The Devil is in the Details: Using X-Ray Computed Tomography to Develop Accurate 3D Grain Characteristics and Bed Structure Metrics for Gravel Bed Rivers

Thursday, 18 December 2014
Hal Voepel1, Rebecca A Hodge2, Julian Leyland3, David Ayres Sear1 and Sharif I Ahmed4,5, (1)University of Southampton, Geography and Environment, Southampton, United Kingdom, (2)University of Durham, Department of Geography, Durham, DH1, United Kingdom, (3)University of Southampton, Geography and Environment, Southampton, SO14, United Kingdom, (4)University of Southampton, Micro-Vis CT Imaging Centre, Southampton, United Kingdom, (5)University of Southampton, Faculty of Engineering and the Environment, Southampton, United Kingdom
Uncertainty for bedload estimates in gravel bed rivers is largely driven by our inability to characterize the arrangement and orientation of the sediment grains within the bed. The characteristics of the surface structure are produced by the water working of grains, which leads to structural differences in bedforms through differential patterns of grain sorting, packing, imbrication, mortaring and degree of bed armoring. Until recently the technical and logistical difficulties of characterizing the arrangement of sediment in 3D have prohibited a full understanding of how grains interact with stream flow and the feedback mechanisms that exist.

Micro-focus X-ray CT has been used for non-destructive 3D imaging of grains within a series of intact sections of river bed taken from key morphological units (see Figure 1). Volume, center of mass, points of contact, protrusion and spatial orientation of individual surface grains are derived from these 3D images, which in turn, facilitates estimates of 3D static force properties at the grain-scale such as pivoting angles, buoyancy and gravity forces, and grain exposure.

By aggregating representative samples of grain-scale properties of localized interacting sediment into overall metrics, we can compare and contrast bed stability at a macro-scale with respect to stream bed morphology. Understanding differences in bed stability through representative metrics derived at the grain-scale will ultimately lead to improved bedload estimates with reduced uncertainty and increased understanding of interactions between grain-scale properties on channel morphology.

Figure 1. CT-Scans of a water worked gravel-filled pot. a. 3D rendered scan showing the outer mesh, and b. the same pot with the mesh removed. c. vertical change in porosity of the gravels sampled in 5mm volumes. Values are typical of those measured in the field and lab. d. 2-D slices through the gravels at 20% depth from surface (porosity = 0.35), and e. 75% depth from surface (porosity = 0.24), showing the presence of fine sediments ‘mortaring’ the larger gravels. f. shows a longitudinal slide from which pivot angle measurements can be determined for contact points between particles. g. Example of two particle extraction from the CT scan showing how particle contact areas can be measured (dark area).