Suspended sediment dynamics and morphodynamics in the Yellow River, China



The Yellow River in China carries large amounts of sediments in suspension at concentrations up to several hundreds of kilograms per cubic metre; the sediment is composed mainly of silt. These high sediment concentrations influence the hydrodynamics (flow velocity and turbulence) which, in turn, determine the sediment concentration profile, whereas both the high sediment concentrations and pseudo-cohesive properties of silt determine the morphodynamics of the Yellow River. The effect of sediment on the hydrodynamics is analysed using the Richardson number and the Reynolds number to provide a framework to differentiate between various flow regimes in the Yellow River, which is calibrated and validated with Yellow River data. The flow may be sub-saturated (stable flow), super-saturated (unstable flow characterized by high deposition rates, caused by collapse of turbulence), or hyperconcentrated sub-saturated (stable flow because of hindered settling effects), depending on the Richardson number. Independent of this, the flow may be turbulent, transitional or laminar, depending on the Reynolds number. Analysis of these flow types improves understanding of the flow regimes and morphodynamics of the Yellow River. The morphodynamics of the Yellow River are also affected by pseudo-cohesive behaviour caused by shear dilatance, which results in increasing critical shear stress for erosion at decreasing grain-size. This pseudo-cohesive behaviour may be partly responsible not only for the high deposition rates which characterize the lower Yellow River, but also for mass erosion during river floods.