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MacDonald, I. T., & Mullarney, J. C. (2015). A novel ‘FlocDrifter’ platform for observing flocculation and turbulence processes in a Lagrangian frame of reference. Journal of Atmospheric and Oceanic Technology, 32(3), 547–561. http://doi.org/10.1175/JTECH-D-14-00106.1
Permanent Research Commons link: https://hdl.handle.net/10289/9449
A novel drifter platform was used to measure the properties of aggregated particles called flocs—a key component of sediment transport in muddy environments. Also concurrently measured were turbulence, suspended sediment concentration (SSC), velocity, and salinity in both Lagrangian and Eulerian frames of reference. In Lagrangian mode the system performed well in a heavily sediment-laden river, providing measurements over a large spatial scale. The platform navigated itself through a complex geometry encompassing many bends and significant depth changes. Observed velocities relative to the drifter and salinities indicated that the drifter motion was almost Lagrangian with minimal slippage between the drifter and the water motion. The small amount of slippage that did occur was sufficient to ensure that the drifter oriented itself into the oncoming flow. High-quality in situ images of flocs were collected using a high-magnification floc camera (FlocCam). An automatic image analysis routine was developed to identify and characterize flocs within each FlocCam image, employing an artificial neural network (ANN) to ensure that only in-focus particles were included in the analyses. The results indicated that the FlocCam system had an upper working SSC limit of around 350–400 mg L⁻¹. The SSC estimates show that the drifters encountered considerable variability as they were advected downstream; however, concentrations predominantly remained under the image processing threshold of 350–400 mg L⁻¹. The system captured the evolution of floc characteristics over short spatial scales (hundreds of meters). The median floc size (d₅₀) was found to be positively correlated with SSC (r² = 0.5). A comparison between Eulerian and Lagrangian floc histories can then be used to evaluate the role of antecedent conditions within the flocculation process.
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