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Comments on avalanche flow models based on the concept of random kinetic energy



In a series of papers, Bartelt and co-workers developed novel snow-avalanche models in which random kinetic energy (RKE) RK (a.k.a. granular temperature) is a key concept. The earliest models were for a single, constant density layer, using a Voellmy model but with R K -dependent friction parameters. This was then extended to variable density, and finally a suspension layer (powder-snow cloud) was added. The physical basis and mathematical formulation of these models are critically reviewed here, with the following main findings: (i) Key assumptions in the original RKE model differ substantially from established results on dense granular flows; in particular, the effective friction coefficient decreases to zero with velocity in the RKE model. (ii) In the variable-density model, non-canonical interpretation of the energy balance leads to a third-order evolution equation for the flow depth or density, whereas the stated assumptions imply a first-order equation. (iii) The model for the suspension layer neglects gravity and disregards well-established theoretical and experimental results on particulate gravity currents. Some options for improving these aspects are discussed.

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This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Corresponding author

Correspondence: Dieter Issler <>


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