Effects of biofilm on river-bed scour

Gemma Piqué, Damià Vericat, Sergi Sabater, Ramon J. Batalla

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Biofilm acts stabilising river-bed sediments, interfering with particle entrainment and, consequently, preventing bed disturbance. In this paper we present the results of a series of experiments carried out in indoor channels, aimed to understand biofilm alteration of bed material motion and topographic changes in stream channels. We analysed the erosion patterns and bedload rates in non-cohesive sediments in channels colonised by biofilms and compared them to biofilm-free others. All the channels had the same conditions of light irradiance, temperature, slope, and particle size (sand). Discharge and water surface slope were modified to create a range of hydraulic conditions, with pairs of colonised and non-colonised channels subjected to the same flows. We observed that biofilm slightly modified bed roughness and flow hydraulics, but that highly influenced bed disturbance. Biofilm caused bed scour to occur in patches unevenly distributed along the channel length, as a result of localised weaknesses of the biofilm. Once biofilm was ripped up it was transported in chunks, and sand grains were observed attached to these chunks. In non-colonised sediments the erosion was more homogeneous and the formation and movement of bedforms were observed. On average, bedload rates were 5 times lower when biofilm was present. Overall, the protective effect of the biofilm prevented generalised erosion of the channel and delayed the entrainment and transport of sand grains. Results emphasised the important role of biofilm in the incipient motion of bed-material in stream channels; this role may affect the magnitude and frequency of subsequent river bed processes, notably the onset of bedload and associated channel morpho-dynamics.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1033-1046
Number of pages14
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Bed roughness
  • Bedload
  • Biofilm
  • Erosion patterns
  • Indoor channels
  • Sand


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