CSDMS 2014 annual meeting - Uncertainty and Sensitivity in Surface Dynamics Modeling

Understanding wave-driven fine sediment transport through 3D turbulence resolving simulations – implications to offshore delivery of fine sediment

Tom Hsu

University of Delaware, United States

One of the most intriguing issues in fine sediment transport, including turbidity currents, current-driven transport and wave-driven transport, is that the presence of sediments may significantly attenuate flow turbulence. Depending on the level of turbulence suppression, it may lead to the formation of lutocline (a sharp negative gradient of sediment concentration) which further encourages offshore-directed gravity flow; or it may cause catastrophic collapse of turbulence and sediment deposition. Through idealized 3D turbulence-resolving simulations of fine sediment (mud) transport in wave bottom boundary layer based on a pseudo-spectral scheme, our recent studies show that the transition of these flow modes can be caused by various degree of sediment-induced stable density stratification. This effort demonstrates the success of using a turbulence-resolving simulation tool to diagnose complex fine sediment transport processes. This talk further reports our recent development of this turbulence-resolving numerical model with a goal to provide a predictive tool for more realistic fine sediment transport applications.

Assuming a small Stokes number (St<0.3), which is appropriate for typical fine sediment, the Equilibrium approximation to the Eulerian two-phase flow equations is applied. The resulting simplified equations are solved with a high-accuracy hybrid spectral-compact finite difference scheme. The numerical approach extends the earlier pseudo-spectral model with a sixth-order compact finite difference scheme in the bed-normal direction. The compact finite difference scheme allows easy implementation of flow-dependent sediment properties and complex bottom boundary conditions. Hence, several new capabilities are included in the numerical simulation, such as rheological stress (enhance viscosity in high sediment concentration), hindered settling, erodible/depositional bottom boundary, and higher order inertia terms critical for fine sand fraction.

In the past decade, the role of wave bottom boundary layer in delivering fine sediment offshore via wave-supported gravity current (WSGC) has been well-recognized. We hypothesize that the generation, transport and termination of WSGC is directly associated with the flow modes discussed previously. In addition to the well-known Richardson number control (i.e., associated with sediment-induced density stratification), in this talk we will discuss how enhanced viscosity via rheological stress and high erodibility of the mud bed (e.g., low critical shear stress for unconsolidated mud bed) can trigger catastrophic collapse of turbulence and sediment deposition. The significance of bed erodibility in determining the resulting flow modes motivates future study regarding the effect of sand fraction on fine sediment transport via armoring.

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Of interest for:
  • Coastal Working Group