HYDROLOGY

Smart rocks teach river lessons

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Science  16 Oct 2015:
Vol. 350, Issue 6258, pp. 289-290
DOI: 10.1126/science.350.6258.289-d

Rivers are conveyor belts of erosion, transporting material from continents to the oceans. Measuring how larger gravel and cobbles travel along a riverbed is challenging because of the stochastic nature of grain movement and the dependence on infrequent yet powerful flood events. Olinde and Johnson measured bed load transport in Reynolds Creek in the Owyhee Mountains (Idaho, USA) using hundreds of natural and artificial rocks with radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags and accelerometers as passive and active tracers. After a series of flood and snowmelt events, these “smart rocks” provided direct statistics on bed load displacement, in some cases over 7 km downstream, and rest times as a function of discharge.

“Smart rock” with an embedded accelerometer and radio frequency identification tag

PHOTO: DR. LINDSAY OLINDE/UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS

Water Resour. Res. 10.1002/2014WR016120 (2015).

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