Journal of Fluid Mechanics


Boundary-layer hydrodynamics and bedload sediment transport in oscillating water tunnels


a1 Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA


Oscillating water tunnels are experimental facilities commonly used in coastal engineering research. They are intended to reproduce near-bed hydrodynamic and sediment transport phenomena at a realistic scale. In an oscillating water tunnel, a piston generates an oscillatory motion that propagates almost instantaneously to the whole tunnel; consequently, flow is uniform along the tunnel, unlike the propagating wave motion in the sea or in a wave flume. This results in subtle differences between the boundary-layer hydrodynamics of an oscillating water tunnel and of a propagating wave, which may have a significant effect in the resulting sediment transport. In this paper, we present a zeroth-order analytical model of the turbulent boundary-layer hydrodynamics in an oscillating water tunnel. By using a time-varying eddy viscosity and by accounting for the constraints arising from the tunnel's geometry, the model predicts the oscillating water tunnel hydrodynamics and yields analytical expressions to compute bed shear stresses for asymmetric and skewed waves, both in the absence or presence of an imposed current. These expressions are applied to successfully quantify bedload sediment transport in oscillating water tunnel experiments.

(Received December 24 2009)

(Revised August 01 2010)

(Accepted August 11 2010)

(Online publication November 01 2010)

Key words:

  • coastal engineering;
  • sediment transport;
  • turbulent boundary layers


c1 Present address: Institut Curie, UMR 168, 11–13 rue Pierre et Marie Curie, 75005 Paris, France. Email address for correspondence: