Numerical simulation of large dunes in meandering streams and rivers with in-stream rock structures

Ali Khosronejad, Jessica L. Kozarek, Margaret L. Palmsten, Fotis Sotiropoulos

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Scopus citations


The evolution and migration of large dunes in a realistic intermediate-size experimental stream, the Saint Anthony Falls Laboratory (SAFL) Outdoor StreamLab (OSL), and two large-scale meandering rivers with in-stream rock structures are studied numerically using the SAFL Virtual StreamLab hydro-morphodynamic (VSL3D) model. Due to the challenges arising from mesh quality and large disparity in time-scales, coupled morpho- and hydro-dynamics simulations of bed forms has, for the most part, been restricted to sand wave amplitudes of few centimeters. In this work, we overcome such difficulties by employing the immersed boundary approach and a dual time-stepping technique of the VSL3D model [63]. The VSL3D employs the curvilinear immersed boundary (CURVIB) method along with a suspended sediment load module and is capable of simulating turbulent stratified flows coupled with bed morphodynamic evolution in realistic riverine environments with arbitrarily complex hydraulic structures. Turbulence is handled either via large-eddy simulation (LES) with the dynamic Smagorinski subgrid scale model or unsteady Reynolds-averaged Navier Stokes (URANS) equations closed with the k-. ω turbulence model. Simulations in the intermediate-scale OSL channel, in which we also collected experimental morphodynamic data, show that LES can capture the evolution and migration of bed forms with characteristics that are in good agreement with experimental measurements. The URANS model, however, fails to excite the bed instability in the OSL channel but captures realistic dune evolution in the two large-scale meandering rivers. This finding is especially important as it demonstrates the potential of the VSL3D model as a powerful tool for simulating morphodynamic evolution under prototype conditions. To our knowledge, our work is the first attempt to simulate large-scale bed forms in waterways with an order of magnitude disparity in spatial scales, from the ~2.7. m wide OSL channel to the 27. m wide rivers. Accordingly, the height of the simulated dunes ranges from ~0.2. m to 2.0. m and the wavelength ranges from ~0.1. m to 50. m for the OSL and large-scale rivers, respectively. For all cases the statistical properties of the simulated bed forms are shown to agree well with those of bed forms observed in nature.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)45-61
Number of pages17
JournalAdvances in Water Resources
StatePublished - Jul 1 2015

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by NSF Grants IIP-1318201 , EAR-0120914 (as part of the National Center for Earth-Surface Dynamics) and EAR-0738726 , and National Cooperative Highway Research Program Grant NCHRP-HR 24-33 . Computational resources were provided by the University of Minnesota Supercomputing Institute. The field study to measure the bed form development at the SAFL OSL was supported by a Fellowship Award from National Research Council .

Publisher Copyright:
© 2014 Elsevier Ltd.


  • Bed form
  • Dune
  • LES
  • Numerical simulation


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