Lab Experiments Probe Interactions Between Dilute Pyroclastic Density Currents and 3D Barriers

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Kristen Fauria, University of California Berkeley, Berkeley, CA, United States, Benjamin James Andrews, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, United States and Michael Manga, Univ of California Berkeley, Berkeley, CA, United States
We conducted scaled laboratory experiments of unconfined dilute pyroclastic density currents (PDCs) to examine interactions between three – dimensional obstacles and dilute PDCs. While it is known that PDCs can surmount barriers by converting kinetic energy into potential energy, the signature of topography on PDC dynamics is unclear. To examine the interplay between PDCs and topography, we turbulently suspended heated and ambient-temperature 20 μm talc powder in air within an 8.5 x 6.1 x 2.6 m tank. Experimental parameters (Froude number, densimetric and thermal Richardson number, particle Stokes and Settling numbers) were scaled such that the experimental currents were dynamically similar to natural PCS. The Reynolds number, however, is much smaller than in natural currents, but still large enough for the flows to be turbulent. We placed cylindrical and ridge-like objects in the path of the currents, illuminated the currents with orthogonal laser sheets, and recorded each experiment with high definition cameras. We observed currents surmounting ridge-like barriers (barrier height = current height). Slanted ridges redirected the currents upward and parallel to the upstream face of the ridges (~45° from horizontal). Down stream of the slanted ridges, ambient-temperature currents reattached to the floor. By comparison, hot currents reversed buoyancy and lifted off. These observations suggest that obstacles enhance air entrainment, a process key to affecting runout distance and the depletion of fine particles in ignimbrites. Moreover, we observed vortex shedding in the wake of cylinders. Our experiments demonstrate that barriers of various shapes affect PDC dynamics and can shorten PDC runout distances. Understanding the effects of topography on PDCs is required for interpreting many deposits because processes such as vortex shedding and topographically-induced changes in turbulent length scales and entrainment likely leave depositional signatures.