Environmental Fluid Mechanics

, Volume 15, Issue 5, pp 905–922 | Cite as

Unsteady turbulence in expansion waves in rivers and estuaries: an experimental study

  • Xinqian Leng
  • Hubert Chanson
Original Article


A sudden decrease in water depth, called a negative surge or expansion wave, is characterised by a gentle change in free-surface elevation. Some geophysical applications include the ebb tide flow in macro-tidal estuaries, the rundown of swash waters and the retreating waters after maximum tsunami runup in a river channel. The upstream propagation of expansion waves against an initially steady flow was investigated in laboratory under controlled flow conditions including detailed free-surface velocity and Reynolds stress measurements. Both non-intrusive free-surface measurements and intrusive velocity measurements were conducted for relatively large Reynolds numbers with two types of bed roughness. The data showed that the propagation of expansion waves appeared to be a relatively smooth lowering to the water surface. The wave leading edge celerity data showed a characteristic trend, with a rapid acceleration immediately following the surge generation, followed by a deceleration of the leading edge surge towards an asymptotical value: \((\mathrm{U}+\mathrm{V}_\mathrm{o})/(\mathrm{g}\times \mathrm{d}_\mathrm{o})^{1/2}=1\) for both smooth and rough bed experiments. The results indicated that the bed roughness had little to no effect, within the experimental flow conditions. Relatively large fluctuations in free-surface elevation, velocity and turbulent shear stress were recorded beneath the leading edge of the negative surge for all flow conditions. The instantaneous turbulent shear stress levels were significantly larger than the critical shear stress for sediment erosion. The present results implied a substantial bed erosion during an expansion wave motion.


Expansion waves Negative surges Turbulence Scour Rivers Estuaries Tsunami 



The authors thank Professor Hitoshi Tanaka, Tohoku University (Japan) for his advice and relevant information, as well as Dr. Mario Franca, EPFL (Switzerland) and Professor Fabian Bombardelli, University of California Davis (USA) for their helpful comments. The authors acknowledge the technical of Jason Van Der Gevel and Matthews Stewart, School of Civil Engineering at the University of Queensland. The financial support of the Australian Research Council (Grant DP120100481) is acknowledged.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Civil EngineeringThe University of QueenslandBrisbaneAustralia

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