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Further results for convection driven by the differential sedimentation of particles

  • Ross C. Kerr (a1) and John R. Lister (a2)

Abstract

When a well-mixed suspension of small particles is emplaced below a clear fluid whose density is greater than that of the interstitial fluid, but less than that of the bulk suspension, the subsequent settling of the dense particles releases buoyant interstitial fluid and drives convection in the overlying layer. Mixing of interstitial fluid and some entrained particles into the overlying fluid causes the density of the overlying fluid to evolve with time and changes the rate of descent of the interface between the sedimenting and convecting regions. These effects are investigated experimentally in a simple rectangular geometry using suspensions of spherical glass particles. It is found that the convecting region is well mixed in both composition and particle concentration and that the interfacial velocity may be predicted from the instantaneous (uniform) bulk density of the upper layer and the distribution of the particle settling velocities. In the case of an overlying density gradient, the convection does not extend through the depth of the overlying fluid but erodes the base of the gradient to form a well-mixed layer between the gradient and the sedimenting fluid. On completion of the first cycle of sedimentation-driven convection, sedimentation from this well-mixed layer produces further cycles of sedimentation-driven convection, which are of successively decreasing intensity and increasing duration. Whether the overlying fluid is uniform or stratified, both theory and experiment show that the particles that are lifted into the convection are smaller on average than those which settle at the base of the lower layer. Thus, when the lifted particles are eventually allowed to settle there is a discontinuity generated in the variation of the size distribution of particles with height in the final sedimented pile. This phenomenon may be an important mechanism for secondary layering in the deposits from turbidity currents and pyroclastic flows.

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