Technological advances in suspended‐sediment surrogate monitoring

Water Resources Research




Surrogate technologies to continuously monitor suspended sediment show promise toward supplanting traditional data collection methods requiring routine collection and analysis of water samples. Commercially available instruments operating on bulk optic (turbidity), laser optic, pressure difference, and acoustic backscatter principles are evaluated based on cost, reliability, robustness, accuracy, sample volume, susceptibility to biological fouling, and suitable range of mass concentration and particle size distribution. In situ turbidimeters are widely used. They provide reliable data where the point measurements can be reliably correlated to the river's mean cross section concentration value, effects of biological fouling can be minimized, and concentrations remain below the sensor's upper measurement limit. In situ laser diffraction instruments have similar limitations and can cost 6 times the approximate $5000 purchase price of a turbidimeter. However, laser diffraction instruments provide volumetric‐concentration data in 32 size classes. Pressure differential instruments measure mass density in a water column, thus integrating substantially more streamflow than a point measurement. They are designed for monitoring medium‐to‐large concentrations, are generally unaffected by biological fouling, and cost about the same as a turbidimeter. However, their performance has been marginal in field applications. Acoustic Doppler profilers use acoustic backscatter to measure suspended sediment concentrations in orders of magnitude more streamflow than do instruments that rely on point measurements. The technology is relatively robust and generally immune to effects of biological fouling. Cost of a single‐frequency device is about double that of a turbidimeter. Multifrequency arrays also provide the potential to resolve concentrations by clay silt versus sand size fractions. Multifrequency hydroacoustics shows the most promise for revolutionizing collection of continuous suspended sediment data by instruments that require only periodic calibration for correlation to mean concentrations in river cross sections. Broad application of proven suspended sediment surrogate technologies has the potential to revolutionize fluvial sediment monitoring. Once applied, benefits could be enormous, providing for safer, more frequent and consistent, arguably more accurate, and ultimately less expensive sediment data for managing the world's sedimentary resources.

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
Journal Article
Technological advances in suspended‐sediment surrogate monitoring
Series title:
Water Resources Research
Year Published:
American Geophysical Union
Contributing office(s):
Office of Surface Water
Article W00D29; 20 p.