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Modelling Settling-Driven Gravitational Instabilities at the Base of Volcanic Clouds Using the Lattice Boltzmann Method

Type of publication Peer-reviewed
Publikationsform Original article (peer-reviewed)
Author Lemus Jonathan, Fries Allan, Jarvis Paul A., Bonadonna Costanza, Chopard Bastien, Lätt Jonas,
Project Modelling settling-driven gravitational instabilities from volcanic clouds
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Original article (peer-reviewed)

Journal Frontiers in Earth Science
Volume (Issue) 9
Page(s) 713175
Title of proceedings Frontiers in Earth Science
DOI 10.3389/feart.2021.713175

Open Access

Type of Open Access Publisher (Gold Open Access)


Field observations and laboratory experiments have shown that ash sedimentation can be significantly affected by collective settling mechanisms that promote premature ash deposition, with important implications for dispersal and associated impacts. Among these mechanisms, settling-driven gravitational instabilities result from the formation of a gravitationally-unstable particle boundary layer (PBL) that grows between volcanic ash clouds and the underlying atmosphere. The PBL destabilises once it reaches a critical thickness characterised by a dimensionless Grashof number, triggering the formation of rapid, downward-moving ash fingers that remain poorly characterised. We simulate this process by coupling a Lattice Boltzmann model, which solves the Navier-Stokes equations for the fluid phase, with a Weighted Essentially Non Oscillatory (WENO) finite difference scheme which solves the advection-diffusion-settling equation describing particle transport. Since the physical problem is advection dominated, the use of the WENO scheme reduces numerical diffusivity and ensures accurate tracking of the temporal evolution of the interface between the layers. We have validated the new model by showing that the simulated early-time growth rate of the instability is in very good agreement with that predicted by linear stability analysis, whilst the modelled late-stage behaviour also successfully reproduces quantitative results from published laboratory experiments. The results show that the model is capable of reproducing both the growth of the unstable PBL and the non-linear dependence of the fingers’ vertical velocity on both the initial particle concentration and the particle diameter. Our validated model is used to expand the parameter space explored experimentally and provides key insights into field studies. Our simulations reveal that the critical Grashof number for the instability is about ten times larger than expected by analogy with thermal convection. Moreover, as in the experiments, we found that instabilities do not develop above a given particle threshold. Finally, we quantify the evolution of the mass of particles deposited at the base of the numerical domain and demonstrate that the accumulation rate increases with time, while it is expected to be constant if particles settle individually. This suggests that real-time measurements of sedimentation rate from volcanic clouds may be able to distinguish finger sedimentation from individual particle settling.