The mysterious grooves of Volcán Bárcena: a review of the role of streamwise counter-rotating vortices during erosion by dilute pyroclastic density currents

Susan W. Kieffer, Eckart Meiburg, Jim Best, Joanna Austin

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

Abstract

Although erosion during high-energy passage of a pyroclastic density current (PDC) causes great damage, analyses of the effects of such erosion are sparse in scientific literature compared to observations and interpretations of depositional processes. In this paper, we review observations of surfaces where PDCs have eroded sets of grooves that provide information on the erosion process. We postulate that in some cases, the grooves were carved by streamwise vortices in the boundary layer of the PDC and review possible fluid dynamic instabilities that can give rise to such vortices. For the prominent grooves at Volcán Bárcena, Mexico, we propose that a fluid dynamic instability, which we dub the “groovy instability,” occurred and caused formation of erosive counter-rotating vortices. This instability occurs when the particle concentration boundary layer thickness, δc, is larger than the velocity (shear) boundary layer thickness, δu, i.e., L=δcu>1. In subaqueous turbidity currents, these vortices have a typical wavelength of ~25*δc. If this relation is applied to the grooves formed on Volcán Bárcena, the inferred particle concentration boundary layer is estimated to have been <1 m thick. We postulate that a transition between erosion of grooves and deposition of dunes at Volcán Bárcena occurred when hydraulically supercritical flow on the upper flanks changed to subcritical flow about halfway down the mountain. We call attention to boundary layer dynamics in erosive pyroclastic density currents at a dimension that is difficult to scale quantitatively in laboratory experiments and is usually not resolved computationally and to the need for incorporating such dynamics into models of PDC dynamics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number26
JournalBulletin of Volcanology
Volume83
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - Apr 2021

Keywords

  • Erosion
  • Grooves
  • PDC
  • Pyroclastic density currents
  • Volcán Bárcena
  • Vortices

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geochemistry and Petrology

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