Streambed stresses and flow around bridge piers

Water-Resources Investigations Report 96-4142

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Scour of streambed material around bridge foundations by floodwaters is the leading cause of catastrophic bridge failure in the United States. The potential for scour and the stability of riprap used to protect the streambed from scour during extreme flood events must be known to evaluate the likelihood of bridge failure. A parameter used in estimating the potential for scour and removal of riprap protection is the time-averaged shear stress on the streambed often referred to as boundary stress. Bridge components, such as bridge piers and abutments, obstruct flow and induce strong vortex systems that create streambed or boundary stresses significantly higher than those in unobstructed flow. These locally high stresses can erode the streambed around pier and abutment foundations to the extent that the foundation is undermined, resulting in settlement or collapse of bridge spans. The purpose of this study was to estimate streambed stresses at a bridge pier under full-scale flow conditions and to compare these stresses with those obtained previously in small-scale model studies. Two-dimensional velocity data were collected for three flow conditions around a bridge pier at the Kentucky State Highway 417 bridge over the Green River at Greensburg in Green County, Ky. Velocity vector plots and the horizontal component of streambed stress contour plots were developed from the velocity data. The streambed stress contours were developed using both a near-bed velocity and velocity gradient method. Maximum near-bed velocities measured at the pier for the three flow conditions were 1.5, 1.6, and 2.0 times the average near-bed velocities measured in the upstream approach flow. Maximum streambed stresses for the three flow conditions were determined to be 10, 15, and 36 times the streambed stresses of the upstream approach flow. Both the near-bed velocity measurements and approximate maximum streambed stresses at the full-scale pier were consistent with those observed in experiments using small-scale models in which similar data were collected, except for a single observation of the near-bed velocity data and the corresponding streambed stress determination. The location of the maximum streambed stress was immediately downstream of a 90 degree radial of the upstream cylinder (with the center of the upstream cylinder being the origin) for the three flow conditions. This location was close to the flow wake separation point at the upstream cylinder. Other researchers have observed the maximum streambed stress around circular cylinders at this location or at a location immediately upstream of the wake separation point. Although the magnitudes of the estimated streambed stresses measured at the full-scale pier were consistent with those measured in small-scale model studies, the stress distributions were significantly different than those measured in small-scale models. The most significant discrepancies between stress contours developed in this study and those developed in the small-scale studies for flow around cylindrical piers on a flat streambed were associated with the shape of the stress contours. The extent of the high stress region of the streambed around the full-scale pier was substantially larger than the diameter of the upstream cylinder, while small-scale models had small regions compared to the diameter of the model cylinders. In addition, considerable asymmetry in the stress contours was observed. The large region of high stress and asymmetry was attributed to several factors including (1) the geometry of the full-scale pier, (2) the non-planar topography of the streambed, (3) the 20 degree skew of the pier to the approaching flow, and (4) the non-uniformity of the approach flow. The extent of effect of the pier on streambed stresses was found to be larger for the full-scale site than for model studies. The results from the model studies indicated that the streambed stresses created by the obstruction of flow by the 3-foot wide pi

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Streambed stresses and flow around bridge piers
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Water-Resources Investigations Report
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U.S. Geological Survey,
iv, 128 p. :ill. ;28 cm.