Structure of Dilute Pyroclastic Density Currents During Transport, Buoyancy Reversal and Liftoff

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Benjamin James Andrews, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, United States
Scaled laboratory experiments provide insight into structure, entrainment and liftoff in pyroclastic density currents (PDCs). Experiments are conducted in a 8.5×6.1×2.6 m air-filled tank and comprise turbulently suspended mixtures of heated 20-μm talc particles introduced to the tank at steady and sustained rates; the tank is large enough that the currents are effectively unconfined. Experiments are scaled with bulk (densimetric and thermal Richardson numbers, Froude number) and turbulent (Stokes and settling numbers) parameters dynamically similar to natural currents. The Reynolds numbers of experiments are smaller than those of natural PDCs, but analysis of the experiments demonstrates that they are fully turbulent. Red, green, and blue laser sheets illuminate orthogonal planes within the currents for imaging and recording with HD video cameras; those data are reprojected into cross-sectional and map-view planes for analysis of turbulent velocity fields and fluctuations in particle concentration. A green laser sheet can be swept through the tank at 60 Hz and imaged with a high-speed CCD camera at up to 3000 fps; sequences of 60-300 images are used to make 3D volumetric reconstructions of the currents at up to 10 Hz. Currents typically comprise a lower “bypass” region and an upper entraining region that turbulently mixes with the ambient air. The bypass region is generally about half of the total current thickness and moves faster than the overlying, entraining region. The bypass region controls runout distance and steadiness of currents. If turbulent structures in the entraining region penetrate through the bypass region, the trailing portion of the current can stall before resuming forward progress; thus a single, “steady” current can generate multiple currents. When a current lifts off, it focuses along a narrow axis beneath the rising (coignimbrite) plume. At that time, ambient air entrainment occurs primarily through the lateral margins of the narrow bypass region. Eddies that entrain air through the lateral margins grow in size with transport distance such that at the maximum runout distance, eddies have lengthscales comparable to the current width. The largest structures within the rising plumes have lengthscales comparable to the cross-stream plume width.