Large-scale Experiments on Breaching Flow Slides and the Associated Turbidity Current

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Breaching flow slides are accompanied by the generation of turbidity currents. Measurements of these currents are critical for understanding the interaction between the turbidity current and the slope surface, as well as for the validation of numerical models. However, there are insufficient data available detailing the velocity distribution or sediment concentration in these currents. This paper presents experimental results of unique large‐scale physical model experiments on breaching flow slides conducted at the water lab of Delft University of Technology, The Netherlands. The model tests were carried out in a tank with a subaqueous sandy slope steeper than the internal friction angle for that sand. We performed a series of novel experiments in which various non‐vertical initial slope angles were tested, providing the first quantitative data for such initial conditions. Measurements of flow thickness, velocities, and sediment concentrations are obtained, providing the spatial and temporal evolution of the turbidity currents and the resulting underwater slope morphology. The experimental results reveal that the breaching‐generated turbidity currents are self‐accelerating, and that they dominate the problem of breaching flow slides. We evaluated the theoretical expression for the erosion velocity in the case of pure beaching ‐ where the turbidity current has no influence on the erosion ‐ and it overestimated the observed erosion. The analysis of the failure evolution showed that the sand erosion rate increases due to the acceleration of the turbidity currents downslope, until a certain threshold, leading to the steepening of the breach face and thus the occurrence of surficial slides.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2020JF005582
Pages (from-to)1-21
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • breaching
  • erosion velocity
  • flow slide
  • self-accelerating flow
  • surficial slides
  • turbidity current


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