Topographic Controls on Landslide and Debris-Flow Mobility

Thursday, 18 December 2014: 8:00 AM
Scott W McCoy and Sara Pettitt, University of Nevada Reno, Reno, NV, United States
Regardless of whether a granular flow initiates from failure and liquefaction of a shallow landslide or from overland flow that entrains sediment to form a debris flow, the resulting flow poses hazards to downslope communities. Understanding controls on granular-flow mobility is critical for accurate hazard prediction. The topographic form of granular-flow paths can vary significantly across different steeplands and is one of the few flow-path properties that can be readily altered by engineered control structures such as closed-type check dams. We use grain-scale numerical modeling (discrete element method simulations) of free-surface, gravity-driven granular flows to investigate how different topographic profiles with the same mean slope and total relief can produce notable differences in flow mobility due to strong nonlinearities inherent to granular-flow dynamics. We describe how varying the profile shape from planar, to convex up, to concave up, as well how varying the number, size, and location of check dams along a flow path, changes flow velocity, thickness, discharge, energy dissipation, impact force and runout distance. Our preliminary results highlight an important path dependence for this nonlinear system, show that caution should be used when predicting flow dynamics from path-averaged properties, and provide some mechanics-based guidance for engineering control structures.