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Thixotropic gravity currents

  • Duncan R. Hewitt (a1) and Neil J. Balmforth (a2)

We present a model for thixotropic gravity currents flowing down an inclined plane that combines lubrication theory for shallow flow with a rheological constitutive law describing the degree of microscopic structure. The model is solved numerically for a finite volume of fluid in both two and three dimensions. The results illustrate the importance of the degree of initial ageing and the spatio-temporal variations of the microstructure during flow. The fluid does not flow unless the plane is inclined beyond a critical angle that depends on the ageing time. Above that critical angle and for relatively long ageing times, the fluid dramatically avalanches downslope, with the current becoming characterized by a structured horseshoe-shaped remnant of fluid at the back and a raised nose at the advancing front. The flow is prone to a weak interfacial instability that occurs along the border between structured and de-structured fluid. Experiments with bentonite clay show broadly similar phenomenological behaviour to that predicted by the model. Differences between the experiments and the model are discussed.

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Journal of Fluid Mechanics
  • ISSN: 0022-1120
  • EISSN: 1469-7645
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