Experimental constraints on shear mixing rates and processes: Implications for the dilution of submarine debris flows

P. J. Talling*, J. Peakall, R. S J Sparks, C. Ó Cofaigh, J. A. Dowdeswell, M. Felix, R. B. Wynn, J. H. Baas, A. J. Hogg, D. G. Masson, J. Taylor, P. P E Weaver

*Corresponding author for this work

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

38 Citations (Scopus)


Submarine debris flows show highly variable mixing behaviour. Glacigenic debris flows travel hundreds of kilometres along the sea floor without undergoing significant dilution. However, in other locations, submarine slope failures may transform into turbidity currents before exiting the continental slope. Rates and processes of mixing have not been measured directly in submarine flow events. Our present understanding of these rates and processes is based on experimental and theoretical constraints. Significant experimental and theoretical work has been completed in recent years to constrain rates of shear mixing between static layers of sediment and overlying turbulent flows of water. This work was driven by a need to predict transport of fluid mud and the erosion of cohesive mud beds in shallow water settings such as estuaries, docks and shipping channels. These experimental measurements show that the critical shear stress necessary to initiate shear mixing (around 0.1 to 2 Pa) is typically several orders of magnitude lower than the yield strength of the debris. Shear mixing should initiate at relatively low velocities (about 10-200 cm s -1) on the upper surface of a submarine debris flow, at even lower velocities at its head (about 1-10 cm s -1), and play an important role in mixing over-ridden water into the debris flow. Addition of small amounts of mud (approximately 3% kaolin) to a sand bed dramatically reduces the rate of mixing at its boundary, and changes the processes by which sediment is removed. Estimates are presented for rates of shear mixing at a given flow velocity, and for the critical velocity necessary for hydroplaning or a transition from laminar to turbulent flow. Although these estimates are crude, and highlight the need for further experimental work, they illustrate the potential for highly variable mixing behaviour in submarine flow events.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)89-103
Number of pages15
JournalGeological Society Special Publications
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2002

Bibliographical note

Issue title: Glacier influenced sedimentation on high-latitude continental marins


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