Bedload transport: beyond intractability

Basil Gomez, Philip J. Soar

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Scrutiny of multifarious field and laboratory data amassed over nine decades reveals four distinct bedload transport regimes and demonstrates the search for a universal formula is a fallacious pursuit. In only one regime, in which the supply of transportable material is unconstrained, does the transport rate in some rivers approximate the expected proportional relationship with dimensionless specific stream power (ω∗). At the other extreme, transport occurs at or near the threshold of particle motion, and the availability of sediment is regulated by the characteristics of the bed surface. In each regime, there is an underlying variation of transport rates at a given discharge, that is neither obscured by long measurement times nor standardized methodologies, and to properly differentiate them, the bedload size must be known. We show a data-driven relationship based on measurements made over several years, across the entire flow range, that requires no a priori specification of the association between the transport rate and ω∗, can reveal nonlinear trends that may otherwise be masked by omni-present temporal and spatial variability. The demise of the search for a universal formula will be accelerated by the development of idiomatic relations that embrace the specificity of rivers in each transport regime.
Original languageEnglish
Article number211932
Number of pages16
JournalRoyal Society Open Science
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 16 Mar 2022


  • bedload transport efficiency
  • bedload transport rate
  • dimensionless specific stream power
  • quantile locally weighted scatterplot smoothing
  • sediment availability
  • transport regimes


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