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Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler

In recent years, advances in technology have allowed the USGS to

make discharge measurements by use of an Acoustic Doppler Current
Profiler (ADCP). An ADCP uses the principles of the Doppler Effect
to measure the velocity of water. The Doppler Effect is the
phenomenon we experience when passed by a car or train that is
sounding its horn. As the car or train passes, the sound of the horn
seems to drop in frequency.
The ADCP uses the Doppler Effect to determine water velocity by
sending a sound pulse into the water and measuring the change in
frequency of that sound pulse reflected back to the ADCP by sediment
or other particulates being transported in the water. The change in
frequency, or Doppler Shift, that is measured by the ADCP is
translated into water velocity. The sound is transmitted into the water
from a transducer to the bottom of the river (diagram below) and
receives return signals throughout the entire depth. The ADCP also
uses acoustics to measure water depth by measuring the travel time of
a pulse of sound to reach the river bottom at back to the ADCP.

To make a discharge measurement, the ADCP is

mounted onto a boat or into a small watercraft (diagram above) with
its acoustic beams directed into the water from the water surface. The
ADCP is then guided across the surface of the river to obtain
measurements of velocity and depth across the channel. The riverbottom tracking capability of the ADCP acoustic beams or a Global
Positioning System (GPS) is used to track the progress of the ADCP
across the channel and provide channel-width measurements. Using
the depth and width measurements for calculating the area and the
velocity measurements, the discharge is computed by the ADCP using
discharge = area velocity, similar to the conventional current-meter
method. Acoustic velocity meters have also been developed for
making wading measurements (picture to the left).
The ADCP has proven to be beneficial to streamgaging in several
ways. The use of ADCPs has reduced the time it takes to make a
discharge measurement. The ADCP allows discharge measurements to
be made in some flooding conditions that were not previously
possible. Lastly, the ADCP provides a detailed profile of water
velocity and direction for the majority of a cross section instead of
just at point locations with a mechanical current meter; this improves
the discharge measurement accuracy.

Bucket method

An example of the Bucket Method

The Bucket method is a simple way to measure the flow rate using
household items. It requires a stopwatch, a large bucket, and
preferably two to three people. To measure the flow rate using the
bucket method:
1. Measure the volume of the bucket or container. Keep in mind
that a typical 5 gallon bucket is often actually less than 5
2. Find a location along the stream that has a waterfall. If none can
be found, a waterfall can be constructed using a weir.
3. With a stopwatch, time how long it takes the waterfall to fill the
bucket with water. Start the stopwatch simultaneously with the
start of the bucket being filled and stop the stopwatch when the
bucket fills. The bucket should not be filled by holding it below
the surface of the stream because it is not the true flow rate.
4. Record the time it takes to fill the bucket.
5. Repeat steps two and three about six or seven times and take the
average. It is a good idea to do a few trial runs before recording
any data so that one can get a feel for the timing and
measurements required.

6. Only eliminate data if major problems arise such as debris from

the stream interfering with the flow.
7. The flow rate is the volume of the bucket divided by the average
time it took to fill the bucket.

Float method

Finding the flow rate using a float and a meter stick.

The float method (also known as the cross-sectional method) is used
to measure the flow rate for larger streams and rivers. It is found by
multiplying a cross sectional area of the stream by the velocity of the
water. To measure the flow rate using the float method:
1. Locate a spot in the stream that will act as the cross section of
the stream.
2. Using a meter stick, or some other means of measurement,
measure the depth of the stream at equal intervals along the
width of the stream (see Figure Three). This method is similar
to hand calculating a Riemann sum for the width of the river.
3. Once this data is gathered, multiply each depth by the interval it
was taken in and add all the amounts together. This calculation
is the area of a cross section of the stream.
4. Decide on a length of the stream, typically longer than the width
of the river, to send a floating object down (oranges work

great).[3] (L. Grafman, personal communication, November 2,

5. Using a stopwatch, measure the time it takes the float to travel
down the length of stream from step 4.
6. Repeat step five 5-10 times and determine the average time
taken for the float to travel the stream. Throw the float into the
water at differnet distances from the shoreline in order to gain a
more accuartate average.
7. Divide the stream length found in step 4 by the average time in
step 6 to determine the average velocity of the stream.
8. The velocity found in step 7 must be multiplied by a friction
correction factor. Since the top of a stream flows faster than the
bottom due to friction against the stream bed, the friction
correction factor evens out the flow. For rough or rocky
bottoms, multiply the velocity by 0.85. For smooth, muddy,
sandy, or smooth bedrock conditions, multiply the velocity by a
correction factor of 0.9. [4]
9. The corrected velocity multiplied by the cross sectional area
yields the flow rate in volume/time. (Be sure to keep consistent
units of length/distance when measuring the cross section and
the velocity eg. meters, feet)


The Flow Probe

The Flow Probe's
The Global Water Flow Probe is a highly accurate
water velocity instrument for measuring flows in
open channels and partially filled pipes. The water
velocity probe consists of a protected water turbo
prop positive displacement sensor coupled with an
expandable probe handle ending in a digital readout
display. The water flow meter incorporates true
velocity averaging for the most accurate flow
The Flow Probe's
measurements. The Flow Probe is ideal for storm
Digital Readout
water runoff studies, sewer flow measurements,
measuring flows in rivers and streams, and
monitoring water velocity in ditches and canals.
Turbo-Prop Sensor
The Flow Probe incorporates the unique Turbo-Prop propeller sensor,
which uses the most accurate positive displacement technique
available for velocity sensing. The Turbo-Prop is designed to shed
debris and is protected inside a 2 inch diameter housing. The probe
housing may be placed directly on the bottom of a pipe or streambed
for measuring low flows down to 2 inches in depth. The flow meter
propeller rotates freely on its bearing shaft with no mechanical
interconnections for minimal friction. Magnetic material in the
propeller tip passes a pickup point in the water velocity meter handle
producing electrical impulses that are carried to the readout display by
an internal cable. The Turbo-Prop is easily removed for cleaning or
replacement. NOTE: Global Water recommends recalibrating the
water velocity computer every time the Turbo-Prob sensor is
replaced. Contact our Technical Support department for more details.

Water Velocity Computer

The water velocity computer receives an electrical signal from the
propeller, amplifies the signal, and converts the reading to feet per
second (or meters per second, depending on programming). The large
LCD screen displays average, minimum, and maximum water
velocity readings. Up to 30 sets of minimum, maximum, and average
data readings can be stored in the water velocity computer. These
data points can be reviewed on the computer screen for later analysis.
The water velocity computer has a water-resistant housing and
incorporates a unique four-button operation for changing functions
and resetting the display. The water velocity computer is powered by
a non-replaceable battery that will last approximately five years with
normal use. Low battery warnings will also display as appropriate.
Flow Probe Handle
The Flow Probe handle can telescope from 3.7 feet to 6 feet in length
(FP111), 5.5 feet to 14 feet (FP211), or 2.5 feet to 5.5 feet (FP311).
The handle is constructed of anodized aluminum for light weight and
long life. The 14 foot length of the FP211, Flow Probe, allows for
measuring sewer flows from street level and measuring stream flows
from low bridges. While the 2.5 foot collapsed length of the FP311,
Flow Probe is ideal for carrying into remote flow monitoring areas. A
3-foot (1.7-feet for the FP311) mylar coated staff gauge (graduated in
hundredths of a foot and centimeters) is attached to the lower section
of the water velocity probe for instant water depth measurements and
accurate propeller positioning.
True Velocity Averaging
The Flow Probe can be used to measure the true average water
velocity of a channel's flow. As long as the turbo-prop sensor is in the
water flow, the computer will average the water velocity. One reading
is taken per second, and a continuous average water velocity is
displayed. To obtain the true average velocity the flow probe should
be slowly moved throughout the cross sectional area being measured.
Once the reading becomes steady, the true average water velocity of
the cross sectional area is obtained. This allows for highly accurate
flow measurements, which average the differences in velocities that
occur throughout a flow's cross-section and with water surges over

time. The average water velocity can be saved by pressing the SAVE
button and reviewed later.
Optional Swivel Head
The Flow Probe Swivel Head option allows you to rotate the flow
probe's turbo prop to + 90 degrees from it's standard position. This
option lets the flow probe take water velocity measurements in hard to
measure areas such as vertical pipes on water tanks or swimming pool
drainage systems.
Optional Alignment Fin
Significant errors can occur when measuring water flow other than
directly parallel to the direction of flow. The Global Water Flow
Probe Alignment Fin is designed to help orient the flow probe parallel
to flow when the end of the probe can't be seen well due to the depth
or cloudiness of the water. To use this accessory, immerse the flow
probe and rotate it back and forth until the least amount of resistance
is felt due to the water flowing past the alignment fin.

Stream gaging is a technique used to measure the discharge, or the

volume of water moving through a channel per unit time, of a stream.
The height of water in the stream channel, known as a stage or gage
height, can be used to determine the dischage in a stream. When used
in conjunction with velocity and cross-sectional area measurements,
stage height can be related to discharge for a stream. If a weir or
flume (devices, generally made of concrete, located in a stream
channel that have a constant, known shape and size) is used,
mathematical equations based on the weir or flume shape can be used
in conjunction with stage height, negating the need for velocity
Steams Gauge

As mentioned above, stream gauging can be done by measuring the

stage height and velocity at a series of points in a cross-section of a
stream or by constructing a flume or weir and recording stage height.
Stage height can be measured using a ruler, or a pressure transducer or
stilling well connected to a data logger. Stream gauging methods will
be discussed in further detail below.
Measuring Stage and Velocity to Determine Discharge Via The
Velocity-Area Method

Discharge, or the volume of water flowing in a stream over a set

interval of time, can be determined with the equation:
Q = AV,
where Q is discharge (volume/unit time-e.g. m3/second, also called

cumecs), A is the cross-sectional area of the stream (e.g. m2), and V is

the average velocity (e.g. m/s).
Stream water velocity is typically measured using a current meter.
Current meters generally consist of a propeller or a horizontal wheel
with small, cone-shaped cups attached to it which fill with water and
turn the wheel when placed in flowing water. The number of rotations
of the propeller or wheel-cup mechanism corresponds with the
velocity of the water flowing in the stream. Water flowing within a
stream is subject to friction from both the stream bed and the air
above the stream. Thus, when taking water velocity measurements, it
is conventional to measure flow at 0.6 times the total depth, which
typically represents the average flow velocity in the stream. This is
achieved by attaching the current meter to a height-calibrated rod. The
rod can also be used to measure stream stage height. If a current meter
is not available, another technique known as the float method can be
used to measure velocity. While less accurate, this method requires
limited and easy to obtain equipment. To measure velocity via the
float method, one simply measures the time it takes for a floating
object (such as an orange peel) to travel a measured distance. Velocity
is then calculated by dividing the distance traveled by the time it takes
for it to travel that distance.
Velocity also varies within the cross-section of a stream, where stream
banks are associated with greater friction, and hence slower moving
water. Thus, it is necessary to take velocity measurements along a
cross-section of a stream. Since stream channels are rarely straight, it
is helpful to measure velocity across an "average" reach of the stream
(e.g. average width and depth) with a single channel, a relatively flat
stream bed with little vegetation and rocks, and few back-eddies that
hinder current meter movement.
Discharge is measured by integrating the area and velocity of each
point across the stream; that is, the stream is divided into sections
based on where velocity and stage height measurements were taken in
the cross-section of the stream. By multiplying the cross-sectional
area (width of section x stage height) by the velocity, one can
calculate the discharge for that section of stream. The discharge from

each section can be added to determine the total discharge of water

from the stream.
Discharge and stage height are often found to be empirically related
and this relationship can be elucidated using a rating curve. A rating
curve is constructed by graphing several manually derived discharge
measurements (e.g. measured using method described above) with a
corresponding stage height. A best-fit curve is fit to these data points
and the equation of the line corresponds to the relationship between
stage and discharge. The greater the number of measurements, the
more reliable the rating curve will be to determine discharge based on
stage data.

Measuring Discharge Using a Weir

Discharge in small streams can be conveniently measured using a
weir. A weir is a small dam with a spillway, usually made of erosionresistant material such as concrete, of a specific shape. Two common
weir shapes are a 90 V-notch or a simple rectangular cutout. This
method for measuring discharge involves creating a dam just
downstream of the weir. This dam impounds in the weir, resulting in a
more or less consistent stage height (e.g. a pool of more stagnant
water without complications determining height due to waves or
ripples). Using the height of water in the weir, one can determine
discharge using one of the following empirically-derived equations:
Rectangular weir:
Q = 3.33 (L-0.2H)H3/2, for measurements in feet;
Q = 1.84 (L-0.2H)H2/3, for measurements in meters.
90 V-notch weir:
Q = 2.5H5/2, for measurements in feet;
Q = 1.379H5/2, for measurements in meters.
Q represents discharge (ft3/s or m3/s), L is the length of the weir crest

(ft or m), and H is the height of the water in the backwaters/weir. As

you can see, these equations negate the need for measuring point
velocities and are generally more reliable since the concrete
construction of the weir resists change in channel shape, which is a
confounding factor when using the velocity-area method to determine
The Manning Equation
A simple equation, known as the Manning equation, can be used to
estimate water velocity in an open channel. The Manning equation is:
V = 1.49R2/3S1/2/n, for measurements in feet
V = R2/3S1/2/n, for measurements in meters,
where V is the average velocity (ft/s or m/s), R is the hydraulic radius
(the ratio of cross-sectional area of flow in ft2 or m2 to the wetted
perimeter in ft or m-see diagram to define this factor), S is the energy
gradient or slope of the water surface, and n is the Manning roughness
coefficient (estimated based on published values, some of which are
shown in the table below).

Results Analysis
Discharge measurements using the velocity-area method without the
use of a weir provide a good estimate for stream flow and discharge.
However, this method assumes several things, including a constant

cross-sectional area (which is not always the case, as streams are

erosive, dynamic systems), a strong relationship between stage height
and discharge, and little human error in measuring velocity, stage
height, and cross-sectional area. A weir provides a more reliable
measurement due to consistency in channel cross-sectional area and
depth, but equations associated with weir discharge measurements
were empirically derived, and thus may also have error associated
with them due to variability among stream systems. In any case, the
greater the number of measurements to derive a ratings curve, the
better since a greater range in measurements will be provided.
Furthermore, keep in mind that ratings curve measurements may fit a
number of lines/equations, depending on environmental factors such
as times of snowmelt, where discharge may increase rapidly or times
of drought when discharge may be immeasurable via this technique.
This depends on measuring the average velocity of flow and the
cross-sectional area of the channel and calculating the flow from:
Q(m3/s) = A(m2) x V(m/s)
The metric unit m3/s is referred to as the cumec. Because m3/s is a
large unit, smaller flows are measured in litres per second (l/s).
A simple way to estimate the velocity is to measure the time taken for
a floating object to travel a measured distance downstream. The
velocity is not the same at all places in the stream, being slower at the
sides and bottom, and faster on the surface, as shown in Figure 20.
Taking 0.8 of the surface velocity as measured by the float gives an
approximate value for the average velocity. Alternatively, the velocity
can be measured below the surface by attaching a submerged weight
to a float. The float and weight move down the stream together at the
velocity of the stream at the depth where the weight is suspended. At
about half the stream depth, the velocity is approximately the same as
the average velocity for the whole stream. Float methods are only

suitable for straight streams or canals where the flow is fairly even
and regular.

Another method is to pour into the stream a quantity of strongly

coloured dye, and to measure the time for this to flow a measured
distance downstream. The dye should be added quickly with a sharp
cutoff, so that it travels downstream in a cloud. The time is measured
for the first and last of the dye to reach the downstream measuring

point and an average of the two times is used to calculate the average
In turbulent streams the cloud of dye is dispersed quickly and cannot
be observed and measured, but other tracers can be used, either
chemical or radio-isotopes, in what is called the dilution method. A
solution of the tracer of known strength is added to the stream at a
constant measured rate and samples are taken at points downstream.
The concentration of the sample taken downstream can be compared
with the concentration of the added tracer and the dilution is a
function of the rate of flow which can be calculated.
More accurate determination of velocity can be obtained by using a
current meter. The two main types are illustrated in Figure 21. The
conical cup type revolves about a vertical axis, and the propeller type
about a horizontal axis. In each case the speed of revolution is
proportional to the velocity, and the number of revolutions in a given
time is counted, either on a digital counter or as clicks heard in
earphones worn by an operator. In shallow streams small current
meters will be mounted on rods and held by wading operators (Plate
23). When measurements of floodflows are to be measured on big
rivers, the readings are taken either from a bridge, or an overhead
cableway is installed well above maximum flood level, and the
current meter is lowered on cables into the river with weights to hold
it against the riverflow.
A current meter measures the velocity at a single point, and several
measurements are required to calculate the total flow. The procedure
is to measure and plot on graph paper the cross-section of the stream
and to imagine that it is divided into strips of equal width as shown in
Figure 22. The average velocity for each strip is estimated from the
mean of the velocity measured at 0.2 and 0.8 of the depth in that strip.
This velocity, times the area of the strip, gives the flow for the strip
and the total flow is the sum of the strips. Table 2 shows how the

calculations will be done for data shown in Figure 22. In practice,

more strips would be used than the number shown in Figure 22 and
Table 2. For shallow water a single reading is taken at 0.6 of the depth
instead of averaging the readings at 0.2 and 0.8 of the depth.
Sometimes the information required on streamflow is the maximum
flood flow, and a rough estimate can be made using the velocity/area
method. The maximum depth of flow in a stream can sometimes be
deduced from the height of leaves and trash caught in vegetation on
the bankside, or from the highest signs of scour or sediment deposits
on the bank. Alternatively some device can be installed which is
designed to leave a record of the maximum level. To prevent false
readings from turbulence in the stream, some kind of stilling well is
used - usually a pipe with holes on the downstream side. The
maximum depth of water can be recorded on a rod painted with a
water soluble paint, or from traces left at the highest level from
something floated on the water surface in the tube. Materials used
have included ground cork, chalk dust and ground charcoal. Knowing
the maximum depth of flow, the corresponding cross-section area of
the channel can be measured, and the velocity estimated by one of the
methods described, bearing in mind that the velocity at high flood will
usually be faster than the normal flow.


The velocity of water flowing in a stream or open channel is affected
by a number of factors.

Gradient or slope. All other factors being equal, velocity of flow

increases when the gradient is steeper.
Roughness. The contact between the water and the streambank
causes a frictional resistance which depends on the smoothness or
roughness of the channel. In natural streams the amount of vegetation
affects the roughness, and also any unevenness which causes
Shape. Channels can have the same cross-sectional area, gradient
and roughness, but still have different velocities of flow according to
their shape. The reason is that water close to the sides and bottom of a
stream channel is slowed by the friction effect, so a channel shape
which provides least area of contact with the water will have least
frictional resistance and so a greater velocity. The parameter used to
measure this effect of shape is called the hydraulic radius of the
channel. It is defined as the cross-sectional area divided by the wetted
perimeter, which is the length of the bed and sides of the channel
which are in contact with the water. Hydraulic radius thus has units of
length, and it may be represented by either M or R. It is also
sometimes called hydraulic mean radius or hydraulic mean depth.
Figure 24 shows how channels can have the same cross-sectional area
but a different hydraulic radius. If all other factors are constant, then
the lower the value of R, the lower will be the velocity.
All these variables which affect velocity of flow have been brought
together in a very useful empirical equation called the Manning
formula, which is:


is the average velocity of flow in metres per second

R is the hydraulic radius in metres (the letter M is also used to

denote hydraulic radius, standing for Mean Hydraulic Depth)
S is the average gradient of the channel in metres per metre (the
letter i is also used to denote gradient)
n is a coefficient, known as Manning's n, or Manning's
roughness coefficient. Some values for channel flow are listed in
Strictly speaking, the gradient of the water surface should be used in
the Manning formula and this may not be the same as the gradient of
the streambed when the stream is rising or falling. However, it is not
easy to measure the level of the surface accurately and so an average
of the channel gradient is usually calculated from the difference in
elevation between several sets of points each 100 metres apart.
Nomographs are available to assist solving the Manning formula, and
an example is shown in Figure 25.
Another simple empirical formula for estimating velocity of flow
is Elliot's open-ditch formula which is:


is the average velocity of flow in metres per second

is the hydraulic radius in metres

is the channel gradient in metres per kilometre.

This formula assumes a value of Manning's n of 0.02 and so is only

suitable for free-flowing natural streams with low roughness.