Self-sharpening induces jet-like structure in seafloor gravity currents

Dorrell R. M., Peakall J., Darby S. E., Parsons D. R., Johnson J., Sumner E. J., ...More

NATURE COMMUNICATIONS, vol.10, 2019 (SCI-Expanded) identifier identifier identifier

  • Publication Type: Article / Article
  • Volume: 10
  • Publication Date: 2019
  • Doi Number: 10.1038/s41467-019-09254-2
  • Journal Indexes: Science Citation Index Expanded (SCI-EXPANDED), Scopus
  • Istanbul Technical University Affiliated: No


Gravity currents are the primary means by which sediments, solutes and heat are transported across the ocean-floor. Existing theory of gravity current flow employs a statistically-stable model of turbulent diffusion that has been extant since the 1960s. Here we present the first set of detailed spatial data from a gravity current over a rough seafloor that demonstrate that this existing paradigm is not universal. Specifically, in contrast to predictions from turbulent diffusion theory, self-sharpened velocity and concentration profiles and a stable barrier to mixing are observed. Our new observations are explained by statistically-unstable mixing and self-sharpening, by boundary-induced internal gravity waves; as predicted by recent advances in fluid dynamics. Self-sharpening helps explain phenomena such as ultra-long runout of gravity currents and restricted growth of bedforms, and highlights increased geohazard risk to marine infrastructure. These processes likely have broader application, for example to wave-turbulence interaction, and mixing processes in environmental flows.