Experiments on upstream-migrating erosional narrowing and widening of an incisional channel caused by dam removal

Alessandro Cantelli, Chris Paola, Gary Parker

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The present paper reports on a laboratory investigation of the erosion of a deltaic front induced by the removal of a dam. We built a laboratory model of a dam, and observed both the sedimentation in the reservoir due to the downstream propagation of a delta front and the erosion of the delta front during dam removal, including measurement of channel morphology and flow field. The experiments provide a detailed view of a phenomenon that has not been described in detail to date: erosional narrowing. After the sudden removal of a dam, the flow incises into the reservoir deposit, first rapidly and then more slowly. During the initial period of rapid incision the width of the channel can in some circumstances undergo rapid and substantial narrowing, all the while incorporating sediment from its sidewalls. As the rate of incision slows, the channel first stops narrowing and then enters a phase of slow widening. This pattern of narrowing followed by widening tends to propagate upstream. The minimum channel width attained at a cross section, however, increases with upstream distance from the dam. While the period of erosional narrowing is very short, the incision is so intense that large amounts of sediment are delivered downstream in a short period of time. The process thus has practical implications in regard to the strategy of dam removal. Undistorted Froude similitude is used to scale the results up to field dimensions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)W033041-W0330412
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2004


  • Dam Removal
  • Delta front propagation
  • Erosional narrowing
  • Erosional widening
  • Froude Similitude
  • Reservoir


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