A detached eddy simulation model for the study of lateral separation zones along a large canyon-bound river

Laura V. Alvarez, Mark Schmeeckle, Paul E. Grams

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Lateral flow separation occurs in rivers where banks exhibit strong curvature. In canyon-bound rivers, lateral recirculation zones are the principal storage of fine-sediment deposits. A parallelized, three-dimensional, turbulence-resolving model was developed to study the flow structures along lateral separation zones located in two pools along the Colorado River in Marble Canyon. The model employs the detached eddy simulation (DES) technique, which resolves turbulence structures larger than the grid spacing in the interior of the flow. The DES-3D model is validated using Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler flow measurements taken during the 2008 controlled flood release from Glen Canyon Dam. A point-to-point validation using a number of skill metrics, often employed in hydrological research, is proposed here for fluvial modeling. The validation results show predictive capabilities of the DES model. The model reproduces the pattern and magnitude of the velocity in the lateral recirculation zone, including the size and position of the primary and secondary eddy cells, and return current. The lateral recirculation zone is open, having continuous import of fluid upstream of the point of reattachment and export by the recirculation return current downstream of the point of separation. Differences in magnitude and direction of near-bed and near-surface velocity vectors are found, resulting in an inward vertical spiral. Interaction between the recirculation return current and the main flow is dynamic, with large temporal changes in flow direction and magnitude. Turbulence structures with a predominately vertical axis of vorticity are observed in the shear layer becoming three-dimensional without preferred orientation downstream.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)25-49
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017


  • Colorado River
  • Dettached Eddy Simulation
  • Fluvial Geomorphology
  • Large Eddy Simulation
  • Rivers
  • Three-dimensional Model

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Geophysics


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