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Transformation of debris flows into turbidity currents: mechanisms inferred from laboratory experiments



Three sets of lock exchange experiments were run to look at the generation of turbidity currents from debris flows. The flows ranged from reasonably dilute (4% volumetric concentration) to dense (40% volumetric concentration) with cohesive, non-cohesive and mixed cohesive/non-cohesive sediment. Concentration was measured at one height using an Ultrasonic High Concentration Meter. Velocity was measured using Ultrasonic Doppler Velocimetry Profiling at 10 different heights in each run. The resulting flows range from plug flows to well mixed flows. Comparison of the concentration profiles, velocity time–height plots and vertical profiles of downstream velocity and root mean square velocity showed several different transformation mechanisms. Depending on the concentration and composition of the flow, transformation took place through one or more of the following processes: erosion of material from the dense mass, breaking apart of the dense underflow, breaking of internal waves and turbulent mixing. The extent of transformation depends on the viscosity and density of the flow. Initially very dense and viscous flows experience minor transformation only at the surface, resulting in a dilute turbidity current. Flows that are initially not so dense and viscous are churned up entirely, undergoing the different transformation processes. For these flows, transformation processes work throughout the entire flow, not just at the surface. Transformation of the less-dense flows is efficient with all or most material ending up in the resulting turbidity current.

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