Physical Modeling Experiments in Sediment Transport

Geomorphic investigations often span large spatial and temporal scales, making it difficult and expensive to collect the field data necessary to fully evaluate sediment and channel dynamics within the watershed. A flume provides a miniaturized version of the reach/watershed of interest and enables researchers to investigate specific geomorphic questions related to bank erosion and channel migration patters, sediment supply and downstream storage dynamics, sediment transport and bed erosion/aggradation dynamics, and fine sediment deposition and infiltration. We used the flume and basin at the Physical Modeling Facility in Richmond, CA to investigate sediment transport and channel-floodplain dynamics for real-world applicability.

Evaluating Restoration Efforts
Gravel augmentation and dam removal are both associated with an episodic delivery of sediment. We used the flume to mechanistically understand the aftermath of these types of restoration efforts, as well as test hypotheses for the spatial and temporal evolution of channel bed texture and morphology following pulses of sediment delivery.

Re-Designing the Channel & Floodplain
We used the larger basins to examine the impact of variable flow and sediment supply on channel morphology. These results will better guide the process of designing and reconstructing “scaled-down” channels in restoration projects that aim to restore active fluvial geomorphic processes (e.g., bedload sediment transport, bar formation and migration, bank erosion and lateral channel migration) on regulated streams.

Experimental results were used to calibrate and extend recently-developed numerical models in order to provide better predictive tools for restoration practitioners, and to develop restoration manuals for use in future river restoration projects in California and elsewhere.


The Physical Modeling Facility, located at the University of California's Richmond Field Station, is one of the most advanced physical modeling facilities in the United States. It was designed and constructed in partnership with researchers from Stillwater Sciences, University of California at Berkeley, San Francisco State University, and the National Center for Earth Surface Dynamics.





Physical Modeling Facility, UCB Richmond Field Station, California


Project Partners:
University of California at Berkeley
San Francisco State University
National Center for Earth Surface Dynamics

Project Lead(s)

Yantao Cui
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Work Products

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Download the project abstract [pdf]
Download the poster [pdf, 1M]


Grow lights were used to cultivate alfalfa sprouts in the large basin to simulate vegetation. Restoring natural fluvial geomorphic processes at restoration sites were evaluated in channel-floodplain re-design experiments.

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