japan, by measuring water temperature, velocity and suspended-sediment concentration. Their profiles offer some physical parameters for the sedimentary conditions, assuming the turbidity currents to be quasi-uniform. The bottom sediment deposited by the turbidity currents was then collected by a portable core sampler. The bottom sediment consists of more than 90% silt and clay, and thus offers a hydraulically smooth bed for shear flow; a plane bed as a bed configuration was formed on the reservoir bed, probably because of the low shear velocity and small grain size of sediment. Using a graphic method with log-normal probability paper, the bottom sediment is divided into several overlapping log-normal subpopulations. Grain-size analysis indicates that the bottom sediment may be regarded as cohesionless; criteria for ‘complete deposition’ of transported grains can then be incorporated into the ‘extended Shields diagram’ giving the minimum shear stress to erode bottom sediment. Applying the new diagram to the grain size distribution of the bottom sediment, it is suggested that each of the log-normal subpopulations was deposited in each of four different ‘modes of deposition’, i.e. ‘traction’, ‘saltation (or intermittent suspension)’, ‘suspension’ and ‘suspension under equilibrium’. The last mode may be observed under a sedimentary condition where upward flux of suspended sediment by eddy diffusion is almost equal to its depositional flux due to gravity. The mean and critical grain sizes for bottom sediment and each of the corresponding subpopulations decrease consistently with an increase of Ψ=Fd2 log10Re (Fd is the densimetric Froude number and Re is the flow Reynolds number). Ψ correlates inversely with shear velocity, which bears a linear relationship to mean velocity. These results lead to the conclusion that relatively fine suspended sediment is deposited as a result of decreasing bottom friction with a relative decrease of turbulent energy.