Modeling rapid mass movements using the shallow water equations

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We propose a new method to model rapid mass movements on complex topography using the shallow water equations in Cartesian coordinates. These equations are the widely used standard approximation for the flow of water in rivers and shallow lakes, but the main prerequisite for their application – an almost horizontal fluid table – is in general not satisfied for avalanches and debris flows in steep terrain. Therefore, we have developed appropriate correction terms for large topographic gradients. In this study we present the mathematical formulation of these correction terms and their implementation in the open-source flow solver GERRIS. This novel approach is evaluated by simulating avalanches on synthetic and finally natural topographies and the widely used Voellmy flow resistance law. Testing the results against analytical solutions and the proprietary avalanche model RAMMS, we found a very good agreement. As the GERRIS flow solver is freely available and open source, it can be easily extended by additional fluid models or source areas, making this model suitable for simulating several types of rapid mass movements. It therefore provides a valuable tool for assisting regional-scale natural hazard studies.

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