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Ping-pong ball avalanche experiments

  • J. McElwaine (a1) and K. Nishimura (a1)


Ping-pong ball avalanche experiments have been carried out for the last 3 years at the Miyanomori ski jump in Sapporo, Japan, to study three-dimensional granular flows. Up to 550 000 balls were released near the top of the landing slope. The balls then flowed past video cameras positioned close to the flow, which measured individual ball velocities in three dimensions, and air-pressure tubes at different heights. The flows developed a complicated three-dimensional structure with a distinct head and tail, lobes and “eyes”. “Eyes” have been observed in laboratory granular flow experiments, and the other features are similar not only to snow avalanches” but also to other large-scale geophysical flows. The velocities attained showed a remarkable increase with the number of released balls. A power law for this relation is derived by similarity arguments. The air-pressure data are used to deduce the structure of the airflow around the avalanche and, in conjunction with the kinetic theory of granular matter, to estimate the balance of forces in the avalanche head.

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