Plasticity and geophysical flows: A review

The objective of this review is to examine how the concept of plasticity is used in geophysical fluid dynamics. Rapid mass movements such as snow avalanches or debris flows involve slurries of solid particles (ice, boulder, clay, etc.) within an interstitial fluid (air, water). The bulk behavior of these materials has often been modeled as plastic materials, i.e., a plastic material yields and starts to flow once its stress state has significantly departed from equilibrium. Two plastic theories are of common use in fluid dynamics: Coulomb plasticity and viscoplasticity. These theories have little in common, since ideal Coulomb materials are two-phase materials for which pore pressure and friction play the key role in the bulk dynamics, whereas viscoplastic materials (e.g., Bingham fluids) typically behave as single-phase fluids on the macroscopic scale and exhibit a viscous behavior after yielding. Determining the rheological behavior of geophysical materials remains difficult because they encompass coarse, irregular particles over a very wide range of size. Consequently, the true nature of plastic behavior for geophysical flows is still vigorously debated. In this review, we first set out the continuum-mechanics principles used for describing plastic behavior. The notion of yield surface rather than yield stress is emphasized in order to better understand how tensorial constitutive equations can be derived from experimental data. The notion of single-phase or two-phase behaviors on the macroscopic scale is then examined using a microstructural analysis on idealized suspensions of spheres within a Newtonian fluid; for these suspensions, the single-phase approximation is valid only at very high or low Stokes numbers. Within this framework, the bulk stress tensor can also be constructed, which makes it possible to give a physical interpretation to yield stress. Most of the time, depending on the bulk properties (especially, particle size) and flow features, bulk behavior is either Coulomb-like or viscoplastic in simple-shear experiments. The consequences of the rheological properties on the flow features are also examined. Some remarkable properties of the governing equations describing thin layers flowing down inclined surfaces are discussed. Finally, the question of parameter fitting is tackled: since rheological properties cannot be measured directly in most cases, they must be evaluated from field data. As an example, we show that the Coulomb model successfully captures the main traits of avalanche motion, but statistical analysis demonstrates that the probability distribution of the friction coefficient is not universal.

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Journal of Non-Newtonian Fluid Mechanics, 142, 1, 4-35
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 Record created 2007-09-04, last modified 2018-03-17

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