• Clay suspensions;
  • current ripples;
  • flume;
  • kaolinite;
  • turbulence modulation;
  • ultrasonic Doppler velocity profiling


Most aqueous sedimentary environments contain varying concentrations of fine-grained, often clay-rich, sediment that is transported in suspension and may modify the properties of the flow and underlying mobile bed. This paper presents results from a series of laboratory experiments examining the mean and turbulent properties of clay-laden (kaolinite) flows, of various volumetric sediment concentrations between 0·046% and 12·7%, moving over a fixed, idealized current ripple.

As the kaolinite concentration was raised, with flow velocity and depth constant, four flow types were observed to occur: (i) turbulent flow, in which flow separation is dominant in the leeside of the ripple; (ii) turbulence-enhanced transitional flow, in which turbulence in the leeside separation zone region is enhanced; (iii) turbulence-attenuated transitional flow, in which turbulence along the separation zone shear layer and in the free flow above it becomes damped, eventually leading to a reduction in the size of the separation zone wake region; and (iv) laminar plug flow, in which turbulence is damped and flow is almost stagnant in the lee of the ripple. Such modulation of turbulence by increasing clay concentrations suggests that many paradigms of flow and bedform dynamics, which have been based on extensive past work in clear water flows, require revision. The present results highlight a need to fully characterize the boundary conditions for turbulence modulation as a function of clay type and applied flow conditions, and the effects of such flows on fully mobile cohesionless beds.