Viewing inside Pyroclastic Flows – Large-scale Experiments on hot pyroclast-gas mixture flows

Monday, 15 December 2014: 4:30 PM
Eric Christophe Breard1, Gert Lube2, Shane J Cronin1 and Jim Jones1, (1)Massey University, Palmeston North, New Zealand, (2)Massey University, Institute of Environment and Agriculture, Palmeston North, New Zealand
Pyroclastic density currents are the largest threat from volcanoes. Direct observations of natural flows are persistently prevented because of their violence and remain limited to broad estimates of bulk flow behaviour. The Pyroclastic Flow Generator – a large-scale experimental facility to synthesize hot gas-particle mixture flows scaled to pyroclastic flows and surges – allows investigating the physical processes behind PDC behaviour in safety. The ability to simulate natural eruption conditions and to view and measure inside the hot flows allows deriving validation and calibration data sets for existing numerical models, and to improve the constitutive relationships necessary for their effective use as powerful tools in hazard assessment.

We here report on a systematic series of large-scale experiments on up to 30 ms-1 fast, 2-4.5 m thick, 20-35 m long flows of natural pyroclastic material and gas. We will show high-speed movies and non-invasive sensor data that detail the internal structure of the analogue pyroclastic flows. The experimental PDCs are synthesized by the controlled ‘eruption column collapse’ of variably diluted suspensions into an instrumented channel. Experiments show four flow phases: mixture acceleration and dilution during free fall; impact and lateral blasting; PDC runout; and co-ignimbrite cloud formation. The fully turbulent flows reach Reynolds number up to 107 and depositional facies similar to natural deposits.

In the PDC runout phase, the shear flows develop a four-partite structure from top to base: a fully turbulent, strongly density-stratified ash cloud with average particle concentrations <<1vol%; a transient, turbulent dense suspension region with particle concentrations between 1 and 10 vol%; a non-turbulent, aerated and highly mobile dense underflows with particle concentrations between 40 and 50 vol%; and a vertically aggrading bed of static material. We characterise these regions and the exchanges of energy and momentum through their interfaces via vertical time-series profiles of velocity, particle concentration, gas and particle transport directionality and turbulent eddy characteristics. We highlight the importance of each region for the PDC runout dynamics and introduce a new transport and sedimentation model for downslope evolving pyroclastic flows.