This paper presents a broad but undetailed picture of fluvial sediments in streams, reservoirs, and lakes and includes a discussion of the processes involved in the movement of sediment by flowing water.
Sediment is fragmental material that originates from the chemical or physical disintegration of rocks. The disintegration products may have many different shapes and may range in size from large boulders to colloidal particles. In general, they retain about the same mineral composition as the parent rocks. Rock fragments become fluvial sediment when they are entrained in a stream of water. The entrainment may occur as sheet erosion from land surfaces, particularly for the fine particles, or as channel erosion after the surface runoff has accumulated in streams.
Fluvial sediments move in streams as bedload (particles moving within a few particle diameters of the streambed) or as suspended sediment in the turbulent flow. The discharge of bedload varies with several factors, which may include particle size and a type of effective shear on the surface of the streambed. The discharge of suspended sediment depends partly on concentration of moving sediment near the streambed and hence on discharge of bedload. However, the concentration of fine sediment near the streambed varies widely, even for equal flows, and, therefore, the discharge of fine sediment normally cannot be computed theoretically. The discharge of suspended sediment also depends on velocity, turbulence, depth of flow, and fall velocity of the particles.
In general, the coarse sediment transported by a stream moves intermittently and is discharged at a rate that depends on properties of the flow and of the sediment. If an ample supply of coarse sediment is available at the surface of the streambed, the discharge of the coarse sediment, such as sand, can be roughly computed from properties of the available sediment and of the flow. On the other hand, much of the fine sediment in a stream usually moves nearly continuously at about the velocity of the flow, and even low flows can transport large amounts of fine sediment. Hence, the discharge of fine sediments, being largely dependent on the availability of fine sediment upstream rather than on the properties of the sediment and of the flow at a cross section, can seldom be computed from properties, other than concentrations based directly on samples, that can be observed at the cross section. Sediment particles continually change their positions in the flow; some fall to the streambed, and others are removed from the bed. Sediment deposits form locally or over large areas if the volume rate at which particles settle to the bed exceeds the volume rate at which particles are removed from the bed. In general, large particles are deposited more readily than small particles, whether the point of deposition is behind a rock, on a flood plain, within a stream channel, or at the entrance to a reservoir, a lake, or the ocean.
Most samplers used for sediment observations collect a water-sediment mixture from the water surface to within a few tenths of a foot of the streambed. They thus sample most of the suspended sediment, especially if the flow is deep or if the sediment is mostly fine; but they exclude the bedload and some of the suspended sediment in a layer near the streambed where the suspended-sediment concentrations are highest.
Measured sediment discharges are usually based on concentrations that are averages of several individual sediment samples for a cross section. If enough average concentrations for a cross section have been determined, the measured sediment discharge can be computed by interpolating sediment concentrations between sampling times. If only occasional samples were collected, an average relation between sediment discharge and flow can be used with a flow-duration curve to compute roughly the average or the total sediment discharges for any periods of time for which the flow-duration c