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Scientists Develop New Tool Capable of Preventing River Floods

May 16, 2017 10:52 AM EDT

An international team of scientists has developed a new tool capable of predicting and preventing river flooding and coastline erosions.

The new tool, described in a paper published in the journal Science Advances, is a physics-based formula capable of accurately predicting sudden flux in sediment flow within the water. A huge sediment load can clog a river, resulting to flooding and possible change in the river's course.

"Understanding the flow of sediment in rivers is important to the large number of people around the world who live near these waterways," said Judy Skog, a program director for the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Coastal SEES (Science, Engineering and Education for Sustainability) program, in a press release. "This study will lead to better predictions of when and where rivers transport sediment, and to an understanding of how that sediment flow is affected by conservation and management efforts, such as the removal of dams."

For the new tool, the researchers first took sediment samples from the Chinese Yellow River. Using the collected samples, they created the so-called "universal sediment transport formula." The formula is a physics-based sediment transport model that can accurately describe how the river transports the sediments.

Unlike other river bottoms, the bottom of the Yellow River is nearly as flat as a glass. The researchers observed that the Yellow River only has about 3.3 feet tall dunes every 1,640 to 6,562 feet. In comparison, the Mississippi River has formations about 33 feet tall and spaced about 656 to 984 feet apart.

The relatively flat and featureless bottom of the Yellow River made it possible to use almost all of its energy to transport sediment. Lowland sand-bed Rivers, like the Mississippi River, only used about 40 to 60 percent of its energy to move sediments, while the Yellow River can use over 95 percent of its available energy.

The primary aim of the new tool is to look into at the connectedness, in terms of sediment movement and water flow, among the river, the delta and the near-shore marine region.

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