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Title: Mathematical modelling of dune formation
Author: Cocks, David
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2005
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This study is concerned with the mathematical modelling of the formation and subsequent evolution of sand dunes, both beneath rivers (fluvial) and in deserts (Aeolian). Dunes are observed in the environment in many different shapes and sizes; we begin by discussing qualitatively how and why the different forms exist. The most important aspect of a successful model is the relationship between the bed shape and the shear stress that the flow exerts on the bed. We first discuss a simple model for this stress applied to fluvial dunes, which is able to predict dune-like structures, but does not predict the instability of a flat bed which we would hope to find. We therefore go on to look at improved models for the shear stress based on theories of turbulent flow and asymptotic methods, using assumptions of either a constant eddy viscosity or a mixing length model for turbulence. Using these forms for the shear stress, along with sediment transport laws, we obtain partial integrodifferential equations for the evolution of the bed, and we study these numerically using spectral methods. One important feature of dunes which is not taken into account by the above models is that of the slip face - a region of constant slope on the downwind side of the dune. When a slip face is present, there is a discontinuity in the slope of the bed, and hence it is clear that flow separation will occur. Previous studies have modelled separated flow by heuristically describing the boundary of the separated region with a cubic or quintic polynomial which joins smoothly to the bed at each end. We recreate this polynomial form for the wake profile and demonstrate a method for including it into an evolution system for dunes. The resulting solutions show an isolated steady-state dune which propagates downstream. From the asymptotic framework developed earlier with a mixing length model for turbulence, we are able, using techniques of complex analysis, to model the shape of the wake region from a purely theoretical basis, rather than the heuristic one used previously. We obtain a Riemann-Hilbert problem for the wake profile, which can be solved using well-known techniques. We then use this method to calculate numerically the wake profile corresponding to a number of dune profiles. Further, we are able to find an exact solution to the wake profile problem in the case of a sinusoidally shaped dune with a slip face. Having found a method to calculate the shear stress exerted on the dune from the bed profile in the case of separated flow, we then use this improved estimate of the shear stress in an evolution system as before. In order to do this efficiently, we consider an alternative method for calculating the wake profile based on the spectral method used for solving the evolution system. We find that this system permits solutions describing an isolated dune with a slip face which propagates downstream without changing shape. All of the models described above are implemented in two spatial dimensions; the wind is assumed to blow in one direction only, and the dunes are assumed to be uniform in a direction perpendicular to the wind flow. While this is adequate to explain the behaviour of transverse dunes, other dune shapes such as linear dunes, barchans, and star dunes are by nature three-dimensional, so in order to study the behaviour of such dunes, the extension of the models to three dimensions is essential. While most of the governing equations generalize easily, it is less obvious how to extend the model for separated flow, due to its reliance on complex variables. We implement some three-dimensional evolution models, and discuss the possibility of modelling three-dimensional flow separation.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Geophysics