Destructiveness of pyroclastic surges controlled by turbulent fluctuations
Brosch E., G. Lube, M. Cerminara, T. Esposti Ongaro, E.C.P. Breard, J. Dufek, B. Sovilla, L. Fullard (2021). Nature Communication, 12, 7306, https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-021-27517-9
Pyroclastic surges are lethal hazards from volcanoes that exhibit enormous destructiveness through dynamic pressures of 100–102 kPa inside flows capable of obliterating reinforced buildings. However, to date, there are no measurements inside these currents to quantify the dynamics of this important hazard process. Here we show, through large-scale experiments and the first field measurement of pressure inside pyroclastic surges, that dynamic pressure energy is mostly carried by large-scale coherent turbulent structures and gravity waves. These perpetuate as low-frequency high-pressure pulses downcurrent, form maxima in the flow energy spectra and drive a turbulent energy cascade. The pressure maxima exceed mean values, which are traditionally estimated for hazard assessments, manifold. The frequency of the most energetic coherent turbulent structures is bounded by a critical Strouhal number of ~0.3, allowing quantitative predictions. This explains the destructiveness of real-world flows through the development of c. 1–20 successive high-pressure pulses per minute. This discovery, which is also applicable to powder snow avalanches, necessitates a re-evaluation of hazard models that aim to forecast and mitigate volcanic hazard impacts globally.