Pebble abrasion during fluvial transport: Experimental results and implications for the evolution of the sediment load along rivers

Mikael Attal, J. Lave

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

In actively eroding landscapes, fluvial abrasion modifies the characteristics of the sediment carried by rivers and consequently has a direct impact on the ability of mountain rivers to erode their bedrock and on the characteristics and volume of the sediment exported from upland catchments. In this experimental study, we use a novel flume replicating hydrodynamic conditions prevailing in mountain rivers to investigate the role played by different controlling variables on pebble abrasion during fluvial transport. Lithology controls abrasion rates and processes, with differences in abrasion rates exceeding two orders of magnitude. Attrition as well as breaking and splitting are efficient processes in reducing particle size. Mass loss by attrition increases with particle velocity but is weakly dependent on particle size. Fragment production is enhanced by the use of large particles, high impact velocities and the presence of joints. Based on our experimental results, we extrapolate a preliminary generic relationship between pebble attrition rate and transport stage (τ*/τ*c), where τ* = fluvial Shields stress and τ*c = critical Shields stress for incipient pebble motion. This relationship predicts that attrition rates are independent of transport stage for (τ*/τ*c) ≤ 3 and increase linearly with transport stage beyond this value. We evaluate the extent to which abrasion rates control downstream fining in several different natural settings. A simplified model predicts that the most resistant lithologies control bed load flux and fining ratio and that the concavity of transport-limited river profiles should rarely exceed 0.25 in the absence of deposition and sorting.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberF04023
Pages (from-to)1-22
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research
Volume114
Issue numberF4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2009

Keywords

  • abrasion
  • sediment
  • river
  • experimental flume

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