The Earth Surface Dynamics Laboratory

The Earth Surface Dynamics Laboratory

19.05.2011 - Posted by Mark Stacey
This week the ABC’s Science Show on Radio National visited the new Earth Surface Dynamics Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology. This laboratory is designed to facilitate physical experiments and models to study the processes that erode, transport, and deposit sediment on the surface of the Earth and other planets.
The laboratory’s latest showpiece is a new state-of-the-art tilting flume, which can tilt up to a massive 30% slope over its 20m length, corresponding to a 6m vertical fall.

There are only a handful of labs like this in the world according to Michael Lamb, Assistant Professor of Geology. The flume has a huge 75,000L collection reservoir, allowing experiments to run continuously with a flow rate of over 30,000L/min (0.5m3/s), continually cycling both sediment and water. With its high tilt and pumping capability, the flume can produce hydraulic forces sufficient to move particles up to 100mm in diameter.
The researchers hope to use this to learn more about geomorphic response in catastrophic river floods, mudslides and debris flows — hopefully saving lives as a result.
You can download the audio here or see more photos at the lab’s website: