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Kaless, Gabriel (2013) Stability analysis of gravel-bed rivers: comparison between natural rivers and disturbed rivers due to human activities. [Ph.D. thesis]

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Abstract (english)

The present research studies fluvial processes –water and sediment flows – that define the shape of an alluvial channel. The relationship between forms and processes is complex because they are interrelated: the channel shape influences the water flow which drives the sediments movement on the channel bed that modifies the channel form, closing a circle. Although, the objective of the work is a very old question in fluvial studies, to explain the shape of rivers in terms of external controls and internal processes, the problem has not been solved yet and this study provies new elements for its solution.

The start of the quest for linking process and forms can be found in the development of regime theories which consists of a set of equations to estimate the width, depth and slope of a stable channel if liquid discharge and sediment supply are known. Regime theories were created in the XIX century within the context of hydraulic engineering in order to design stable irrigation canals (e.g. Kennedy, 1895; Lacey, 1930; Lane, 1955). Leopold and Maddock (1953) introduced the quantitative concept of hydraulic geometry into the context of fluvial geomorphology and showed that alluvial rivers adjust both their slope and channel in order to be in equilibrium for a certain representative discharge. The first studies were eminently empiric, hence there has also been an intense theoretical work focused on explaining regime relations. Parker (1978) demonstrated the importance of bank erodibility, and the need of using improved hydraulic models to calculate the shear stress distribution on irregular cross-sections.

Alternative conceptual approaches have been used to explore geometrical channel properties. Langbein & Leopold (1962) took advantage of thermodynamic principles to suggest that the distribution of energy in a river system tends towards the most probable state. After this first pioneering work, further so-called “extremal” hypotheses were proposed such as: minimum unit stream power (Yang and Song, 1979), minimum stream power (Chang, 1980), minimum energy dissipation rate (Brebner and Wilson, 1967; Yang et al., 1981), maximum sediment transport rate (White et al., 1982), maximum friction factor (Davies and Sutherland, 1983) and maximum resistance to flow (Eaton et al, 2004). Millar & Quick (1993) and Millar (2005) proposed models that take into account the bank strength, a distinctive condition not considered in previous works. Because of their lack of physical-based principles, extremal hypothesis approaches have been extensively criticized (Ferguson, 1986; Parker et al., 2007). Defenders claimed their validity based on the principle of least action (Nanson and Huang, 2008) or on the opposed feedback processes acting at the cross-section scale (Eaton et al., 2006). Regime models usually consider three degrees of freedom (width, depth, and slope) and four external control variables (liquid discharge, sediment supply, bed grain size, and bank strength). However, these variables reflect geomorphic processes acting at different temporal and spatial scales (Weichert et al. 2009) a crucial aspect not considered in regime models.

The first part of the research was then dedicated to review and discuss theoretical issues inherent to the representation of fluvial systems and to regime theories. As a result, I proposed that a) physical laws and constrains describe the behaviour of a population of river reaches, instead of describing the exact processes within a single river reach; and b) each object contained in the population has uncertain boundaries (width, depth) and uncertain properties (median grain size, slope, bankfull discharge). Regime theories were classified according to the number of dimensions and the way of modeling the fluvial system. In this way, light was shed on the current debate about the validity of extremal hypothesis theories.

The second part of the research focus on the study of the river-populations, consisting on the comparison of natural river reaches in Patagonia Region (Argentina) and river reaches disturbed due to human activities in Northern Italy. Extensive field measurements were conducted in Italy and Argentina; five river reaches were surveyed in Italy (belonging to Brenta, Piave and Cordevole rivers, in the Veneto Region) and ten river reaches in Argentina (in the mountain range of Central Patagonia).

River reaches were chosen for their morphological homogeneity and for having at least 20 years of continuous flow record. In Argentina systematic measurements began by the middle of twentieth century. For the selected gauge stations records covered a time span ranging from 25 to 63 years. in Italy, water discharge has been measured at the Brenta River since 1924 at the Barzizza station and for the Piave River, flow records are derived from three gauging stations at Segusino, Belluno y Perarolo. Reaches were selected for being completely alluvial and having at least one bank free to evolve. In some cases a thick vegetation was growing in the banks, and in few cases one of the banks was protected with groynes. All selected reaches started and finish at riffles and extended along a whole wave length comprising three riffles and two pools.

Then extensive and detailed field information was used to compare natural rivers in Patagonia and disturbed in Italy. The comparison was aimed to assess the stability state of Italian rivers, considering the properties of rivers in Patagonia as a reference of stable state. Then, following the concept of spatial scales and channel response proposed by Weichert et al. (2009), the consequences in regime models of considering the hypothesis that, while channel width and depth adjust quickly to changes in water and sediment supply, reach slope requires longer time spans, was explored. Three models, all of them incorporating a bank stability criterion, were considered in this study. In order to evaluate the performance of models introducing the slope as an independent variable, two modifications to previous models were proposed. The study also used published hydraulic geometry of gravel-bed rivers in other geographical regions (92 streams reaches) and laboratory data (36 small stream). Finally, Millar’s (2005) regime model was used to explain recent morphological changes and potential recovery in the Piave and Brenta rivers.

The third and last part of the thesis was dedicated to the development and test of a 2D fully processes-based model, which was named LICAN-LEUFU. This part of the study was based on the assumption that “the channel morphology is driven by and is a consequence of within-channel processes; and a two-spatial-dimensions and depth-averaged model describes best the morphology of the channel”. The first part states that processes are the responsible of observed forms, which is the position hold in this study with regards to the debate on regime models. However, it should not be interpreted that extremal hypotheses are not necessary for predicting the channel shape. Extremal hypotheses express the behaviour at the reach scale while here, reach-scale features are explained by processes acting at a lower spatial scale. The second part means that the 2D model should do better in predicting channel morphology than 1D or aggregated models, i.e, the model is capable of predicting the reach-average form (width and depth) and also within channel morphology (pools and riffles) that are not within the capabilities of 1D or aggregated models.

The model was tested in three different ways. The first test was based on flume measurements conducted at the facilities of the University of Hull. The model was used to predict the response of a laboratory flume that developed a static armour under conditions of sediment starvation. The observational consequences consisted on the bed change, surface grain size distribution change, outgoing sediment transport (bulk and grain size distribution). The second test was a middle-term simulation in which the model had to predict the shape of Azul River providing the actual water discharges, bed material, and estimated sediment supply, i.e., it was an application of the 2D model in the context of regime theories. The last test concerned the application of the model to a field case study: the Brenta River. The model was loaded with the initial morphology and surface grain size distribution and a series of runs were performed imposing the recorded discharges. Model predictions were compared against the final DTM (digital terrain model) and then used for assessing the possible evolution of the reach

Abstract (italian)

La presente ricerca studia i processi –i flussi dell’acqua e dei sedimenti- che definiscono la forma dei corsi alluviali. Il rapporto tra forme e processi si presenta molto complesso perché queste aspetti interagiscono mutuamente: la forma dell’alveo influisce il flusso delle acque che guida il moto delle particelle sul fondo ed, a sua volta, modifica la forma del canale. Questo studio riprende un vecchio argomento negli studi fluviali, quello di spiegare la forma dei corsi’acqua come risposta a certi controlli esterni e processi interni. Tuttavia, il problema non è risolto e questo studio apporta nuovi elementi.

Il punto di partenza nello studio del rapporto tra forme e processi si trova nelle teorie di regime che consistono in un insieme di equazioni per estimare la larghezza, profondità e pendenza di un corso d’acqua in equilibrio, quando la portata liquida ed il apporto di sedimenti sono conosciuti. Le teorie di regime sono state create nel secolo XIX inquadrate nell’ambito dell’ingegneria idraulica per la progettazione di canali di irrigazioni (Kennedy, 1895; Lacey, 1930; Lane, 1955). Leopold and Maddock (1953) introdussero il concetto di geometria idraulica nella geomorfologia fluviale e dimostrarono che i corsi’acqua modificano la pendenza nonché la sezione trasversale per raggiungere lo stato di equilibrio per una portata rappresentativa. I primi studi sono stati empirici, quindi un intenso lavoro teorico è stato svolto ai fini di spiegare le equazioni di regime. Parker (1978) dimostrò l’importanza di considerare la resistenza delle sponde nelle formulazioni nonché di usare modelli idraulici sofisticati per calcolare correttamente la distribuzione dello sforzo di taglio sul letto dell’alveo.

Una strategia alternativa è stata applicata per esplorare le proprietà geometriche dei canali. Langbein e Leopold (1962) considerarono i principi della termodinamica e suggerirono che la distribuzione dell’energia in un fiume tendeva verso lo stato piu probabile. Questo lavoro aprì un cammino teorico e poi altre teorie, chiamate “extremal hypothesis”, sono state proposte: minima potenzia unitaria della corrente (Yang e Song, 1979), minima potenza della corrente (Chang, 1980), minima dissipazione di energia (Brebner and Wilson, 1967; Yang et al., 1981), massimo trasporto di sedimenti (White et al., 1982), massimo fattore di frizione (Davies e Sutherland, 1983) e massima resistenza al flusso (Eaton et al., 2004). Millar e Quick (1993) e piu recentemente Millar (2005) hanno proposto modelli che prendono in considerazione la resistenza delle sponde, un aspetto che non era stato incorporato nei precedenti lavori. Le teorie “extremal hypothesis” sono state criticate per la loro mancanza di base fisica (Ferguson, 1986; Parker et al., 2007). Tra l’altro, i difensori asseriscono la loro validità sulla base del principio di minima azione (Nanson e Huang, 2008), oppure nella esistenza di due feedback opposti che agiscono ad una scala ridota, quella della sezione trasversale (Eaton et al., 2006). Le teorie di regime normalmente considerano tre gradi di libertà (larghezza, profondità e pendenza) e quattro controlli esterni (portata liquida, apporto di sedimenti, diametro dei sedimenti, e resistenza delle sponde). Tuttavia, i parametri geometrici riflettono anche processi che aggiscono ad scale spaziale e temporali differenti (Weichert et al. 2009), un aspetto che non è stato considerato nelle teorie di regime.

La prima parte della ricerca è stata orientata alla revisione e discussione dei problemi teorici connessi sia con la rappresentazione dei sistemi fluviali sia con le teorie di regime. Come risultato, ho proposto i seguenti aspetti: a) le leggi della fisica ed i vincoli invocati nelle teorie di regime descrivono il comportamento di una popolazione di fiumi invece di descrivere i processi precisi al interno di un singolo tratto fluviale; b) ogni singolo elemento della popolazione ha dei confini incerti (larghezza e profondità) ed anche delle proprietà incerte (diametro medio delle particelle nell’alveo, pendenza e portata a piene rive). Le teorie di regime sono state classificate secondo il numero di dimensioni ed il modo in cui i fiumi sono modellati. La classificazione è stata applicata alle teorie di regime per comprendere il debattito in torno alla validità delle teorie “extremal hypothesis”.

La seconda parte della ricerca è indirizzata verso lo studio delle popolazioni di fiumi. Si presenta un confronto fra fiumi in stato naturale dalla Patagonia Argentina con quelli relativi ai fiumi disturbati dalle attività antropiche localizzati nella regione nordest di Italia. Sono state effettuati rilevamenti intensivi di campo in Italia ed Argentina; cinque tratti sono stati rilevati in Italia (appartenenti ai fiumi Brenta, Piave e Cordevole, tutti localizzati nella Regione del Veneto) e dieci tratti in Argentina (nelle provincie di Chubut e Rio Negro).

I tratti scelti per l’indagine hanno omogeneità morfologica lungo tutto il tratto e le stazione di misure delle portate vicine hanno almeno registri di 20 anni di dati. In Argentina le misure sistematiche delle portate iniziarono verso la metà del secolo scorso e quindi ci sono circa tra 23 e 63 anni di datti nelle stazione selezionate. In Italia, le misurazioni per il fiume Brenta si trovano nella stazione di Barzizza vicina a Bassano del Grappa, che ha registri dall’anno 1924. Per quanto riguarda il fiume Piave, dati da tre stazioni sono state analizzati: Belluno, Segusino e Perarolo. I tratti selezionati sono alluviali ed al meno una delle sponde è libera di evolvere. In certi casi la vegetazione copriva una delle sponde e in pochi tratti c’èrano opere di difesa spondale. Tutti i tratti iniziano in un raschio (“riffle”) e finiscono anche in un’altro raschio, estendendosi lungo almeno una lunghezza di onda.

La informazione di campo, essendo estesa e dettagliata, è stata utilizzata ai fini di confrontare i corsi naturali e disturbati. Il confronto ha permesso di valutare la stabilità raggiunta dai corsi d’acqua italiani, considerando i fiumi patagonici come riferimento dello stato di equilibrio. Inoltre, seguendo il concetto di rapporto fra scale spaziali e risposta del canale proposta dai ricercatori Weirchert et al. (2009), si valutarono le previsioni delle teorie di regime quando si considera la pendenza come una variabile indipendente. Tre modelli, che incorporano un criterio di stabilità delle sponde, sono stati considerati. Ai fini di valutare la loro performance quando la pendenza è un controllo esterno, due modificazioni a questi modelli sono state proposte. Lo studio utilizza i dati dei fiumi rilevati nonché un database pubblicato composto da 92 tratti fluviali e 36 studi di caso di laboratorio. Alla fine, il modello di Millar (2005) è stato utilizzato per spiegare i cambiamenti recenti nei fiumi Brenta e Piave ed anche per valutare la loro possibile tendenza evolutiva.

L’ultima parte della tesi è stata indirizzata allo sviluppo, validazione ed implementazione di un modello bidimensionale basato sui processi, che è stato chiamato LICAN-LEUFU 2D. Questa parte del lavoro si basa sull’ipotesi che “la morfologia del canale è non solo una conseguenza dei processi che aggiscono sul canale ma anche guidata da questi processi; inoltre, due dimensioni spaziali insieme ad un modello “depth-average” permettono di descrivere meglio la morfologia del canale”. La prima parte afferma che i processi sono i responsabili delle forme osservate nel canale, affermazione che costituisce il punto di vista assunto in questo studio per quanto riguarda il dibattito intorno alle teorie di regime. Tuttavia, non deve interpretarsi come un’opposizione alle teorie di “extremal hypothesis”, oppure che non siano utile per prevedere la forma dei canali. Al contrario, come verrà dimostrato nella revisione dello stato dell’arte, le extremalhypotesis esprimono il comportamento del fiume alla scala di tratto, mentre in questo studio, le caratteristiche osservate alla scala di tratto verranno spiegate dai processi che aggiscono ad scale minori. La seconda parte dell’ipotesi significa che un modello bidimensionale dovrebbe prevedere in miglior modo la morfologia di un canale da quanto si ottiene applicando un modello aggregato o unidimensionale, es.., il modello deve essere in grado di prevedere la geometria a scala di tratto (larghezza e profondità) nonchè la morfologia all’interno del tratto (pozze e raschi), che eccedono le capacità dei modelli essistenti.

Il modello è stato testato in tre differenti condizioni. Il primo test è stato realizzato sulla base delle misure di canaletta condotte presso l’Università di Hull. Il modello doveva prevedere la risposta di una canaletta di laboratorio, con fondo sabbioso-ghiaioso, che sviluppava una corazza statica in una situazione di apporto nullo di sedimenti. Nel secondo test il modello è stato utilizzato in una simulazione di medio-termine per estimare la forma del Fiume Azul quando vengono fornite come dati di input, le portate, il materiale di fondo ed il apporto de sedimenti. In questo modo, il test costituisce un’applicazione di un modello 2D nel campo delle teorie di regime. L’ultimo test riguarda l’applicazione del modello per lo studio di un caso: il Fiume Brenta. Il modello è stato caricato con una morfologia iniziale dell’alveo corrispondente all’anno 2010, e la granulometria superficiale. Il modello ha simulato il passaggio di tre piene straordinarie che si susseguirono nel periodo 2010-2011. Le previsioni del modello sono state confrontate con il DTM (modello digitale del terreno) che è stato rilevato alla fine del periodo. Inoltre, il modello è stato utilizzato per valutare la possibile tendenza evolutiva del tratto a medio termine.

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EPrint type:Ph.D. thesis
Tutor:Lenzi, Mario Aristide
Supervisor:Serra, Juan Jose Ramon and Mao, Luca
Data di deposito della tesi:21 January 2013
Anno di Pubblicazione:21 January 2013
Key Words:Gravel bed rivers, Regime theories, numerical simulations, Patagonian rivers, Italian rivers,
Settori scientifico-disciplinari MIUR:Area 04 - Scienze della terra > GEO/04 Geografia fisica e geomorfologia
Area 08 - Ingegneria civile e Architettura > ICAR/01 Idraulica
Struttura di riferimento:Dipartimenti > Dipartimento Territorio e Sistemi Agro-Forestali
Codice ID:5395
Depositato il:16 Oct 2013 09:59
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