Aug 25

Formation, Growth, and Failure of Debris Jams at Bridge Piers

Research Article

First published in Water Resources Research for American Geophysical Union AGU: 24 August 2018


The accumulation of large wood debris around bridge piers obstructs the flow, producing increased upstream water levels, large horizontal structural loadings, and flow field modifications that can considerably exacerbate scour.

These effects have frequently been held responsible for the failure of a large number of bridges around the world, as well as for increased risk of flooding of adjacent areas. Yet little is currently known about the time evolution and processes responsible for the formation and growth of these debris piles. This paper is aimed at deciphering the whole life of debris accumulations through an exhaustive set of 570 experiments in which debris elements were individually introduced into a flume and accumulated at a pier model downstream. Our findings show that in all experiments, the growth of accumulations is halted at a critical stage, after which the jam is removed from the pier by the flow. This condition typically coincides with the time when the dimensions of the accumulations are maxima. The values of the accumulation maximum size display a clear dependence on flow characteristics and debris length distribution. On the other hand, other variables have shown much weaker effects on the geometry of the accumulations. For a given debris length, accumulations are wide, shallow, and long at low flow velocities but become narrower, deeper, and shorter with increasing velocities. A comparison of results of accumulations formed with debris of uniform and nonuniform size distributions has revealed that the former can be up to 2.5 times wider than the latter.

Idealized three‐dimensional sketch of a debris jam, with indication of the main geometrical characteristics involved.