The dimensions of sand ripples in full-scale oscillatory flows

T. O' Donoghue, J.C. Doucette, Jebbe J. van der Werf, Jan S. Ribberink

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New large-scale experiments have been carried out in two oscillatory flow tunnels to study ripple regime sand suspension and net sand transport processes in full-scale oscillatory flows. The paper focuses on ripple dimensions and the new data are combined with existing data to make a large dataset of ripple heights and lengths for flows with field-scale amplitudes and periods. A feature of the new experiments is a focus on the effect of flow irregularity. The combined dataset is analysed to examine the range of hydraulic conditions under which oscillatory flow ripples occur, to examine the effects of flow irregularity and ripple three-dimensionality on ripple dimensions and to test and improve existing methods for predicting ripple dimensions. The following are the main conclusions. (1) The highest velocities in a flow time-series play an important role in determining the type of bedform occurring in oscillatory flow. Bedform regime is well characterised by mobility number based on maximum velocity in the case of regular flow and based on the mean of the highest one tenth peak velocities in the case of irregular flow. (2) For field-scale flows, sand size is the primary factor determining whether equilibrium ripples will be 2D or 3D. 2D ripples occur when the sand D50 ≥ 0.30 mm and 3D ripples occur when D50 ≤ 0.22 mm (except when the flow orbital diameter is low). (3) Ripple type (2D or 3D) is the same for regular and irregular flows and ripple dimensions produced by equivalent regular and irregular flows follow a similar functional dependence on mobility number, with mobility number based on maximum velocity in the case of regular flow and based on the mean of the highest one tenth velocities in the case of irregular flow. For much of the ripple regime, ripple dimensions have weak dependency on mobility number and ripple dimensions are similar for regular and irregular flows with the same flow orbital amplitude. However, differences in ripples produced by equivalent regular and irregular flows become significant at the high mobility end of the ripple regime. (4) Ripple dimensions predicted using the Wiberg and Harris formulae are in poor agreement with measured ripple dimensions from the large-scale experiments. Predictions based on the Mogridge et al. and the Nielsen formulae show better overall agreement with the data but also show systematic differences in cases of 3D ripples and ripples generated by irregular flows. (5) Based on the combined large-scale data, modifications to the Nielsen ripple dimension equations are proposed for the heights and lengths of 2D ripples. The same equations apply to regular and irregular flows, but with mobility number appropriately defined. 3D ripples are generally smaller than 2D ripples and estimates of 3D ripple height and length may be obtained by applying multipliers of 0.55 and 0.73 respectively to the 2D formulae. The proposed modified Nielsen formulae provide an improved fit to the large-scale data, accounting for flow irregularity and ripple three-dimensionality.
Original languageUndefined
Pages (from-to)997-1012
JournalCoastal engineering
Issue number2006
Publication statusPublished - 2006


  • Flow tunnel
  • Bedform
  • IR-73849
  • METIS-224458
  • Experiments
  • Oscillatory flow
  • WAVE
  • Laboratory
  • Sediment transport
  • Ripple

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