Articles | Volume 2, issue 1
Earth Surf. Dynam., 2, 217–232, 2014

Special issue: Frontiers in river, coastal and estuarine morphodynamics

Earth Surf. Dynam., 2, 217–232, 2014

Research article 09 Apr 2014

Research article | 09 Apr 2014

Image analysis for measuring the size stratification in sand–gravel laboratory experiments

C. Orrú1, V. Chavarrías1,2, W. S. J. Uijttewaal1, and A. Blom1 C. Orrú et al.
  • 1Environmental Fluid Mechanics Section, Civil Engineering and Geosciences, Delft University of Technology, P.O. Box 5048, 2600 GA, Delft, the Netherlands
  • 2Escola Tècnica Superior d'Enginyers de Camins, Canals i Ports de Barcelona, Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya, C/Jordi Girona, 31, 08034 Barcelona, Spain

Abstract. Measurements of spatial and temporal changes in the grain-size distribution of the bed surface and substrate are crucial to improving the modelling of sediment transport and associated grain-size selective processes. We present three complementary techniques to determine such variations in the grain-size distribution of the bed surface in sand–gravel laboratory experiments, as well as the resulting size stratification: (1) particle colouring, (2) removal of sediment layers, and (3) image analysis. The resulting stratification measurement method was evaluated in two sets of experiments. In both sets three grain-size fractions within the range of coarse sand to fine gravel were painted in different colours. Sediment layers are removed using a wet vacuum cleaner. Subsequently areal images are taken of the surface of each layer. The areal fraction content, that is, the relative presence of each size fraction over the bed surface, is determined using a colour segmentation algorithm which provides the areal fraction content of a specific colour (i.e. grain size) covering the bed surface. Particle colouring is not only beneficial to this type of image analysis but also to the observation and understanding of grain-size selective processes. The size stratification based on areal fractions is measured with sufficient accuracy. Other advantages of the proposed size stratification measurement method are (a) rapid collection and processing of a large amount of data, (b) a very high spatial density of information on the grain-size distribution, (c) the lack of disturbances to the bed surface, (d) only minor disturbances to the substrate due to the removal of sediment layers, and (e) the possibility to return a sediment layer to its original elevation and continue the flume experiment. The areal fractions are converted into volumetric fractions using an existing conversion model.