A study of methods to estimate debris flow velocity

Abstract

Debris flow velocities are commonly back-calculated from superelevation events which require subjective estimates of radii of curvature of bends in the debris flow channel or predicted using flow equations that require the selection of appropriate rheological models and material property inputs. This research investigated difficulties associated with the use of these conventional velocity estimation methods. Radii of curvature estimates were found to vary with the extent of the channel investigated and with the scale of the media used, and back-calculated velocities varied among different investigated locations along a channel. Distinct populations of Bingham properties were found to exist between those measured by laboratory tests and those back-calculated from field data; thus, laboratory-obtained values would not be representative of field-scale debris flow behavior. To avoid these difficulties with conventional methods, a new preliminary velocity estimation method is presented that statistically relates flow velocity to the channel slope and the flow depth. This method presents ranges of reasonable velocity predictions based on 30 previously measured velocities.

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Acknowledgments

This work has been funded by the US Department of Education through a Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need (GAANN) Fellowship, award #P200A060133. Thanks to Richard Giraud from the Utah Geological Survey for providing airphotos and to Ron Allingham for AutoCAD assistance. Also thanks to Victor deWolfe, Joe Gartner, Morgan McArthur, and Nate Soule for the measurement of many of the cross-sections used in this study. Joe Gartner, Jason Kean, and two anonymous reviewers provided helpful comments on an earlier draft of this paper.

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Correspondence to Adam B. Prochaska.

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Prochaska, A.B., Santi, P.M., Higgins, J.D. et al. A study of methods to estimate debris flow velocity. Landslides 5, 431–444 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10346-008-0137-0

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Keywords

  • Debris flow
  • Velocity
  • Superelevation
  • Mitigation
  • Design