Journal of Fluid Mechanics


Gravity currents produced by lock exchange

J. O. SHIN a1, S. B. DALZIEL a1 and P. F. LINDEN a2
a1 Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, University of Cambridge, Wilberforce Road, Cambridge CB3 0WA, UK
a2 Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, University of California, San Diego, 9500 Gilman Drive, La Jolla, CA 92093-0411, USA

Article author query
shin jo   [Google Scholar] 
dalziel sb   [Google Scholar] 
linden pf   [Google Scholar] 


The dynamics of gravity currents are believed to be strongly influenced by dissipation due to turbulence and mixing between the current and the surrounding ambient fluid. This paper describes new theory and experiments on gravity currents produced by lock exchange which suggest that dissipation is unimportant when the Reynolds number is sufficiently high. Although there is mixing, the amount of energy dissipated is small, reducing the current speed by a few percent from the energy-conserving value. Benjamin (J. Fluid Mech. vol. 31, 1968, p. 209) suggests that dissipation is an essential ingredient in gravity current dynamics. We show that dissipation is not important at high Reynolds number, and provide an alternative theory that predicts the current speed and depth based on energy-conserving flow that is in good agreement with experiments. We predict that in a deep ambient the front Froude number is 1, rather than the previously accepted value of $\sqrt 2$. New experiments are reported for this case that support the new theoretical value.

(Received April 5 2002)
(Revised May 17 2004)