Journal of Fluid Mechanics

Particle-driven gravity currents

Roger T.  Bonnecaze a1p1, Herbert E.  Huppert a1 and John R.  Lister a1
a1 Institute of Theoretical Geophysics, Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, University of Cambridge, Silver Street, Cambridge CB3 9EW, UK

Article author query
bonnecaze rt   [Google Scholar] 
huppert he   [Google Scholar] 
lister jr   [Google Scholar] 


Gravity currents created by the release of a fixed volume of a suspension into a lighter ambient fluid are studied theoretically and experimentally. The greater density of the current and the buoyancy force driving its motion arise primarily from dense particles suspended in the interstitial fluid of the current. The dynamics of the current are assumed to be dominated by a balance between inertial and buoyancy forces; viscous forces are assumed negligible. The currents considered are two-dimensional and flow over a rigid horizontal surface. The flow is modelled by either the single- or the two-layer shallow-water equations, the two-layer equations being necessary to include the effects of the overlying fluid, which are important when the depth of the current is comparable to the depth of the overlying fluid. Because the local density of the gravity current depends on the concentration of particles, the buoyancy contribution to the momentum balance depends on the variation of the particle concentration. A transport equation for the particle concentration is derived by assuming that the particles are vertically well-mixed by the turbulence in the current, are advected by the mean flow and settle out through the viscous sublayer at the bottom of the current. The boundary condition at the moving front of the current relates the velocity and the pressure head at that point. The resulting equations are solved numerically, which reveals that two types of shock can occur in the current. In the late stages of all particle-driven gravity currents, an internal bore develops that separates a particle-free jet-like flow in the rear from a dense gravity-current flow near the front. The second type of bore occurs if the initial height of the current is comparable to the depth of the ambient fluid. This bore develops during the early lock-exchange flow between the two fluids and strongly changes the structure of the current and its transport of particles from those of a current in very deep surroundings. To test the theory, several experiments were performed to measure the length of particle-driven gravity currents as a function of time and their deposition patterns for a variety of particle sizes and initial masses of sediment. The comparison between the theoretical predictions, which have no adjustable parameters, and the experimental results are very good.

(Published Online April 26 2006)
(Received May 28 1992)

p1 Current address: Department of Chemical Engineering, The University of Texas at Austin. Austin, Texas, 78712-1062, USA.