Granular shocks, particle size segregation and levee formation in avalanches and debris flows

Student thesis: Phd


Debris flows, avalanches and other geophysical mass flows pose a significant hazard to settlements in or near mountainous regions. Understanding the physical processes that govern these flows is an essential part of hazard assessment and mitigation strategies. This thesis addresses two aspects of geophysical mass flows: flow self-channelisation due to the formation of lateral levees, and granular shocks, which occur when a rapidly-moving debris flow or avalanche collides with an obstacle. We present the results of large-scale debris flow experiments in which the flow is channelised by coarse-particle levees that form at the flow margins. The flow surface velocities are measured with high speed overhead photography, and the deposits both sampled to obtain the grain size distribution and excavated to recover the deposited locations of tracer pebbles that were introduced in to the flow. We propose a model, supported by evidence from the large-scale experiments, that describes in detail the size segregation and kinematic transport processes responsible for the deposition of lateral levees. The second problem addressed in the thesis concerns granular shocks, or jumps, which are rapid changes in the depth and velocity of granular avalanches. We investigate these through experiments in which a falling jet of granular material impacts on an inclined plane, generating a steady granular jump, which is either teardrop-shaped or 'blunted'. Numerical solutions of a depth-averaged flow model agree quantitatively with many of the observed flow features. We use this model show that the transition between the teardrop-shaped and blunted jump regimes corresponds to a transition between two shock reflection structures, known as a regular and a Mach shock reflection. On planes inclined at a shallow angle, we demonstrate a wide variety of unsteady and channelised flows, which occur due to the complex interaction between flowing and stationary regions of granular material.
Date of Award1 Aug 2011
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorNico Gray (Supervisor)


  • granular flow
  • debris flows

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