Bed scour by debris flows: experimental investigation of effects of debris-flow composition

Tjalling De Haas, Teun Van Woerkom

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Debris flows can grow greatly in size by entrainment of bed material, enhancing their runout and hazardous impact. Here, we experimentally investigate the effects of debris-flow composition on the amount and spatial patterns of bed scour and erosion downstream of a fixed to erodible bed transition. The experimental debris flows were observed to entrain bed particles both grain by grain and en masse, and the majority of entrainment was observed to occur during passage of the flow front. The spatial bed scour patterns are highly variable, but large-scale patterns are largely similar over 22.5–35° channel slopes for debris flows of similar composition. Scour depth is generally largest slightly downstream of the fixed to erodible bed transition, except for clay-rich debris flows, which cause a relatively uniform scour pattern. The spatial variability in the scour depth decreases with increasing water, gravel (= grain size) and clay fraction. Basal scour depth increases with channel slope, flow velocity, flow depth, discharge and shear stress in our experiments, whereas there is no correlation with grain collisional stress. The strongest correlation is between basal scour and shear stress and discharge. There are substantial differences in the scour caused by different types of debris flows. In general, mean and maximum scour depths become larger with increasing water fraction and grain size, and decrease with increasing clay content. However, the erodibility of coarse-grained experimental debris flows (gravel fraction = 0.64) is similar on a wide range of channel slopes, flow depths, flow velocities, discharges and shear stresses. This probably relates to the relatively large influence of grain-collisional stress to the total bed stress in these flows (30–50%). The relative effect of grain-collisional stress is low in the other experimental debris flows (<5%), causing erosion to be largely controlled by basal shear stress.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1951-1966
Number of pages16
JournalEarth Surface Processes and Landforms
Issue number13
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • debris flow
  • scour
  • erosion
  • composition
  • rheology


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