Articles | Volume 5, issue 1
Earth Surf. Dynam., 5, 187–198, 2017
https://doi.org/10.5194/esurf-5-187-2017

Special issue: Two centuries of modelling across scales (SE/ESurf inter-journal...

Earth Surf. Dynam., 5, 187–198, 2017
https://doi.org/10.5194/esurf-5-187-2017

Research article 22 Mar 2017

Research article | 22 Mar 2017

Laboratory rivers: Lacey's law, threshold theory, and channel stability

François Métivier, Eric Lajeunesse, and Olivier Devauchelle François Métivier et al.
  • Institut de physique du globe de Paris – Sorbonne Paris Cité, Université Paris Diderot, CNRS, UMR7154, 1 rue Jussieu, 75238 Paris CEDEX 05, France

Abstract. More than a century of experiments have demonstrated that many features of natural rivers can be reproduced in the laboratory. Here, we revisit some of these experiments to cast their results into the framework of the threshold-channel theory developed by Glover and Florey (1951). In all the experiments we analyze, the typical size of the channel conforms to this theory, regardless of the river's planform (single-thread or braiding). In that respect, laboratory rivers behave exactly like their natural counterpart. Using this finding, we reinterpret experiments by Stebbings (1963). We suggest that sediment transport widens the channel until it reaches a limit width, beyond which it destabilizes into a braided river. If confirmed, this observation would explain the remarkable scarcity of single-thread channels in laboratory experiments.

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Short summary
More than a century of experiments have demonstrated that many features of natural rivers can be reproduced in the laboratory. Here, we revisit some of these experiments to show that, regardless of the river's planform (single-thread or braiding), laboratory rivers behave like their natural counterparts. We further suggest that sediment transport could be responsible for the transition into a braided river, which could, in turn, explain the scarcity of laboratory single-thread channels.