The exceptional sediment load of fine-grained dispersal systems: Example of the Yellow River, China

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Science Advances  12 May 2017:
Vol. 3, no. 5, e1603114
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1603114

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Sedimentary dispersal systems with fine-grained beds are common, yet the physics of sediment movement within them remains poorly constrained. We analyze sediment transport data for the best-documented, fine-grained river worldwide, the Huanghe (Yellow River) of China, where sediment flux is underpredicted by an order of magnitude according to well-accepted sediment transport relations. Our theoretical framework, bolstered by field observations, demonstrates that the Huanghe tends toward upper-stage plane bed, yielding minimal form drag, thus markedly enhancing sediment transport efficiency. We present a sediment transport formulation applicable to all river systems with silt to coarse-sand beds. This formulation demonstrates a remarkably sensitive dependence on grain size within a certain narrow range and therefore has special relevance to silt-sand fluvial systems, particularly those affected by dams.

  • sediment transport
  • Fine-grained
  • Bed form
  • Upper-regime plane bed
  • Phase transition
  • Equilibrium transport
  • Yellow River
  • Large aspect ratio dunes

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