How River Beds Move

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Science  18 Sep 2009:
Vol. 325, Issue 5947, pp. 1509-1510
DOI: 10.1126/science.1178516

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The transport of sediment through river channels has major consequences for public safety, management of water resources, and environmental sustainability. Most studies of sediment transport in rivers have focused on mass flux and its relation to water flow. Yet, after more than a century of work, there is no satisfactory theory for bedload, the component of the sediment load transported in contact with the stream bed. Bedload transport formulae often overpredict the actual rate by orders of magnitude (1). It is therefore difficult to predict, for example, the impact of disturbances such as extreme floods on the channel. Better insight may come from viewing bedload as a granular phenomenon.