Controls on and Morphodynamic Effects of Width Variations in Bed-load Dominated Alluvial Channels: Experimental and Numerical Study

Singh, Umesh (2015) Controls on and Morphodynamic Effects of Width Variations in Bed-load Dominated Alluvial Channels: Experimental and Numerical Study. PhD thesis, University of Trento, Queen Mary University of london.

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Understanding and predicting the effects of width variability and the controls on width adjustment in rivers has a key role in developing management approaches able to account for the physical, ecological and socio-economical dimensions of a river system. Width adaptation in a river occurs due to erosion and accretion of banks, within various geomorphic, environmental and anthropogenic contexts, which set the most relevant factors controlling the morphological dynamics of the river corridor. In turn, changes in channel width imply alterations of the river channel morphodynamics at a variety of space and time scales, implying, for instance, modifications of important controlling parameters, like the width-to-depth ratio, which is closely related to the planform morphology of alluvial rivers. Width adaptation bears crucial implications for river management: on one hand, channel widening may result in loss of valuable land and in the increase of the damage risk of infrastructures in surrounding areas, which are often subjected to increasing pressures related to human settlements and economic activities. On the other hand, several approaches to river restoration are based on the concept of “giving more room to the river”, and thus allow the banks to erode and widen, to increase morphological and physical habitat diversity. In view of these implications, the prediction of width adaptation, understanding of its main causes and controlling factors, and quantification of the riverbed morphodynamic response to width variability is of crucial importance to support effective river management. The practical and engineering interest on stable cross-sections of alluvial channels has attracted a considerable amount of scientific research since late 19th century. Much of the research has focused in developing width prediction tools mostly based on empirical approaches and methods based on extremal hypothesis and to lesser extent on mechanistic methods. In the past two decades, research has advanced in developing numerical models including geotechnical as well as fluvial processes to simulate bank failure mechanism more accurately. Despite significant development on the width predictors, research in controls on width evolution of river channels cannot still be considered a fully settled issue. The study of the morphodynamic response of the riverbed to width variability in space and time is somehow more recent, and has focussed on the dynamics of large-scale bedforms (river bars) that produce a variety of riverbed configurations and planform morphologies. The effect of spatial width variability on river bars has mainly been based on assessing the role of such planform forcing effects to the bed topography, both in case of straight and meandering river channels. The amplitude of width variability has been related to fundamental questions as those behind the transition between single- and multi-thread river morphologies, and most studies consider regular spatial variations of the channel width. Research on the response of channel bed to spatial width variability has mostly consisted of modelling and theoretical approaches, which point out the limit cases of a purely “free” system response, associated with morphodynamic instability, an of purely “forced” bedform pattern by spatial planform non-homogeneity. The large spectrum of mixed configurations between those two theoretical limits has been so far seldom investigated, despite its strong relevance for real river systems. The limits of what can actually be considered a “planform forcing” effect, or has instead a too small variability have never been clarified, a well as its role on the resulting channel morphodynamics. For instance, the effects of small amplitude width variations on straight channels, which may be due to imperfect bank lines or protrusion due to vegetations, on morphodynamics of river bed has been neglected so far. This study has two main scientific goals. The first goal is to quantitatively investigate the role of potentially controlling factors on the width evolution of bedload-dominated straight river channels, including the initial channel width, the flow regime and the sediment supply regime. The major question driving the research is whether a river would attain the same width independently of the initial conditions and whether this would be true for all types of discharge regimes of water and sediment supply. The study is carried out using both laboratory experiments (Chapter 3), analytical model (Chapter 4) and numerical model (Chapter 5) tested with reference to real river data. Integrating the results of the experiments with those of analytical and numerical models allows deriving a more robust and complete understanding of the processes involved, including transient width evolution, time scales to morphodynamic equilibrium, equilibrium conditions and role of each controlling factor. In Chapter 3 a set of controlled laboratory experiments have been performed to study channel adjustments in a movable-bed, erodible-bank channel under different flow and sediment regimes and different initial widths. The long-term width evolution is observed to be independent of initial channel width under uniform formative discharge without upstream sediment supply. Width evolution rate is observed to depend on the initial channel width when the sediment is supplied from upstream with the narrowest initial channel evolving at the highest widening rate and resulting into the widest channel. A physics based analytical model of channel adjustment (Chapter 4) has been applied to some of the experiments described in Chapter 3. Furthermore, in Chapter 5 a field scale numerical model was setup using the flow and topographic data of gravel bed reach of Upper Severn River near Abermule (UK). The trend of width evolution computed by analytical model is also qualitatively in agreement with the observations in the experiments. The results of numerical modeling have further supported the observations in the experiments which reinforce the findings in agreement with laws of physics. The second goal of the present PhD research is to analyze the morphodynamic response of the riverbed to small-scale spatial variability of the channel width, focusing on alternate bars. The main question driving the investigation (Chapter 6) is to which extent small-amplitude, irregular width variations in space affect the morphodynamics of river bars, the fundamental riverbed patterns at the scale of the channel width. The key theoretical question behind this investigation is to which extent “small amplitude” width variations can be considered as a planform forcing, for the channel bed morphodynamic response, and whether it is possible to establish a threshold amplitude below which they may act as a near bank-roughness element. The study is based on hydraulic conditions typical of bedload-dominated piedmont streams, often having flows with Froude numbers around 1 or higher at bar-forming or channel-forming conditions. The study is developed through a numerical modeling approach. Because of the considered hydraulic conditions (close to critical-Froude number) first, a comparison is made between one semi-coupled numerical morphodynamic model, expected to be most suitable for sub critical flows, and one fully-coupled numerical morphodynamic model which can handle Froude-critical flows to assess the potential shortcomings of applying a semi-coupled model under close-to-critial Froude conditions. Such test, (Appendix B) supports the use of both models, and the semi-coupled model is eventually preferred for the advantages in computational speed. Such model is used for the numerical investigations performed in Chapter 6 and to some extent also in Chapter 5. The comparison is based on the reproduction of alternate bars morphodynamics observed in existing sets of flume experiments with fixed banks and super-critical flow conditions. The results of numerical modeling have shown that the small width variations have accelerated the development of the steady bars suppressing the free bar instability. Further investigations reveal that the effects of small width variations to a certain extent can be captured by parameterizing them in the form of increased roughness close to the banks or as small obstructions along the banks.

Item Type:Doctoral Thesis (PhD)
Doctoral School:Environmental Engineering
PhD Cycle:28
Subjects:Area 08 - Ingegneria civile e Architettura > ICAR/01 IDRAULICA
Area 04 - Scienze della terra > GEO/04 GEOGRAFIA FISICA E GEOMORFOLOGIA
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