Direct measurements of secondary currents in a meandering sand-bed river


Natural channels often adopt a meandering course. Water flow in meander bends is three-dimensional, consisting of primary velocities which are tangential to the bend, and secondary velocities, which are in the radial plane. The pattern of secondary flow strongly affects the distribution of primary velocities. This in turn affects the distribution of erosion and deposition in the bend and the way in which the channel shifts and changes shape. Measurements of primary and secondary flows in a meandering gravel-bed river1,2 show that, in addition to the widely recognized main secondary circulation driving surface water outwards and bed water inwards, there can be a small cell of reverse rotation at the outer bank. Further data have been collected in a sand-bedded river at low, intermediate and high discharges. The results confirm the existence of the main and outer bank cells but also indicate that in some bends the main cell does not extend to the inner bank. In fact, secondary flow at the inner bank of wide, shallow bends is directed radially outwards over the whole flow depth at all in-channel flows. This indicates that some models of bend flow and channel development may be significantly in error.

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Thorne, C., Zevenbergen, L., Pitlick, J. et al. Direct measurements of secondary currents in a meandering sand-bed river. Nature 315, 746–747 (1985).

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