Self-accelerating turbidity currents

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Approximate layer-averaged equations describing the mechanics of turbid underflows are derived. Closure of the equations describing the balance of fluid mass, sediment mass, and mean flow momentum provides for the delineation of a three-equation model. A description of sediment exchange with the bed allows for the possibility of a self-accelerating turbidity current in which sediment entrainment from the bed is linked to flow velocity. A consideration of the balance of the mean energy of the turbulence yields a constraint on physically realistic solutions to the three-equation model. It is shown that the self-acceleration predicted by the three-equation model is so strong that the energy constraint fails to be satisfied. In particular, the turbulent energy consumed in entraining new bed sediment exceeds the supply of energy to the turbulence, so that the turbulence, and thus the turbidity current, must die. The problem is rectified by the formulation of a four-equation model, in which an explicit accounting is made of the mean energy of the turbulence. Sediment entrainment from the bed is linked to the level of turbulence in the four-equation model. Self-acceleration is again predicted, although it is somewhat subdued compared with that predicted by the three-equation model. The predictions of both models are summarized over a wide range of conditions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)145-181
Number of pages37
JournalJournal of Fluid Mechanics
StatePublished - Oct 1986
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Mechanics of Materials
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Applied Mathematics


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