Research

How Dams Affect Rivers

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This video shows how the installation of a dam can affect river flow and sediment transport. Before the dam is added, the flow is shallow and the sediment transport is uniform. The installation of the dam creates deep subcritical flow upstream and supercritical flow downstream. This means that wave information–like ripples–can propagate upstream on the subcritical side; on the supercritical side, the wave velocity is lower than the flow velocity and ripples cannot propagate upstream. This is analogous to sub- and supersonic flow in air. The critical flow over the dam is analogous to a shock wave. The lower velocity upstream of the dam is unable to carry sediment downstream and transport essentially ceases until the sediment builds up to a height where the depth of the water above the dam is roughly equal to that below the dam and sediment transport resumes, scouring the downstream supercritical section. Around 0:40, a gate is closed on the downstream side (off frame), creating a hydraulic jump. In the final section of the video, after sediment has built up on both sides of the dam, the downstream gate is re-opened and the jump reforms as sediment is blown out below the dam. (Video credit: Little River Research and Design, with funding from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources)

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