A novel hybrid model for the motion of sustained axisymmetric gravity currents and intrusions

M. Ungarish, Chris Johnson*, A. J. Hogg

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)
318 Downloads (Pure)


We consider the sustained propagation of axisymmetric intrusions and gravity currents through linearly stratified or unstratified ambient fluids. Such flow configurations are found in a number of atmospheric and oceanic flows, in particular the predominantly horizontal spreading of a volcanic ash cloud after it has ascended through the atmosphere. There is strong theoretical evidence that these flows consist of two domains: an outer annular 'head' at the front of the current in which the motion is unsteady; and an inner, much thinner 'tail', which is steady, but spatially varying. The transition between the regions is a moving hydraulic jump. While it is possible to investigate these motions by numerically integrating the governing shallow layer equations, here we develop a much simpler mathematical model, which reproduces the more complicated model accurately and addresses issues such as what determines the position of the front and the moving bore between the two regions; what is the partition of influxed volume between the tail and head; and what is the distribution of suspended particles in the flow if present at the source? In such settings a conventional integral model fails, as does scaling based on dimensional analysis and the anticipation of an underlying self-similar form; the predictions they yield for these flows are incorrect. Instead we present a new hybrid model, which combines exact results of the steady shallow-water equations in the tail with simplifying assumptions in the head. This model predicts the flow properties by the straightforward solution of three ordinary differential equations (for front and bore positions and the volume fraction of particles in the head), without using adjustable constants, and obtains the correct asymptotic behaviour for the radius of the current rN with respect to time t, namely rN∼t4/5 for gravity currents and rN∼t3/4 for intrusions. The predictions are obtained with negligible computational effort and accurately capture results from the more complete shallow water models. The model is also applied with success to gravity currents and intrusions that carry particles. For flows in which it is the presence of the particles alone that drives the motion, we identify length and time scales for the runout in terms of dimensional parameters that characterise the release, thus establishing the hybrid model as a useful tool also for modelling radial runout.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)108-120
Number of pages13
JournalEuropean Journal of Mechanics - B/Fluids
Issue numberPart A
Early online date19 Aug 2014
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2015


  • Gravity currents
  • Geophysical flows
  • Stratified flows


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