On the frontal dynamics and morphology of submarine debris flows

Trygve Ilstad, Fabio V. De Blasio, Anders Elverhøi, Carl B. Harbitz, Lars Engvik, Oddvar Longva, Jeffrey G. Marr

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

94 Scopus citations


Several submarine debris flows show an apparently chaotic frontal part with blocks of variable size (from roughly tens to some hundreds of metres) located some distance beyond the front of the main deposits. This outrunner phenomenon was studied both in the field and in laboratory experiments. Depositional patterns in a field case (Finneidfjord, northern Norway) are classified from the outer distal part of the debris flow to the outermost outrunner block. Similar patterns were found in experimental debris flows, and we suggest that flow processes in the laboratory are applicable to the field example. Theoretical investigations are applied to assess frontal dynamics and especially the formation and motion of outrunner blocks. As the front of the debris flow pushes through ambient water, a combination of front pressure and lift force allows for intrusion of a water layer underneath the front (hydroplaning). This water layer reduces basal friction and induces tensile stresses farther behind the front, leading to a possible detachment and decoupling with respect to the main slide body. These outrunner blocks show an increased mobility compared to the main slide body and deposition of such blocks may occur far away from the main slide body.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)481-497
Number of pages17
JournalMarine Geology
Issue number1-4
StatePublished - Dec 15 2004

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was carried out with financial support from the Research Council of Norway, submarine mass wasting—rheology, flow behaviour, and deposition geometry (133975/431); EU project COSTA contract no. EVK3-CT-1999-00006; Norsk Hydro contract no. 5201202; and the US Office of Naval Research and International Centre for Geohazards. The Norwegian Geotechnical Institute is acknowledged for providing infrastructure during parts of the work. The experiments could not have been performed without help from the laboratory staff and students at St. Anthony Falls Laboratory, University of Minnesota. In particular, G. Parker is acknowledged for his valuable contributions during planning as well as execution of the experiments. Thanks to Prof. Kaare Hoeg, University of Oslo, for carefully proofreading this article. The manuscript benefited from careful reviews by M.A. Hampton, J. Imran, and one anonymous reviewer. This is publication no. 59 of the International Centre for Geohazards.


  • debris flow
  • experiment
  • morphology
  • outrunner blocks
  • submarine slide


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