Fine-grained linings of leveed channels facilitate runout of granular flows

Earth and Planetary Science Letters
By: , and 



Catastrophic dense granular flows, such as occur in rock avalanches, debris flows and pyroclastic flows, move as fully shearing mixtures that have approximately 60 vol.% solids and tend to segregate to form coarse-grained fronts and leveed channels. Levees restrict spreading of unconfined flows and form as coarse particles that become concentrated in the top of the flow are transported to the front and then advect to the sides in the flow head. Channels from which most material has drained away down slope are commonly lined with fine-grained deposit, widely thought to remain from the tail of the waning flow. We show how segregation in experimental dense flows of carborundum or sand (300–425 μm) mixed with spherical fine ballotini (150–250 μm), on rough slopes of 27–29°, produces fine-grained channel linings that are deposited with the levees, into which they grade laterally. Maximum runout distance is attained with mixtures containing 30–40% sand, just sufficient to segregate and form levees that are adequately robust to restrict the spreading attributable to the low-friction fines. Resin impregnation and serial sectioning of deliberately arrested experimental flows shows how fines-lined levees form from the flow head; the flows create their own stable ‘conduit’ entirely from the front, which in a geophysical context can play an important mechanistic role in facilitating runout. The flow self-organization ensures that low-friction fines at the base of the segregated channel flow shear over fine-grained substrate in the channel, thus reducing frictional energy losses. We propose that in pyroclastic flows and debris flows, which have considerable mobility attributable to pore-fluid pressures, such fine-grained flow-contact zones form similarly and not only reduce frictional energy losses but also reduce flow–substrate permeability so as to enhance pore-fluid pressure retention. Thus the granular flow self-organization that produces fine-grained channel linings can be an important factor in facilitating long runout of catastrophic geophysical flows on the low slopes (few degrees) of depositional fans and aprons around mountains and volcanoes.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Fine-grained linings of leveed channels facilitate runout of granular flows
Series title Earth and Planetary Science Letters
DOI 10.1016/j.epsl.2013.10.043
Volume 385
Year Published 2014
Language English
Publisher Elsevier
Contributing office(s) Volcano Science Center
Description 9 p.
First page 172
Last page 180
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