Journal of Fluid Mechanics

The slumping of gravity currents

Herbert E.  Huppert a1 and John E.  Simpson a1
a1 Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, Silver Street, Cambridge

Article author query
huppert he   [Google Scholar] 
simpson je   [Google Scholar] 


Experimental results for the release of a fixed volume of one homogeneous fluid into another of slightly different density are presented. From these results and those obtained by previous experiments, it is argued that the resulting gravity current can pass through three states. There is first a slumping phase, during which the current is retarded by the counterflow in the fluid into which it is issuing. The current remains in this slumping phase until the depth ratio of current to intruded fluid is reduced to less than about 0.075. This may be followed by a (previously investigated) purely inertial phase, wherein the buoyancy force of the intruding fluid is balanced by the inertial force. Motion in the surrounding fluid plays a negligible role in this phase. There then follows a viscous phase, wherein the buoyancy force is balanced by viscous forces. It is argued and confirmed by experiment that the inertial phase is absent if viscous effects become important before the slumping phase has been completed. Relationships between spreading distance and time for each phase are obtained for all three phases for both two-dimensional and axisymmetric geometries. Some consequences of the retardation of the gravity current during the slumping phase are discussed.

(Published Online April 19 2006)
(Received April 25 1979)
(Revised January 11 1980)