, Volume 16, Issue 2, pp 315–332 | Cite as

Depositional mechanisms and morphology of debris flow: physical modelling

  • Gordon G. D. Zhou
  • Shuai LiEmail author
  • Dongri Song
  • Clarence E. Choi
  • Xiaoqing Chen
Original Paper


A comprehensive understanding of the deposition mechanisms and morphology of debris flows is necessary to delineate the extent of a debris flow hazard. However, due to the wide range of debris flow compositions and the complex topography in the field, there remains a deficiency of fundamental understanding on how the effects of grain-size distribution, water content, and channel slope influence the deposition mechanisms and morphology of debris flow. In this study, a series of experimental tests were carried out using a flume with a horizontal outflow plane to discern the effects of particle size, water content, and slope on the deposition morphology and grain size segregation on the deposition fan. Results reveal that the experimental debris flows are under either viscous or collisional flow regimes. Most experimental debris flow fronts lack high pore fluid pressures, emphasizing the formation of deposits via grain-grain and grain-bed friction and collisions; also high excess pore fluid pressure (positive) behind the front head is measured and it is beneficial for the mobility of debris flows. Both the deposit area and runout-width ratio are positively correlated to the Bagnold and Savage numbers and the initial water contents. Furthermore, an increase of fines content reduces the runout distance. However, this feature is not as obvious for high water content flows (w = 28.5% in this study). Moreover, smoother transition topography between the transportation and deposition zone leads to longer runout distances. For debris flows with a high solid fraction (Cs > 0.52 in this study), particle sorting is quite inhibited in the deposit fan.


Debris flow Flume model tests Deposit morphology Flow regimes Grain size segregation 



Volumetric solid fraction


Mean particle size


Froude number


Approaching flow depth


Gravitational acceleration


Bagnold number


Savage number


Friction number


Pore pressure


Normal stress


Debris flow velocity


Water content


Density of the fluid


Density of the solids


Interstitial fluid viscosity


Dynamic viscosity of pure water


Volume fraction of the interstitial fluid occupied by fines


Friction angle between grains


Shear rate


Channel inclination


Characteristic size of the sediments


Excessive pore fluid pressure



The authors acknowledge the financial support from the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant Nos. 11672318, 41731283), the Youth Innovation Promotion Association, Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), the CAS “Light of West China” Program (Grant No. Y6R2220220), the CAS Pioneer Hundred Talents Program, and the Research Grants Council of the Government of Hong Kong SAR, China (Grant T22-603/15-N).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gordon G. D. Zhou
    • 1
    • 2
  • Shuai Li
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Dongri Song
    • 1
    • 2
  • Clarence E. Choi
    • 3
    • 4
    • 5
  • Xiaoqing Chen
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Key Laboratory of Mountain Hazards and Earth Surface Process/Institute of Mountain Hazards and EnvironmentChinese Academy of Sciences (CAS)ChengduChina
  2. 2.University of Chinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina
  3. 3.Department of Civil and Environmental EngineeringThe Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, HKSARHong KongChina
  4. 4.The HKUST Jockey Club Institute for Advanced Study, HKSARHong KongChina
  5. 5.HKUST Fok Ying Tung Graduate SchoolGuangzhouChina

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