A simplified approach to address turbulence modulation in turbidity currents as a response to slope breaks and loss of lateral confinement

Mariano I. Cantero, S. Balachandar, Alessandro Cantelli, Gary Parker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Turbidity currents traversing canyon-fan systems flow over bed slopes that decrease in the downstream direction. This slope decrease eventually causes turbidity currents to decelerate and enter a net-depositional mode. When the slope decrease is relatively rapid in the downstream direction, the turbidity current undergoes a concomitantly rapid and substantial transition. Similar conditions are found when turbidity currents debouch to fan systems with loss of lateral confinement. In this work a simplified approach to perform direct numerical simulation of continuous turbidity currents undergoing slope breaks and loss of lateral confinement is presented and applied to study turbulence modulation in the flow. The presence of settling sediment particles breaks the top-bottom symmetry of the flow, with a tendency to self-stratify. This self-stratification damps turbulence, particularly near the bottom wall, affecting substantially the flow's ability to transport sediment in suspension. This work reports results on two different situations: turbidity currents driven by fine and coarser sediment flowing through a decreasing slope. In the case of fine sediment, after the reduction in the slope of the channel, the flow remains turbulent with only a modest influence on turbulence statistics. In the case of coarse sediments, after the change in slope, turbulence is totally suppressed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)371-385
Number of pages15
JournalEnvironmental Fluid Mechanics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2014



  • Direct numerical simulation
  • Sediment transport
  • Turbidity currents
  • Turbulence modulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Water Science and Technology

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