Statistical description of sediment transport experiments
A longstanding problem in the study of sediment transport in gravel-bed rivers is related to the physical mechanisms governing bed resistance and particle motion. To study this problem, we investigated the motion of coarse spherical glass beads entrained by a steady shallow turbulent water flow down a steep twodimensional channel with a mobile bed. This experimental facility is the simplest representation of sediment transport on the laboratory scale, with the tremendous advantages that boundary conditions are perfectly controlled and a wealth of information can be obtained using imaging techniques. Flows were filmed from the side by a high-speed camera. Using image processing software made it possible to determine the flow characteristics such as particle trajectories, their state of motion (rest, rolling, or saltating motion), and flow depth. In accordance with earlier investigations, we observed that over short time periods, sediment transport appeared as a very intermittent process. To interpret these results, we revisited Einstein’s theory on sediment and derived the statistical properties (probability distribution and autocorrelation function) of the key variables such as the solid discharge and the number of moving particles. Analyzing the autocorrelation functions and the probability distributions of our measurements revealed the existence of long-range correlations. For instance, whereas theory predicts a Binomial distribution for the number of moving particles, experiments demonstrated that a negative binomial distribution best fit our data, which emphasized the crucial role played by wide fluctuations. These frequent wide fluctuations stemmed particle entrainment and motion being collective phenomena rather than individual processes, contrary to what is assumed in most theoretical models.