Bedload and river hydraulics - Inferences from the East Fork River, Wyoming

Professional Paper 1583




During 1973-79, bedload data were collected in a sophisticated trap on a river of moderate size, the East Fork. The transport rate was measured most days through a full snowmelt season, and the rate was determined separately for eight zones across the channel width. The quantitative data are unique and unlikely to be repeated. Nor need they be, because as a result of this effort a practical bedload sampler was adequately tested against full river measurement.

It was shown that bedload moves sporadically and randomly on the river bed. Therefore, transport rate is highly variable in short periods of time. There is also a wide variance from day to day. Yet, different rivers have transport rates, which are functions of discharge, depth, and sediment size, that are clearly distinct.

Comparison of computed and measured transport rates indicates that a major problem remains: What grain size is representative of the bedload when there is a wide or heterogeneous particle-size distribution? Size of the bedload in motion may be very different from the size of bed material obtained from samples of the streambed.

For general computation, the river channel slope may be averaged, and it may be assumed that water-surface slope does not change materially with changing discharge. Indeed, this generality is correct, in that, compared with depth, velocity, and width, slope is conservative at-a-station. However, in more detail, slope changes importantly with discharge in short reaches of channel, and those changes are very different in pool and riffle.

These local changes in slope are not merely an aspect of a detailed longitudinal profile but involve cross-channel as well as down-channel components. The pool and riffle sequence involves not only undulation of bed elevation and bar formation on alternate sides of the channel, but alternation of the zone of superovulation of the water surface, and changing relation of watersurface slope to discharge. These details can be seen only in the full topography of the water surface.

Riffles fill during high flow and scour at low flow. Changes in local water-surface slope illustrate this process. Pools are a storage zone for sediment in the low-flow season. Even though large volumes of sediment move, the distance moved is not large—in the East Fork River, sand of size 0.5-1 millimeter moved 650 meters during the 1979 snowmelt runoff season.

Bedload transport is greatest over or near bars and not in the deepest part of the channel. Direct observation of the locus of sediment transport indicates that this locus moves from one side of the channel to the other in concert with the occurrence of alternate bars. Separately, data indicate that at constant stream power, transport rate increases as depth decreases.

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Bedload and river hydraulics - Inferences from the East Fork River, Wyoming
Series title:
Professional Paper
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location:
Denver, CO
v, 52 p.
United States
Other Geospatial:
East Fork River