Basal entrainment by Newtonian gravity-driven flows
Gravity-driven flows can erode the bed along which they descend and increase their mass by a factor of 10 or more. This process is called "basal entrainment." Although documented by field observations and laboratory experiments, it remains poorly understood. This paper examines what happens when a viscous gravity-driven flow generated by releasing a fixed volume of incompressible Newtonian fluid encounters a stationary layer (composed of fluid with the same density and viscosity). Models based on depth-averaged mass and momentum balance equations deal with bed-flow interfaces as shock waves. In contrast, we use an approach involving the long-wave approximation of the Navier-Stokes equations (lubrication theory), and in this context, bed-flow interfaces are acceleration waves that move quickly across thin stationary layers. The incoming flow digs down into the bed, pushing up downstream material, thus advancing the flow front. Extending the method used by Huppert ["The propagation of two-dimensional and axisymmetric viscous gravity currents over a rigid horizontal surface," J. Fluid Mech. 121, 43-58 (1982)] for modeling viscous dam-break waves, we end up with a nonlinear diffusion equation for the flow depth, which is solved numerically. Theory is compared with experimental results. Excellent agreement is found in the limit of low Reynolds numbers (i.e., for flow Reynolds numbers lower than 20) for the front position over time and flow depth profile. Published by AIP Publishing.