Articles | Volume 7, issue 5
Geosci. Model Dev., 7, 1945–1960, 2014
Geosci. Model Dev., 7, 1945–1960, 2014

Development and technical paper 05 Sep 2014

Development and technical paper | 05 Sep 2014

Direct numerical simulations of particle-laden density currents with adaptive, discontinuous finite elements

S. D. Parkinson1, J. Hill1, M. D. Piggott1,2, and P. A. Allison1 S. D. Parkinson et al.
  • 1Applied Modelling and Computation Group, Department of Earth Science and Engineering, South Kensington Campus, Imperial College London, London SW7 2AZ, UK
  • 2Grantham Institute for Climate Change, South Kensington Campus, Imperial College London, London SW7 2AZ, UK

Abstract. High-resolution direct numerical simulations (DNSs) are an important tool for the detailed analysis of turbidity current dynamics. Models that resolve the vertical structure and turbulence of the flow are typically based upon the Navier–Stokes equations. Two-dimensional simulations are known to produce unrealistic cohesive vortices that are not representative of the real three-dimensional physics. The effect of this phenomena is particularly apparent in the later stages of flow propagation. The ideal solution to this problem is to run the simulation in three dimensions but this is computationally expensive.

This paper presents a novel finite-element (FE) DNS turbidity current model that has been built within Fluidity, an open source, general purpose, computational fluid dynamics code. The model is validated through re-creation of a lock release density current at a Grashof number of 5 × 106 in two and three dimensions. Validation of the model considers the flow energy budget, sedimentation rate, head speed, wall normal velocity profiles and the final deposit. Conservation of energy in particular is found to be a good metric for measuring model performance in capturing the range of dynamics on a range of meshes. FE models scale well over many thousands of processors and do not impose restrictions on domain shape, but they are computationally expensive. The use of adaptive mesh optimisation is shown to reduce the required element count by approximately two orders of magnitude in comparison with fixed, uniform mesh simulations. This leads to a substantial reduction in computational cost. The computational savings and flexibility afforded by adaptivity along with the flexibility of FE methods make this model well suited to simulating turbidity currents in complex domains.