Modelling intrusions through quiescent and moving ambients

Christopher G. Johnson*, Andrew J. Hogg, Herbert E. Huppert, R. Stephen J Sparks, Jeremy C. Phillips, Anja C. Slim, Mark J. Woodhouse

*Corresponding author for this work

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

17 Citations (Scopus)


Volcanic eruptions commonly produce buoyant ash-laden plumes that rise through the stratified atmosphere. On reaching their level of neutral buoyancy, these plumes cease rising and transition to horizontally spreading intrusions. Such intrusions occur widely in density-stratified fluid environments, and in this paper we develop a shallow-layer model that governs their motion. We couple this dynamical model to a model for particle transport and sedimentation, to predict both the time-dependent distribution of ash within volcanic intrusions and the flux of ash that falls towards the ground. In an otherwise quiescent atmosphere, the intrusions spread axisymmetrically. We find that the buoyancy-inertial scalings previously identified for continuously supplied axisymmetric intrusions are not realised by solutions of the governing equations. By calculating asymptotic solutions to our model we show that the flow is not self-similar, but is instead time-dependent only in a narrow region at the front of the intrusion. This non-self-similar behaviour results in the radius of the intrusion growing with time t as t<sup>3/4</sup>, rather than t<sup>2/3</sup> as suggested previously. We also identify a transition to drag-dominated flow, which is described by a similarity solution with radial growth now proportional to t<sup>5/9</sup>. In the presence of an ambient wind, intrusions are not axisymmetric. Instead, they are predominantly advected downstream, while at the same time spreading laterally and thinning vertically due to persistent buoyancy forces. We show that close to the source, this lateral spreading is in a buoyancy-inertial regime, whereas far downwind, the horizontal buoyancy forces that drive the spreading are balanced by drag. Our results emphasise the important role of buoyancy-driven spreading, even at large distances from the source, in the formation of the flowing thin horizontally extensive layers of ash that form in the atmosphere as a result of volcanic eruptions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)370-406
Number of pages37
JournalJournal of Fluid Mechanics
Early online date20 Apr 2015
Publication statusPublished - 25 May 2015


  • atmospheric flows
  • gravity currents
  • stratified flows

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