Flow of variably fluidized granular masses across three-dimensional terrain I. Coulomb mixture theory

Journal of Geophysical Research B: Solid Earth



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Rock avalanches, debris flows, and related phenomena consist of grain-fluid mixtures that move across three-dimensional terrain. In all these phenomena the same basic forces, govern motion, but differing mixture compositions, initial conditions, and boundary conditions yield varied dynamics and deposits. To predict motion of diverse grain-fluid masses from initiation to deposition, we develop a depth-averaged, threedimensional mathematical model that accounts explicitly for solid- and fluid-phase forces and interactions. Model input consists of initial conditions, path topography, basal and internal friction angles of solid grains, viscosity of pore fluid, mixture density, and a mixture diffusivity that controls pore pressure dissipation. Because these properties are constrained by independent measurements, the model requires little or no calibration and yields readily testable predictions. In the limit of vanishing Coulomb friction due to persistent high fluid pressure the model equations describe motion of viscous floods, and in the limit of vanishing fluid stress they describe one-phase granular avalanches. Analysis of intermediate phenomena such as debris flows and pyroclastic flows requires use of the full mixture equations, which can simulate interaction of high-friction surge fronts with more-fluid debris that follows. Special numerical methods (described in the companion paper) are necessary to solve the full equations, but exact analytical solutions of simplified equations provide critical insight. An analytical solution for translational motion of a Coulomb mixture accelerating from rest and descending a uniform slope demonstrates that steady flow can occur only asymptotically. A solution for the asymptotic limit of steady flow in a rectangular channel explains why shear may be concentrated in narrow marginal bands that border a plug of translating debris. Solutions for static equilibrium of source areas describe conditions of incipient slope instability, and other static solutions show that nonuniform distributions of pore fluid pressure produce bluntly tapered vertical profiles at the margins of deposits. Simplified equations and solutions may apply in additional situations identified by a scaling analysis. Assessment of dimensionless scaling parameters also reveals that miniature laboratory experiments poorly simulate the dynamics of full-scale flows in which fluid effects are significant. Therefore large geophysical flows can exhibit dynamics not evident at laboratory scales.

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Flow of variably fluidized granular masses across three-dimensional terrain I. Coulomb mixture theory
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Journal of Geophysical Research B: Solid Earth
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