Strengths and weaknesses of acoustic pipe microphone systems in ephemeral, sandy, gravel-bed rivers

Kyle Stark, Daniel Cadol, David Varyu, Eran Halfi, Jonathan B. Laronne

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We calibrated an acoustic pipe microphone system to monitor bedload flux in a sandy, gravel-bed ephemeral channel. Ours is a first attempt to test the limit of an acoustic surrogate bedload system in a channel with a high content of sand. Calibrations varied in quality; significant data subsetting was required to achieve R2 values >0.75. Several data quality issues had to be addressed: (1) apparent pulses, which occur when a sensor records an impulse from sediment impacting the surrounding substrate rather than directly impacting the sensor, were frequent, especially at higher signal amplifications. (2) The impact sensors were frequently covered by gravel sheets. This prompted the development of a cover detection protocol that rejected part of the impact sensor record when at least one sensor was partially or fully covered. (3) Because of the lack of sensor sensitivity to impacts of sand-sized particles, which was anticipated, and the considerable sand component of bedload in this channel, a grain size-limited bedload flux was estimated. This was accomplished by sampling the bedload captured by slot samplers and evaluating the variation of grain size with increasing flow strength. This considerably improved the results when compared to attempts at estimating the flux of the entire distribution of grain sizes. This calibration is a successful first attempt, though the impact sensors required several site-specific calibration steps. A universal set of equations using impact sensors to estimate bedload transport of fine-gravel with a large content of sand remains elusive. Notwithstanding, our study demonstrates the utility of impact sensor data, producing relatively low root mean square errors that are independent of measurements of flow strength (i.e. discharge). These tools will be particularly useful in settings that would benefit from new methodologies for estimating bedload transport in sand-rich gravel-bed rivers, such as the American desert Southwest.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1383-1396
Number of pages14
JournalEarth Surface Processes and Landforms
Issue number4
StatePublished - 30 Mar 2024


  • acoustic impact sensor
  • bedload
  • ephemeral channel
  • gravel-bed river
  • sand
  • surrogate

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)


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