Potential erosion capacity of gravity currents created by changing initial conditions

Jessica Zordan, Anton J. Schleiss, Mario J. Franca

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)
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We investigate to what extent the initial conditions (in terms of buoyancy and geometry) of saline gravity currents flowing over a horizontal bottom influence their runout and entrainment capacity. In particular, to what extent the effect of the introduction of an inclined channel reach, just upstream from the lock gate, influences the hydrodynamics of gravity currents and consequently its potential erosion capacity is still an open question. The investigation presented herein focuses on the unknown effects of an inclined lock on the geometry of the current, on the streamwise velocity, on bed shear stress, and on the mechanisms of entrainment and mass exchange. Gravity currents were reproduced in the laboratory through the lock-exchange technique, and systematic tests were performed with different initial densities, combined with five initial volumes of release on horizontal and sloped locks. The inclination of the upstream reach of the channel (the lock) was varied from 0&thinsp;% to 16&thinsp;%, while the lock length was reduced by up to <span classCombining double low line"inline-formula">1ĝ•4</span> of the initial reference case. We observed that the shape of the current is modified due to the enhanced entrainment of ambient water, which is the region of the current in which this happens most. A counterintuitive relation between slope and mean streamwise velocity was found, supporting previous findings that hypothesized that gravity currents flowing down small slopes experience an initial acceleration followed by a deceleration. For the steepest slope tested, two opposite mechanisms of mass exchange are identified and discussed, i.e., the current entrainment of water from the upper surface due to the enhanced friction at the interface and the head feeding by a rear-fed current. The bed shear stress and the corresponding potential erosion capacity are discussed, giving insights into the geomorphological implications of natural gravity currents caused in different topographic settings.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)377-391
Number of pages15
JournalEarth Surface Dynamics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2019


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