Experimental study on coarse grain saltation dynamics in bedrock channels

Phairot Chatanantavet, Kelin Whipple, Mark A. Adams, Michael P. Lamb

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Scopus citations


Saltation of bed load particles on bedrock surfaces is important for landscape evolution and bedrock incision in steep landscapes. However, few studies have investigated saltation in bedrock channels where, unlike alluvial channels, the bed roughness height and the sediment size may be independent. To address this data gap, we measured the saltation hop height, hop length, and velocity of gravel saltating over a planar bed using 80-160 readings from high-speed photography and direct measurements. Two separate dimensional analyses are used: one leading to a bed shear stress scaling and another leading to a Froude number (Fr) scaling. Our new saltation data coupled with numerous data from previous studies suggest that both shear stress and Fr-scaling analyses are valid in characterizing bed load saltation dynamics with bed roughness ranging from smooth to alluvial beds. However, the Fr approach has the advantages that (1) there is no need to estimate a critical Shields stress τc*, which alone can vary up to 2 orders of magnitude (e.g., 0.001-0.1) due to changes in relative bed roughness and slope and (2) the Fr-based scaling fits the saltation data set better in a least squares sense. Results show that the saltation velocity of bed load is independent of grain density and grain size and is linearly proportional to flow velocity. Saltation height has a nonlinear dependence on grain size. Saltation length increases primarily with flow velocity, and it is inversely proportional to submerged specific density. Our results suggest that either τc* or bed roughness coefficient must be properly estimated to yield accurate results in saltation-abrasion models. Key Points Critical Shields stress in bedrock rivers can vary from about 0.001 - 0.1. Both shear-stress- and Fr-based scalings are valid in characterizing saltation. New Froude-based empirical formulas on saltation are developed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1161-1176
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 2013


  • Froude number
  • bed load
  • bed shear stress
  • bedrock river
  • saltation
  • steep channel

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Geophysics


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