Incomplete mixing in a small, urban stream

Robert J. Ryan, Michel C. Boufadel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Conservative solute tracer experiments were conducted in Indian Creek, a small urban stream located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. Estimated flow rates were between 46 L s-1 and 81 L s-1, average stream width was 5.5 m and average stream depth was 0.2 m. Given these dimensions, most researchers would think it reasonable to assume that the stream is completely mixed vertically and horizontally. However, we found that the stream was not vertically completely mixed in a 1.0 m deep, 30 m long pool. The limited mixing was demonstrated by the vertical stratification of a tracer cloud which was completely mixed both laterally and vertically across the stream prior to entering the pool. We suggest that the cause of limited mixing is due to a balance between groundwater inflow and transverse dispersion at the cross-section. We show that the unsupported assumption of complete mixing may result in a wide range, and thus increased uncertainty, of the values of stream flow and longitudinal dispersion coefficient estimated from these data. We conclude that the assumption of complete mixing and one-dimensional modeling must be checked against actual field conditions, even in small streams.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)50-57
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Environmental Management
Issue number1
StatePublished - Oct 2006
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


  • Conservative tracer
  • Dispersion
  • Solute transport
  • Stream flow


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