Answer: Bucknell University’s newest research tool, a re-circulating, tilting sediment flume.
It’s so big it takes up an entire room in the O’Leary Psychology and Geology Center, a room appropriately called the Flume Room.
In fact, when the center was under construction for opening in 2002, the building’s power, ventilation and floor drainage systems were designed to accommodate the flume, which arrived in two trailer-truck deliveries this past month and is currently being assembled much like a giant Lego set by a three-man crew from Engineering Laboratory Design Inc. in Lake City, Minn.
Modeling and study Custom-designed for Bucknell, the sediment transport flume will help Department of Geology faculty and students “better understand sedimentary and geo-morphological processes and allow the modeling and study of large natural river systems,” said Craig Kochel, a professor of geology and co-director of the Bucknell University Environmental Center.
The flume is mounted on screw jacks so that it can run at a variety of slopes, creating a near-perfect laboratory simulation of stream and river channels to study their evolution, process and behavior. Flume studies allow researchers to observe channel evolution over dramatically shortened time-scales and in spaces where the entire landscape can be studied in a single view.
Kochel said Bucknell’s flume was designed with considerable flexibility in mind.
Flow hydraulics “Many flumes are narrow, designed primarily for the study of flow hydraulics.Our wide flume allows for the study of the geomorphic form of river channels – giving it the space for channels to form and evolve,” Kochel said.
The sides are made of inch-and-a-half scratch resistant Plexiglas “to allow for the observation of bed-forms like sand waves and ripples and sediment movement in cross-section,” the geologist said. “The flume will also have an overhead rainfall simulator so that watershed studies can occur. The rainfall will fall onto a sloping sediment bed, from which a watershed will evolve.”
Additionally, a six-jack system gives the 22,000-pound (before water and sediment materials are added) flume a tilting capability that will allow researchers to study different stream grades and to simulate the impact of changing stream grades.
Two 25-horsepower drywell mounted engines will pump up to 3,800 gallons of water a minute.
Studying floods “The dual pumps will be capable of generating significant flows for studying floods,” said Sigurd Anderson, president of Engineering Laboratory Design, who has been onsite overseeing the installation. “It’s a very valuable teaching aid and research tool.”
The flume, while offering a host of undergraduate research possibilities, will also be used in classes for hands-on demonstrations of river meandering, channel evolution, how drainage basins and networks develop, groundwater flow and seepage and impact on channels, stream restoration problems and issues, landslides and other mass-wasting phenomena.
A planned flume webcam will allow viewers who visit the geology website to watch experiments or demonstrations as they are being conducted.
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