Experimental and numerical findings on the long-term evolution of migrating alternate bars in alluvial channels

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Migrating alternate bars form in alluvial channels as a result of morphodynamic instability. Extensive literature can be found on their origin and short-term development, but their long-term evolution has been poorly studied so far. In particular, it is not clear whether migrating bars eventually reach a (dynamic) equilibrium, as in previous studies bars were observed to elongate with time. We studied the long-term evolution of alternate bars by performing two independent long-duration laboratory experiments and some numerical tests with a physics-based depth-averaged model. In a straight flume with constant water flow and sediment recirculation, migrating bars followed a cyclic variation. They became gradually longer and higher for a while, then quickly much shorter and lower. In one case, all migrating bars simultaneously vanished almost completely only to reform soon after. At the same time, steady bars, two to three times as long, progressively developed from upstream, gradually suppressing the migrating bars. We also observed simultaneous vanishing of migrating bars in an annular flume experiment, this time at intervals of 6–8 d. Numerical simulations of long alluvial channels with constant flow rate and fixed banks show periodic vanishing of a few migrating bars at a time, occurring at regular spacing. Under constant flow rates, migrating bars appear as a transition phenomenon of alluvial channels having a cyclic character. These observations, however, might hold only for certain morphodynamics conditions, which should be further investigated.