The effect of air bubbles on optical backscatter sensor measurements under plunging breaking waves

Ivan Cáceres*, Jose M. Alsina, Joep van der Zanden, Dominic Van der A, Jan S. Ribberink, Agustín Sánchez-Arcilla

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)
4 Downloads (Pure)


Accurate suspended sediment concentration measurements are key to understand and quantify the sediment transport patterns in the surf and swash zones. One of the most widely used instruments to collect suspended sediment concentrations is the Optical Backscatter Sensor (OBS). However, the OBS is known to give erroneous readings when deployed in bubbly environments like the surf zone. The present study aims to quantify the influence of an aerated wave breaking environment on the OBS sediment concentration measurements. Experiments are performed in a large wave flume, which ensures full air entrapment under plunging breaking waves, and avoids scale effects that could affect the volume of entrapped air, the air bubble penetration depth and the residence time of air bubbles in the post-breaking turbulent eddies. OBS measurements are obtained at 66 locations along a fixed bed profile for 14 regular breaking wave conditions. In the absence of suspended sediment particles, OBS voltage measurements are used as a proxy for air bubble content. The presented OBS results show peaks up to 1.49 V (31% of the OBS measurement range, corresponding to 16 g/l for sediment with d50 = 0.25 mm) produced by air bubbles in the most energetic tested wave breaking conditions, while the maximum time-averaged value obtained is 0.48 V (10% of the OBS measurement range, corresponding to 5 g/l). The results highlight the importance of considering the presence of air bubbles where OBS are deployed to measure suspended sediment concentrations. A good correlation is found between the breaker depth index and the air bubble distribution and two predictive formulas are derived to forecast the area of air bubble influence in the surf zone.
Original languageEnglish
Article number103721
Number of pages15
JournalCoastal Engineering
Early online date7 May 2020
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2020

Bibliographical note

We offer our gratitude to the CIEM staff, especially to Joaquim Sospedra for his endurance and leadership. The work described in this paper was supported by the European Community’s Horizon 2020 Programme by means of the Hydralab+ Project (contract number 654110). This paper contributes to the Hydralab+ legacy together with a set of coordinated papers in other journals. Finally we acknowledge the economical funding and support received by the Secretaria d'Universitats i Recerca del Dpt. d'Economia i Coneixement de la Generalitat de Catalunya (Ref. 2017SGR00773).


  • Optical backscatter sensors
  • air bubbles
  • breaking waves
  • laboratory measurements
  • suspended sediment
  • Suspended sediment
  • Laboratory measurements
  • Breaking waves
  • Air bubbles


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