Calibration of Bed Load Impact Sensors for Surrogate Sediment Measurement

Project ID: 115
Principal Investigator: Robert Hilldale
Research Topic: Sediment Management and River Restoration
Funded Fiscal Years: 2012, 2013 and 2014
Keywords: bed load impact sensor, surrogate sediment measurement, bed load discharge

Research Question

A series of bed load impact sensors has been fabricated and installed on the Elwha River in WA (Science and Technology proj. # 6499). The purpose of the bed load impact sensors is to continuously measure bed load passing the site, which is downstream of the Elwha and Glines Canyon Dams. These dams are slated for removal beginning in September, 2011. The bed load measurements will be part of the sediment monitoring program being conducted by the Bureau of Reclamation during and after dam deconstruction.
Recent progress on the bed load impact sensors was accomplished in May, 2011, when we completed writing software for sampling and processing the data and PCs, and related hardware were installed (Science and Technology proj. # 9562). The bed load impact plate system was op-checked and is currently collecting data, although there is no field calibration.
A field calibration is needed to make the system fully operational. The calibration will require the collection of physical bed load samples deploying a pressure difference bed load sampler (Elwha or Toutle River-2) from a raft. These data need to be collected over a range of discharges to provide a valid calibration.
Two research questions will be addressed by this research. 1.) Are bed load impact sensors a viable surrogate method for continuously measuring bed load transport? 2.) How much and at what rate is bed load passing a site downstream of two dams that are to be removed?

Need and Benefit

There are two benefactors for this research, one is more immediate and narrow in scope, the other serves the broader interest of advancing the technology of bed load measurements. The immediate benefactor is the Elwha River Restoration Project, who will be monitoring sediment during and after dam removal.
In a broader context, the sediment transport community will benefit from the advancement of a surrogate technology to continuously measure bed load. An advancement such as this would be a significant step forward in understanding the transport of bed material in a gravel bed river. We'll also gain a good understanding of the fate of the coarse reservoir deposits during and after dam removal, which will be the largest controlled release of sediment through dam removal in North America.
Accurate measurement of bed load is very difficult due to logistical issues related to the movement and capture of the coarsest fractions of coarse sediment constituting the bed material of a river. Generally, the coarsest fraction of a river's bed material is only mobilized during flood events, making it very difficult and potentially dangerous to place a sediment sampler on the bed of a river to collect a timed sample. Moreover, this methodology only results in a discrete sample occurring over approximately one or two minutes at each location across the river, providing an incomplete picture of the nature of bed load movement (< 1% of the total bed load is actually measured). This incomplete understanding of bed load has confounded researchers and has hindered the complete understanding and modeling of sediment transport.

Contributing Partners

Contact the Principal Investigator for information about partners.

Research Products

Independent Peer Review

The following documents were reviewed by qualified Bureau of Reclamation employees. The findings were determined to be achieved using valid means.

Document ID 1364: this document contains protected information and it cannot be freely downloaded from Contact the Principal Investigator to request a copy of this document.

Large-scale dam removal on the Elwha River, Washington, USA: Fluvial sediment load (final, PDF, 2.4MB)
By Robert Hilldale
Publication completed on December 10, 2014

The Elwha River restoration project, in Washington State, includes the largest dam-removal project in United
States history to date. Starting September 2011, two nearly century-old dams that collectively contained 21 ±
3millionm3 of sediment were removed over the course of three years with a top-down deconstruction strategy
designed to meter the release of a portion of the dam-trapped sediment. Gauging with sediment-surrogate technologies
during the first two years downstream from the projec

Bureau of Reclamation Review

The following documents were reviewed by experts in fields relating to this project's study and findings. The results were determined to be achieved using valid means.

Calibration of bed load impact sensors for surrogate measurement (interim, PDF, 5.9MB)
By Robert Hilldale, Wayne Carpenter, Bradley Goodwiller, Dr. Jim Chambers and Tim Randle
Report completed on September 16, 2014

A series of 72 steel impact plates have been installed across the Elwha River, Washington for the purpose of continuously measuring coarse bed load. Each plate is instrumented with either a geophone (46 plates) or an accelerometer (26 plates). The plates are mounted on a concrete diversion weir, which is downstream of both Elwha and Glines Canyon Dams. The primary purpose of the installation is to monitor and quantify bed load movement during and after the removal of both dams.

Looking at Bed Load 24 Hours a Day (final, PDF, 939KB)
By Robert C. Hilldale
Publication completed on September 30, 2014

This bulletin summarizes the research results and potential application to Reclamation's mission.

Continuous Bed Load Measurement With Impact Plates on teh Elwha River, WA (final, PDF, 2.6MB)
By Robert Hilldale
Report completed on January 21, 2015

A bed load impact plate system has been installed on the Elwha River for the purpose of continuously measuring coarse bed load during and after the removal of two large dams. The surrogate bed load measurement system consists of 72 instrumented stainless steel plates spanning approximately 38 meters across the channel and is currently capable of quantifying coarse bed load =16 mm. Each plate is instrumented with either a geophone (46 plates) or an accelerometer (26 plates).

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Last Updated: 6/22/20