Experiments on patterns of alluvial cover and bedrock erosion in a meandering channel

Roberto Fernández, Gary Parker, Colin P. Stark

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In bedrock rivers, erosion by abrasion is driven by sediment particles that strike bare bedrock while traveling downstream with the flow. If the sediment particles settle and form an alluvial cover, this mode of erosion is impeded by the protection offered by the grains themselves. Channel erosion by abrasion is therefore related to the amount and pattern of alluvial cover; these are functions of sediment load and hydraulic conditions, which in turn are functions of channel geometry, slope, and sinuosity. This study presents the results of alluvial cover experiments conducted in a meandering channel flume of high fixed sinuosity. Maps of quasi-instantaneous alluvial cover were generated from time-lapse imaging of flows under a range of below-capacity bedload conditions. These maps were used to infer patterns of particle impact frequency and likely abrasion rates. Results from eight such experiments suggest the following: (i) abrasion through sediment particle impacts is driven by fluctuations in alluvial cover due to the movement of freely migrating bars; (ii) patterns of potential erosion are functions of sediment load and local curvature; (iii) low sediment supply ratios are associated with regions of potential erosion located closer to the inner bank, but this region moves toward the outer bank as sediment supply increases; and (iv) the threads of high erosion rates are located at the toe of the alluvial bars, just where the alluvial cover reaches an optimum for abrasion.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)949-968
Number of pages20
JournalEarth Surface Dynamics
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 9 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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