Dynamics of the head of gravity currents
The present work experimentally investigates the dynamics of unsteady gravity currents produced by lock-release of a saline mixture into a fresh water tank. Seven different experimental runs were performed by varying the density of the salinemixture in the lock and the bed roughness. Experiments were conducted in a Perspex flume, of horizontal bed and rectangular cross section, and recorded with aCCD camera. An image analysis techniquewas applied to visualize and characterize the current allowing thus the understanding of its general dynamics and, more specifically, of the current head dynamics.The temporal evolution of both head length and mass shows repeated stretching and breaking cycles: during the stretching phase, the head length and mass grow until reaching a limit, then the head becomes unstable and breaks. In the instants of break, the head aspect ratio shows a limit of 0.2 and the mass of the head is of the order of the initial mass in the lock. The average period of the herein called breaking events is seen to increase with bed roughness and the spatial periodicity of these events is seen to be approximately constant between runs. The rate of growth of the mass at the head is taken as a measure to assess entrainment and it is observed to occur at all stages of the current development. Entrainment rate at the head decreases in time suggesting this as a phenomenon ruled by local buoyancy and the similarity between runs shows independence from the initial reduced gravity and bed roughness.