Journal article

Mass-based depth and velocity scales for gravity currents and related flows

Gravity driven flows on inclines can be caused by cold, saline or turbid inflows into water bodies. Another example are cold downslope winds, which are caused by cooling of the atmosphere at the lower boundary. In a well-known contribution, Ellison and Turner (ET) investigated such flows by making use of earlier work on free shear flows by Morton, Taylor and Turner (MTT). Their entrainment relation is compared here with a spread relation based on a diffusion model for jets by Prandtl. This diffusion approach is suitable for forced plumes on an incline, but only when the channel topography is uniform, and the flow remains supercritical. A second aspect considered here is that the structure of ET's entrainment relation, and their shallow water equations, agrees with the one for open channel flows, but their depth and velocity scales are those for free shear flows, and derived from the velocity field. Conversely, the depth of an open channel flow is the vertical extent of the excess mass of the liquid phase, and the average velocity is the (known) discharge divided by the depth. As an alternative to ET's parameterization, two sets of flow scales similar to those of open channel flows are outlined for gravity currents in unstratified environments. The common feature of the two sets is that the velocity scale is derived by dividing the buoyancy flux by the excess pressure at the bottom. The difference between them is the way the volume flux is accounted for, which-unlike in open channel flows-generally increases in the streamwise direction. The relations between the three sets of scales are established here for gravity currents by allowing for a constant co-flow in the upper layer. The actual ratios of the three width, velocity, and buoyancy scales are evaluated from available experimental data on gravity currents, and from field data on katabatic winds. A corresponding study for free shear flows is referred to. Finally, a comparison of mass-based scales with a number of other flow scales is carried out for available data on a two-layer flow over an obstacle. Mass-based flow scales can also be used for other types of flows, such as self-aerated flows on spillways, water jets in air, or bubble plumes.


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