Link zu WSL Hauptseite Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research WSL

Long-term bedload monitoring

Measuring station in the Erlenbach. The geophone sensors are mounted under the steel plates in the check dam above the retention basin.
Discharge and geophone measurements for two flood events in the Erlenbach.

During storm rainfall many mountain torrents feature sediment transport or debris flows. Accurate measurements of bedload transport in natural channels are important to improve process understanding and predictive methods.

If a minimal discharge is exceeded in the channel the shear stress at the bed is large enough to mobilise sediment grains and bedload transport commences. Increasing discharge or higher channel slopes eases mobilisation and sediment transport. In addition to the morphology of the bed, the supply of material from hillslopes through landslides and bank erosion is an important factor in determining the availability of transportable material. Measurements spanning long time periods indicate that after extreme flood events or after the passage of a debris flow larger volumes of sediment may be mobilised and displaced than after more “quiet” periods.

An important part of the investigations on bedload transport is based on the measurements from the hydrological test sites in the Alptal (Canton SZ), especially from the Erlenbach and the Vogelbach. There, and in other streams continuous measurements of transport rates are obtained with geophone sensors (formerly: hydrophone sensors). The geophone is mounted under a steel plate, which is placed flush into a stable part of the channel bed. As a bedload particle rolls over the plate, it triggers oscillations that are registered by the sensor. Up to now the signal has been recorded in a simplified way and sensor impulses have been counted. For a quantitative analysis, the system needs to be calibrated by independent measurement (obtained for example from a retention basin). The site at the Erlenbach will shortly be upgraded with automatic basket samplers to allow a better temporal comparison of geophone signals with transport rates and grain size distribution.


  • To compile long-term sediment transport data series in small catchments.
  • To calibrate and develop the acoustic bedload measuring method (Geophones).
  • To measure bedload transport in mountain torrents under different boundary conditions (geology, soil, vegetation, climate).
  • To obtain basic knowledge necessary for the characterisation of torrents, the planning of protection structures, and the hazard assessment for endangered areas.
  • To compare bedload transport behaviour of different torrents and mountain streams.
  • To constrain the influence of vegetation and geology on the variability of transport rates.
  • To describe single-grain transport as a function of hydraulic parameters, channel morphology and sediment availability.
  • To determine the most important factors influencing sediment yield in steep streams and to develop predictive methods.

Scientific methods

  • Measuring bedload transport rates with geophone sensors.
  • Measuring yearly sediment yields in retention basins.
  • Tracer methods.
  • Surveying channel morphology and characteristic parameters.
  • Derivation of predictive methods.



Rickenmann D, Turowski JM, Fritschi B, Klaiber A, Ludwig A (2012) Bedload transport measurements at the Erlenbach stream with geophones and automated basket samplers. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms 37:1000-1011

Badoux A, Turowski JM, Mao L, Mathys N, Rickenmann D (2012) Rainfall intensity–duration thresholds for bedload transport initiation in small Alpine watersheds. Natural Hazards and Earth System Science 12(10): 3091-3108

Turowski JM, Yager EM, Badoux A, Rickenmann D, Molnar P (2009) The impact of exceptional events on erosion, bedload transport and channel stability in a step-pool channel. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms 34(12): 1661-1673


  • Dieter Rickenmann
  • Bruno Fritschi
  • Jens Turowski
  • Alexandre Badoux
  • Manuel Nitsche
  • Johannes Schneider
  • Karl Steiner