Original Article

Environmental Fluid Mechanics

, Volume 12, Issue 6, pp 495-513

First online:

Numerical simulation of particle-driven gravity currents

  • Sangdo AnAffiliated withDepartment of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Colorado State University Email author 
  • , Pierre Y. JulienAffiliated withDepartment of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Colorado State University
  • , Subhas K. VenayagamoorthyAffiliated withDepartment of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Colorado State University

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Particle-driven gravity currents frequently occur in nature, for instance as turbidity currents in reservoirs. They are produced by the buoyant forces between fluids of different density and can introduce sediments and pollutants into water bodies. In this study, the propagation dynamics of gravity currents is investigated using the FLOW-3D computational fluid dynamics code. The performance of the numerical model using two different turbulence closure schemes namely the renormalization group (RNG) \({k-\epsilon}\) scheme in a Reynold-averaged Navier-Stokes framework (RANS) and the large-eddy simulation (LES) technique using the Smagorinsky scheme, were compared with laboratory experiments. The numerical simulations focus on two different types of density flows from laboratory experiments namely: Intrusive Gravity Currents (IGC) and Particle-Driven Gravity Currents (PDGC). The simulated evolution profiles and propagation speeds are compared with laboratory experiments and analytical solutions. The numerical model shows good quantitative agreement for predicting the temporal and spatial evolution of intrusive gravity currents. In particular, the simulated propagation speeds are in excellent agreement with experimental results. The simulation results do not show any considerable discrepancies between RNG \({k-\epsilon}\) and LES closure schemes. The FLOW-3D model coupled with a particle dynamics algorithm successfully captured the decreasing propagation speeds of PDGC due to settling of sediment particles. The simulation results show that the ratio of transported to initial concentration C o /C i by the gravity current varies as a function of the particle diameter d s . We classify the transport pattern by PDGC into three regimes: (1) a suspended regime (d s is less than about 16 μm) where the effect of particle deposition rate on the propagation dynamics of gravity currents is negligible i.e. such flows behave like homogeneous fluids (IGC); (2) a mixed regime (16 μm < d s <40 μm) where deposition rates significantly change the flow dynamics; and (3) a deposition regime (d s  > 40 μm) where the PDGC rapidly loses its forward momentum due to fast deposition. The present work highlights the potential of the RANS simulation technique using the RNG \({k-\epsilon}\) turbulence closure scheme for field scale investigation of particle-driven gravity currents.


Gravity currents Density currents Buoyant forces Computational fluid dynamics (CFD) Lock-exchange flows Particle settling Environmental fluid mechanics