Mixing at the front of gravity currents

Marcelo H. García, Jeffrey D. Parsons

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Observations made with the help of a movable-bed tank designed and operated to freeze the motion of gravity current fronts indicate that both the scale of the apparatus and the magnitude of the current Reynolds number have a strong influence on mixing rates. Low mixing rates are associated with fronts in relatively shallow fresh water depths and low Reynolds numbers. Mixing rates increase more rapidly as the ratio of current thickness to fresh water depth increases. For the deepest fresh water flow conditions, when scale effects can be expected to be negligible, the dimensionless mixing rate is approximately equal to three times the relative current thickness and has an upper limit of about 0.3. Lower mixing rates are observed as the current Reynolds number decreases, suggesting that viscous effects can still exist even for deep fresh water conditions. Application of the experimental results to estimate some parameters of a hypothetical gravity current on the continental shelf yield reasonable values. However, it is clear that, owing to the scale and Reynolds number effects that might be present in laboratory experiments, particular care should be exercised when trying to extrapolate results to gravity currents in nature.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)197-205
Number of pages9
JournalDynamics of Atmospheres and Oceans
Issue number1-4
StatePublished - Jan 1996

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oceanography
  • Geology
  • Computers in Earth Sciences
  • Atmospheric Science


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