Journal article

Existence and features of similarity solutions for non-Boussinesq gravity currents

In this paper, the flow dynamics of gravity currents on a horizontal plane is investigated from a theoretical point of view by seeking similarity solutions. The current is generated by unleashing a varying volume of heavy fluid within an ambient fluid of much lower density. Unlike earlier investigators, we assume that the ambient fluid exerts no significant resisting action on the current, and therefore the flow depth is expected to drop to zero at the front in the absence of friction. In this context, the shallow-water equations are highly appropriate for computing the mean velocity and flow depth of the current. The boundary condition imposed at the front leads to technical mathematical difficulties. Indeed, unlike in the Boussinesq case, no regular solution to the shallow-water equations satisfies the downstream condition, but when the flow is supercritical at the channel inlet, it is possible to construct a piecewise solution by patching a regular solution to an exceptional solution, which represents the head behavior. To better understand this result and make sure that the result is physically relevant, we consider the Navier–Stokes equations within the high-Reynolds-number limit. Approximate similarity solutions can be worked out, which support our earlier analysis on the shallow-water equations. While the flow body is self-similar and weakly rotational, the head is not self-similar, but tends toward a self-similarity shape at long times. It is characterized by a strong vorticity, a straight free surface, and a nonuniform velocity profile, which becomes flatter and flatter with time.

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