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The structure and entrainment characteristics of partially-confined gravity currents

Kelly, R. W.; Dorrell, R. M.; Burns, A. D.; McCaffrey, W. D.


R. W. Kelly

A. D. Burns

W. D. McCaffrey


Seafloor channels are the main conduit for turbidity currents transporting sediment to the deep ocean and they can extend for thousands of kilometres along the ocean floor. Although it is common for channel‐traversing turbidity currents to spill onto levees and other out‐of‐channel areas, the associated flow development and channel‐current interaction remain poorly understood; much of our knowledge of turbidity current dynamics comes from studies of fully‐confined scenarios. Here we investigate the role that partial lateral confinement may play in affecting turbidity current dynamics. We report on laboratory experiments of partially‐confined, dilute saline flows of variable flux rate traversing fixed, straight channels with cross‐sectional profiles representative of morphologies found in the field. Complementary numerical experiments, validated against high‐resolution laboratory velocity data, extend the scope of the analysis. The experiments show that partial confinement exerts a first order control on flow structure. Overbank and downstream discharges rapidly adjust over short length‐scales, providing a mechanism via which currents of varying sizes can be tuned by a channel and conform to a given channel geometry. Across a wide range of flow magnitudes and states of flow equilibration to the channel, a high‐velocity core remains confined within the channel with a constant ratio of velocity maximum height to channel depth. Ongoing overbank flow prevents any flow thickening due to ambient entrainment, allowing stable downstream flow evolution. Despite dynamical differences, the entrainment rates of partially‐confined and fully‐confined flows remain comparable for a given Richardson number.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date 2019-03
Journal Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans
Print ISSN 2169-9275
Electronic ISSN 2169-9291
Publisher American Geophysical Union
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 124
Issue 3
Pages 2110-2125
Keywords Gravity current; Turbidity; CFD; Fluid dynamics
Publisher URL