Hydroplaning of subaqueous debris flows and glide blocks: Analytical solutions and discussion

Carl B. Harbitz, Gary Parker, Anders Elverhøi, Jeffrey D Marr, David Mohrig, Peter A. Harff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

77 Scopus citations


Subaqueous debris flows often attain significantly higher velocities and longer runout distances than their subaerial counterparts in spite of increased viscous drag and reduced effective gravity due to buoyancy. Recent experimental research suggests that a basal lubricating layer of water associated with hydroplaning decouples the sediments from the bed, resulting in a dramatic reduction of the basal shear stress. Hydroplaning thus provides an explanation for these observations. The conditions for onset of hydroplaning are discussed in terms of critical densimetric Froude number. The stress reduction due to a lubricating layer of water or mud slurry is studied via equilibrium solutions for a two-layer Couette flow. The calculations reveal that the stresses in both the low-viscosity lubricating layer and the high-viscosity deforming deposits below it are substantially reduced. The principles of laminar boundary layers are used to develop an equilibrium solution for the steady motion of a hydroplaning debris glide block. This adjusted version of lubrication theory properly accounts for hydroplaning associated with a dynamic pressure generated at the head of the block. Example calculations at both laboratory and field scale support the experimental results of reduced bed friction, limited erosion, sediment rheology independence, and high velocities. The results also reveal the possibility for a net up-slope discharge in the lubricating layer.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)EPM 3-1 - 3-18
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 10 2003


  • Debris flow
  • Glide block
  • Hydroplaning
  • Lubrication
  • Mathematical analysis
  • Submarine slide


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