Characterization of complex pebble movement patterns in channel flow – a laboratory study

K. Becker, O. Gronz, S. Wirtz, M. Seeger, C. Brings, T. Iserloh, M.C. Casper, J.B. Ries


For a long time, studies concerning erosion caused by concentrated overland flow mainly dealt with the erosion and the transport of fine material. More recent studies have shown that rock fragments reduce the intensity of soil erosion processes on the one hand, but on the other hand rock fragment movements also have been observed both in the rill- and interrill erosion processes. However, there is little knowledge about the movement process of rock fragments in shallow channel flow. Are certain movement patterns typical for different shapes? Are there relationships between movement patterns and slope and flow velocity? Are all these patterns and relationships reproducible? To answer these questions, we performed laboratory channel experiments. With these experiments, we could obtain information about movement patterns of pebbles, by varying the following parameters: shape (flat, ellipsoidal, nearly spherical), size (diameter between 1.97 and 4.0 cm) and channel slope (5°, 10°). During the experiments, a high-speed camera was used to capture the motion of eight specially painted pebbles. The resulting image sequences were processed using both automatic image processing and manual visual inspection. Besides the movement patterns, the pebbles velocity, the water velocity and the water depth were estimated. We could show that there were different movement patterns depending on the shape and the slope. For the 5° experiments, the big, flat pebbles lie at the beginning of the tests. After the following yawing, the pebbles mainly showed the movement form rolling around the longest axis. For the 10° experiments the big, flat pebbles showed the same movement pattern firstly, but later in the sequence, they started to roll around their shortest axis and in the end this movement form was combined with saltation. These patterns are described using a simple symbolic language: sequences of pictograms describe the consecutive movement forms. Furthermore, we detected five different velocity groups of the pebbles for each slope: different cross-section shapes of the pebbles result in different acceleration behavior.

The methodology is limited to clear water in laboratory use. Even a larger water depth restricts the image processing. Thus, in the future the experiments will be combined with a small sensor that is implanted in the pebbles and measures forces (acceleration), compass (magnetic flux density) and rotations (gyroscope).


pebble movement forms, pebble movement patterns, cross-section shape, channel flow, laboratory channel study.

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Copyright (c) 2015 K. Becker, O. Gronz, S. Wirtz, M. Seeger, C. Brings, T. Iserloh, M.C. Casper, J.B. Ries

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