Sustained gravity currents in a channel

Andrew Hogg, Mohamad Nasr-Azadani, M. Ungarish, Eckart Meiburg

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

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Gravitationally-driven motion arising from a sustained constant source of dense fluid in a horizontal channel is investigated theoretically using shallow layer models and direct numerical simulations of the Navier-Stokes equations, coupled to an advection-diffusion model of the density field. The influxed dense fluid forms a flowing layer underneath the less dense fluid, which initially filled the channel, and in this study its speed of propagation is calculated; the outflux is at the end of the channel. The motion, under the assumption of hydrostatic balance, is modelled using a two-layer shallow-water model to account for the flow of both the dense and the overlying less dense fluids. When the relative density difference between the fluids is small (the Boussinesq regime), the governing shallow layer equations are solved using analytical techniques. It is demonstrated that a variety of flow-field patterns is feasible, including those with constant height along the length of the current and contrasted with those where the height varies continuously and discontinuously. The type of solution realised in any scenario is determined by the magnitude of the dimensionless flux issued from the source and the source Froude number. Two important phenomena may occur: the flow may be choked, whereby the excess velocity due to the density difference is bounded and the height of the current may not exceed a determined maximum value, and it is also possible for the dense fluid to completely displace all of the less dense fluid originally in the channel in an expanding region close to the source. The onset and subsequent evolution of these types of motions are also calculated using analytical techniques. The same range of phenomena occurs for non-Boussinesq flows; in this scenario the solutions of the model are calculated numerically. The results of direct numerical simulations of the Navier-Stokes equations are also reported for unsteady two-dimensional flows in which there is inflow of dense fluid at one end of the channel and outflow at the other end. These simulations reveal the detailed mechanics of the motion and the bulk properties are compared with the predictions of the shallow-layer model to demonstrate good agreement between the two modelling strategies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)853-888
Number of pages36
JournalJournal of Fluid Mechanics
Early online date10 Jun 2016
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2016


  • geophysical and geological flows
  • gravity currents
  • shallow water flows

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