Abstract

Changes in statistics (mean, sorting, and skewness) describing grain-size distributions have long been used to speculate on the direction of sediment transport. We present a simple model whereby the distributions of sediment in transport are related to their source by a sediment transfer function which defines the relative probability that a grain within each particular class interval will be eroded and transported. A variety of empirically derived transfer functions exhibit negatively skewed distributions (on a phi scale). Thus, when a sediment is being eroded, the probability of any grain going into transport increases with diminishing grain size throughout more than half of its size range. This causes the sediment in transport to be finer and more negatively skewed than its source, whereas the remaining sediment (a lag) must become relatively coarser and more positively skewed. Flume experiments show that the distributions of transfer functions change from having a highly negative skewness to being nearly symmetrical (although still negatively skewed) as the energy of the transporting process increases. We call the two extremes low-energy and high-energy transfer functions , respectively. In an expanded sediment-transport model, successive deposits in the direction of transport are related by a combination of two transfer functions. If energy is decreasing and the transfer functions have low-energy distributions, successive deposits will become finer and more negatively skewed. If, however, energy is decreasing, but the initial transfer function has a high-energy distribution, successive deposits will become coarser and more positively skewed. The variance of the distributions of lags, sediment in transport, and successive deposits in the down-current direction must eventually decrease (i.e., the sediments will become better sorted). We demonstrate that it is possible for variance first to increase, but suggest that, in reality, an increasing variance in the direction of transport will seldom be observed, particularly when grain-size distributions are described in phi units. This model describing changes in sediment distributions was tested in a variety of environments where the transport direction was known. The results indicate that the model has real-world validity and can provide a method to predict the directions of sediment transport.

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