(Be prepared to get your feet wet!)
Connecticut, most people live near at least one stream and most of us live not
far from a major river. All of the
water from these streams eventually flows into Long Island Sound.
Whether we realize it or not, rivers and streams are affected by what we
do in our daily lives. It is
important that we understand the dynamics of streams and rivers.
Then we can make well-informed decisions about such issues as building on
a floodplain, minimizing erosion near bridges and dams, predicting the effects
of flooding in an area, and preventing water pollution.
though you will look at a small local stream, its processes and behavior are
identical to those of a much larger stream or river. Within a small area, you will be able to observe and measure
a wide variety of stream features that will help you understand how larger
study the structures that form in and around streams and rivers.
measure a stream bottom profile, velocity, and discharge.
study how streams change their course.
beginning your teamwork assignments, walk the length of the stream in the study
area and make a sketch map of the stream. Include not only the shape of the
stream, but also where there are flat areas such as sand bars, where the banks
are steep, where there are rocks, and any other features of the stream you see.
Indicate areas where erosion is occurring and where deposition is occurring.
Your class will be divided into four study teams that have from four to
six members each. The study sites
1. Stream Shape (width and depth)
2. Velocity and Discharge
3. Texture and loction of sediments
4. Gradient of stream
Once you are assigned to a team, gather the equipment you need and
report to your study site. When you
finish your assignment, return the equipment to its original site, get the
equipment for the next site, and begin work there.
This site will investigate the width and depth of the stream.
So depending on the water temperature, put on your wading boots, or your
aqua-socks, or any footwear you donít mind getting wet and muddy, and
prepare to get acquainted with the stream.
Find the depth of the channel at the same stretch of the stream where you
found the width, using the following procedure.
2. Position a tape measure across the brook with one student holding each end.
Another student will use a meter stick to measure the depth in
centimeters at the nearest edge of the stream, 20 cm into the channel, and
continue measuring every 20 cm until reaching the opposite shoreline of the
channel. (Note: If you will be using inch-square graph paper, measure every 25
cm, to make graphing easier later in the activity.)
Graph the channel cross-section on the straight stretch of the stream
using a scale that will fill, or nearly fill the top half of your graph paper.
(you will graph the cross-section of the channel at a meander on the lower half
of the paper later.) In other words, make the cross-section large enough so it
is easy to make and read. Does it seem that the channel is symmetrical?
That is, does it get deep and then shallow at about the same distances
from each edge?
Extra credit: Using a meter stick, measure the height of the banks on the
sides of the channel along the straight stretch of the stream.
Also measure the width between the two banks. During times of increased
discharge, water can rise to the level you just measured.
That is a maximum volume of water the stream channel can hold. Volumes greater than that flow out of the channel onto the
surrounding floodplain. Collect
data needed to include the part of the streambed that does not currently contain
water on the cross-section you drew. Shade this part of the cross-section to
indicate it does not currently contain water.
Choose one of the places where the stream bends, and repeat Procedure B to determine if the shape of the streambed changes at meanders.
Is the stream at this meander symmetrical or asymmetrical?
If the streambed is asymmetrical at the meander, which side (near the
inside curve or the outside curve) of the stream is shallower?
Which part is deeper?
Using the same sheet of graph paper on which you drew the first profile
of the stream, graph a cross-section of the meander below the first
Label the outside and inside bends of your cross-section.
the velocity of the water will be measured in both straight and curved stretches
of the stream. Stream discharge (the amount of water flowing past a given point
in a given amount of time) can then be calculated.
Flags on sticks
or tennis ball
Metric measuring tape
Since velocity is a function
of both distance and time,
you will need to measure both of those properties as they relate to at least two
You are going to measure the time it takes the water to flow a distance
of 4 meters.
Begin with the straight stretch of the stream.
a four-meter distance along the stream. Place flags on sticks (or other
markers) at the beginning and end of the four-meter distance.
an object that floats, such as a ping-pong or tennis ball, in the water at
the higher end of the four-meter stretch.
Drop the ball above the starting flag and start
it reaches the first flag; stop when
it reaches the second flag. Record the time in seconds.
at least two more times, and then average your results.
Calculate the velocity of the stream in meters per second by dividing the average time in seconds into the distance of four meters.
determine the streamís velocity around a meander
by repeating step three. Measure the velocity near the inside curve and near the
outside curve to determine if the stream travels at the same speed in each of
Examine the differences in the velocities you computed along the straight
stretch and both the inside and the outside of the meander.
What do you think those differences might mean about the future shape of
the stream? Explain.
On what part of the stream do you think erosion might take place?
How will erosion change the shape of the stream over time?
The discharge of a stream is the amount of water moving through the
channel. Since you have found out the average width, average depth, and average
velocity of the stream, you can calculate discharge.
Following is an equation that determines the discharge:
Q = wdv
is the discharge
is the average width in meters
is the average depth in meters
is the average velocity in meters per second
the data you collected along the straight
stretch of the brook, calculate
the discharge of the stream.
CHALLENGE: What unit
do you think stream discharge is measured in? If you used units with your
numbers as you worked the above problem, this will be easy to determine!
EXTRA CREDIT: Calculate the maximum discharge of the stream before it
will overflow its banks.
team will take a closer look at the sand and other sediments under their feet.
They will consider the size of the sediment, and by putting their data together
with that of the Water Team, will try to understand the relationship between the
size of sediment and the energy required to pick it up and drop it back down.
lenses (one for each team member)
graduated cylinders (same number as sieves in the stack)
(one for each cylinder)
Each team member should first take a close look at the sediments that
have been deposited along the sides of the brook. Sprinkle a small amount of the
sand into a petri dish and examine it with a hand lens.
Empty that sample and examine another one that has a different grain
size. Now you are a bit more familiar with the material youíre
going to be measuring.
Take the map of the stream that you sketched at the beginning of these
activities and mark the location of each sample as you take it.
From a location near the stream use a plastic beaker to scoop up some
sand. The sand must be dry to sieve it. If you can't collect dry sand, spread it
out in a thin layer in a metal pan in the sun until dry. Record the volume of
the sand (cubic centimeters).
Assemble the stack of sieves in descending order with the largest mesh
size on the top and the smallest mesh size on the bottom.
Pour the sand from the beaker into the top sieve. Gently shake the
apparatus for several minutes.
Take the sieve stack apart and empty the contents of each section into a
separate graduated cylinder, using the funnels.
Record the amount of each grain size (cubic centimeters).
Calculate the percent of the total volume for each grain size.
you have time, repeat this procedure at another location where the sediment
size appears different from your first sample.
flow because the surface of Earthís crust is irregular in shape. Gravity pulls
water downward. Rivers that flow along steep paths produce different kinds of
characteristics from those that flow along nearly horizontal paths. In this
exercise, you will determine how steep a path the river you are studying
travels. It is true that the river is flowing over the land, but because the
landís surface can be quite irregular, it is easier, and more accurate, to
measure the steepness of the surface of
the stream from a starting point to a lower point.
The streamís surface is actually an average of the irregularities of
the landís surface. Steepness, which is also called a streamís slope
or gradient, is determined by
dividing a set horizontal distance the stream travels into the vertical distance
the water dropped over that set horizontal distance. In this exercise, you will
determine how many meters the stream drops over a horizontal distance of 10
10-meter ropes connected at one end with a ball and a ring
lightweight level attached to center of one of the two ropes
Choose a stretch along the stream that represents a typical steepness as
you see it.
Choose a starting point, called the benchmark, at the upper end of the
stretch. Position one of the meter sticks inside the ring that is attached to
the ropes and hold it in a vertical position at the benchmark. The ball will
help to keep the rope afloat.
A second team member should hold the 10-meter end of the rope with the level. A third team member should level the rope by giving instructions to the team members at either end of the rope.
the upper rope is in place and leveled, a fourth team member can pull the lower
rope taut along the surface of the water, and, using a vertically-positioned
meter stick to measure the distance between the ropes, determine how many
centimeters the stream dropped over the 10-meter horizontal distance.
determine the streamís slope (gradient) by dividing the 10-meter horizontal
distance into the streamís drop in elevation. Record the drop in elevation in
centimeters. So the units for slope will be centimeters per meter. That is, on
the average, the stream drops a certain number of centimeters every meter.
a scale that works on a sheet of graph paper, draw the slope of this stream. If
possible, draw the slope without vertical exaggeration. That is, change the
centimeter value for the streamís elevation change to meters, and use meters
for both elevation change and horizontal distance on the graph paper.
would you describe this streamís gradient?
Analysis of the Four Problems
the following questions in complete sentences:
Do you see evidence that the stream is sometimes wider than it is now? If
so, what is the evidence?
Is there evidence that the velocity is sometimes faster? What is it?
3. The chart below shows the relationship between the velocity of water and the size of the sediment it can carry. Looking at the data you have collected, decide whether the velocities you calculated are powerful enough to pick up and move the sediment sizes present. If not, what velocities must be reached to move the largest sediment?
|Velocity (m/sec)||Grain size moved|
|1.2||Fist-sized or larger|
|0.9||Between gravel and fist sized|
4. Look at the sediments you collected in the stream. Are they distributed evenly along the streambed? If not, describe their distribution. From what you know of the stream characteristics, why do you think the sediments are distributed as they are?
5. EXTRA CREDIT: If the stream were bank full, what would be its cross-sectional area?
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