In this paper, we present a detailed investigation of the size, scale and dynamics of macro-turbulent flow structures in gravel-bed rivers. We used an array of seven electromagnetic current meters with high resolution in both space and time to measure the streamwise velocity fluctuations in a gravel-bed river. The array was deployed successively in various configurations in order to quantify the vertical, lateral and longitudinal extent of the flow structures and to estimate their advecting velocities. To depict the spatial and temporal properties of the flow structures, we used space–time velocity matrices, space–time correlation analysis and coherent-structure detection schemes. The results show that the large-scale turbulent flow structures in a gravel-bed river occupy the entire depth of the flow and that they are elongated and narrow. The length of the structures is 3 to 5 times the flow depth while the width is between 0.5 and 1 times flow depth. In spite of the high roughness of the bed, these values are similar to those reported in the literature for laboratory experiments on large-scale turbulent flow structures. The dynamics of the large-scale turbulent flow structures investigated using flow visualization highlight the interactions between the outer flow region and the near-bed region. Our evidence suggests that large-scale flow incursions trigger ejections in the near-bed region that can develop into megabursts that can reach the water surface.
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