Rock, snow and ice masses are often dislodged on steep slopes of mountainous regions. The masses, which typically are in the form of innumerable discrete blocks or granules, initially accelerate down the slope until the angle of inclination of the bed approaches the horizontal and bed friction eventually brings them to rest. The present paper describes an initial investigation which considers the idealized problem of a finite mass of material released from rest on a rough inclined plane. The granular mass is treated as a frictional Coulomb-like continuum with a Coulomb-like basal friction law. Depth-averaged equations of motion are derived; they bear a superficial resemblance to the nonlinear shallow-water wave equations. Two similarity solutions are found for the motion. They both are of surprisingly simple analytical form and show a rather unanticipated behaviour. One has the form of a pile of granular material in the shape of a parabolic cap and the other has the form of an M-wave with vertical faces at the leading and trailing edges. The linear stability of the similarity solutions is studied. A restricted stability analysis, in which the spread is left unperturbed shows them to be stable, suggesting that mathematically both are possible asymptotic wave forms. Two numerical finite-difference schemes, one of Lagrangian, the other of Eulerian type, are presented. While the Eulerian technique is able to reproduce the M-wave similarity solution, it appears to give spurious results for more general initial conditions and the Lagrangian technique is best suited for the present problem. The numerical predictions are compared with laboratory experiments of Huber (1980) involving the motion of gravel released from rest on a rough inclined plane. Although in these experiments the continuum approximation breaks down at large times when the gravel layer is only a few particle diameters thick, the general features of the development of the gravel mass are well predicted by the numerical solutions.
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