U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1774
Several common methods for measuring suspended-sediment concentration in rivers in the United States use depth-integrating samplers to collect a velocity-weighted suspended-sediment sample in a subsample of a river cross section. Because depth-integrating samplers are always moving through the water column as they collect a sample, and can collect only a limited volume of water and suspended sediment, they collect only minimally time-averaged data. Four sources of error exist in the field use of these samplers: (1) bed contamination, (2) pressure-driven inrush, (3) inadequate sampling of the cross-stream spatial structure in suspended-sediment concentration, and (4) inadequate time averaging. The first two of these errors arise from misuse of suspended-sediment samplers, and the third has been the subject of previous study using data collected in the sand-bedded Middle Loup River in Nebraska. Of these four sources of error, the least understood source of error arises from the fact that depth-integrating samplers collect only minimally time-averaged data.
To evaluate this fourth source of error, we collected suspended-sediment data between 1995 and 2007 at four sites on the Colorado River in Utah and Arizona, using a P-61 suspended-sediment sampler deployed in both point- and one-way depth-integrating modes, and D-96-A1 and D-77 bag-type depth-integrating suspended-sediment samplers. These data indicate that the minimal duration of time averaging during standard field operation of depth-integrating samplers leads to an error that is comparable in magnitude to that arising from inadequate sampling of the cross-stream spatial structure in suspended-sediment concentration. This random error arising from inadequate time averaging is positively correlated with grain size and does not largely depend on flow conditions or, for a given size class of suspended sediment, on elevation above the bed. Averaging over time scales >1 minute is the likely minimum duration required to result in substantial decreases in this error. During standard two-way depth integration, a depth-integrating suspended-sediment sampler collects a sample of the water-sediment mixture during two transits at each vertical in a cross section: one transit while moving from the water surface to the bed, and another transit while moving from the bed to the water surface. As the number of transits is doubled at an individual vertical, this error is reduced by ~30 percent in each size class of suspended sediment.
For a given size class of suspended sediment, the error arising from inadequate sampling of the cross-stream spatial structure in suspended-sediment concentration depends only on the number of verticals collected, whereas the error arising from inadequate time averaging depends on both the number of verticals collected and the number of transits collected at each vertical. Summing these two errors in quadrature yields a total uncertainty in an equal-discharge-increment (EDI) or equal-width-increment (EWI) measurement of the time-averaged velocity-weighted suspended-sediment concentration in a river cross section (exclusive of any laboratory-processing errors). By virtue of how the number of verticals and transits influences the two individual errors within this total uncertainty, the error arising from inadequate time averaging slightly dominates that arising from inadequate sampling of the cross-stream spatial structure in suspended-sediment concentration. Adding verticals to an EDI or EWI measurement is slightly more effective in reducing the total uncertainty than adding transits only at each vertical, because a new vertical contributes both temporal and spatial information. However, because collection of depth-integrated samples at more transits at each vertical is generally easier and faster than at more verticals, addition of a combination of verticals and transits is likely a more practical approach to reducing the total uncertainty in most field situations. Therefore, the most practical, best EDI or EWI sampling design to minimize the total uncertainty in time-averaged velocity-weighted suspended-sediment concentration is to double the number of transits collected during standard two-way depth integration and thus collect four transits at as many verticals as is practical for a given field situation.
Last modified November 8, 2011
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Topping, D.J., Rubin, D.M., Wright, S.A., and Melis, T.S., 2011, Field evaluation of the error arising from inadequate time averaging in the standard use of depth-integrating suspended-sediment samplers: U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1774, 95 p.