Scaling between volume and runout of rock avalanches explained by a modified Voellmy rheology

Hergarten, Stefan

Rock avalanches reach considerably greater runout lengths than predicted by Coulomb friction. While it has been known for a long time that runout length increases with volume, explaining the increase qualitatively is still a challenge. In this study, the widely used Voellmy rheology is reinterpreted and modified. Instead of adding a Coulomb friction term and a velocity-dependent term, the modified rheology assigns the two terms to different regimes of velocity. While assuming a transition between Coulomb friction and flow at a given velocity is the simplest approach, a reinterpretation of an existing model for the kinetic energy of random particle motion predicts a dependence of the crossover velocity on the thickness of the rock avalanche. Analytical solutions for a lumped mass on a simple 1D topography reveal the existence of a slope-dominated and a height-dominated regime within the regime of flow. In the slope-dominated regime, the kinetic energy at the foot of the slope depends mainly on the slope angle, while the absolute height relative to the valley floor has little effect, and vice versa. Both regimes can be distinguished by the ratio of a length scale derived from the rheology and the length scale of the topography. Long runout occurs in the height-dominated regime. In combination with empirical relations between volume, thickness, and height, the approach based on the random kinetic energy model reproduces the scaling of runout length with volume observed in nature very well.

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Hergarten, Stefan: Scaling between volume and runout of rock avalanches explained by a modified Voellmy rheology. 2024. Copernicus Publications.

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