Mechanics, kinematics and geometry of pebble abrasion from binary collisions

Friday, 19 December 2014
Kimberly Litwin Miller, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, United States and Douglas J Jerolmack, Univ of PA-Earth &Envir Scienc, Philadelphia, PA, United States
As sediment is transported downstream as bedload, it collides with the bed causing sharp edges to chip and wear away, rounding the rock through the process of abrasion. Previous work has linked abrasion to downstream fining and rounding of grains, however, there has been little attempt to understand the underlying kinematics of abrasion. Furthermore, most studies neglect the fine particle produced during the abrasion process, as the initial grain gets smaller and rounder. In this research, we preform well-controlled laboratory experiments to determine the functional dependence between impact energy and mass lost from abrasion. We use a double-pendulum “Newton’s Cradle” set-up to examine the abrasion between two grains and with a high-speed camera, we can quantify the impact energies during collision. Results from experiments verify that mass loss is proportional to kinetic energy. We define a material parameter that incorporates material density, Young's modulus, and tensile stress and show that this parameter is directly related to the proportionality between mass loss and energy. We identify an initial region of the mass loss curves in which abrasion is independent of energy and material properties; results suggest this region is determined by shape. We show that grain size distributions of daughter products are universal and independent of material; they follow a Weibull distribution, which is expected distribution from brittle fracture theory. Finally, scanning electron microscope (SEM) images show a thin damage zone near the surface, suggesting that collision energy is attenuated over some small skin depth. Overall, we find that pebble abrasion by collision can be characterized by two universal scaling relations - the mass loss versus energy curves and the size distribution of daughter products. Results will be useful for estimating expected abrasion rates in the field, and additionally demonstrate that low-energy collisions produce large quantities of sand and smaller grains.