High Resolution, Non-intrusive Shear Stress Measurement in Fluvial Environments

Lead Research Organisation: University of Hull
Department Name: Hull Environment Research Institute


Flows found in many situations, including gravel bed rivers, overland flows, and in partially filled pipes, are turbulent. A key issue is the momentum and forces that this turbulent flow imparts on the sediment grains that make up the boundaries of many natural channels. Currently a spatially averaged parameter, termed shear, is used to describe the momentum/force that is transmitted from the turbulent flow into the sediment deposit. The exchange of momentum between the fluid and bed is a key physical process - being able to understand the processes will help understanding of how sediments and pollutants move, and how flows lose energy and so determine flow depths. Most river beds are composed of porous, spatially complex, three-dimensional granular deposits so the spatial and temporal distribution of momentum will control the exchange of pollutants between the flow and the bed and whether individual sediment grains will move. Currently environmental scientists can only measure boundary shear stress in very crude ways, which only provide time and space averaged measurements, many of which rely on empirical parameters that are impossible to determine at a local scale. This project proposes to develop a system that would be able to measure boundary shear stress in a water flow at a grain scale and at a frequency capable of determining the fluctuations in boundary shear stress caused by observed turbulent flow structures. The system uses a concept originally used by aeronautical engineers. The project team will use novel chemistry to create thin coatings capable of being attached to natural sediments that can measure shear stress directly. The new coatings will contain chiral nematic liquid crystals (CLCs), which change colour in response to changes in shear stress. The use of thin film coatings, combined with suitable illumination and image capture techniques, will mean that it is possible to measure, for the first time, the temporal and spatial fluctuating forces on grains in water-worked gravel beds subjected to turbulent depth-limited flows.


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