Civil Engineers Help Destroy Test Levee in The Netherlands
Civil engineers from Rensselaer were part of an international research team that collapsed a full-scale dike in The Netherlands. The test dike was embedded with advanced sensors and traditional measurement instruments, and results of the study are expected to help validate powerful new technologies for monitoring the health of
aging flood-control infrastructure.
The dike was situated in a specially constructed basin, which the researchers filled with water. The slow addition of water into the basin increased the pressure on the dike. Water forced its way into the dike, and eventually softened the bottom of the dike and shifted the earth underneath, prompting the overall structure to collapse. The study was led by Dutch research institute Deltares, in partnership with Rensselaer and 14 other companies and universities from around the world. It was the research team’s third full-scale levee test collapse this summer.
“The failure of flood-control infrastructure is very real, and can lead to catastrophic flooding as we unfortunately witnessed in 2005 during Hurricane Katrina,” said Tarek Abdoun, associate dean for research and graduate programs in the School of Engineering and the Judith and Thomas Iovino ’73 Career Development Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. “A large-scale test like this can help supply us with invaluable data to inform and validate our efforts to create a long-term, real-time monitoring system that can assess the health of levees and help identify the vulnerability of levee or dam sections before they fail.”
Rensselaer Research Assistant Professor Victoria Gene Bennett and Associate Professor Mourad Zeghal are collaborating on the project with Abdoun. Their participation in the Deltares project was funded as part of a three-year grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate. Abdoun, Bennett, and Zeghal are faculty members of the Rensselaer Center for Earthquake Engineering Simulation, which is a part of the George E. Brown, Jr. Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation Program of the National Science Foundation.
The collapsed dike was fit with a large number of different sensors, including SAPP (shape-acceleration-pore pressure) arrays that were developed through a partnership between Rensselaer and industrial collaborator Measurand. SAPP sensor arrays are designed to be installed into the ground, beneath and around levees and dams. The cost-effective arrays accurately measure soil deformation, vibration, and pore pressure at critical points of a flood-control system.
These SAPP arrays are a critical part of an ongoing Rensselaer-led research project to create an integrated suite of technologies and methods for ensuring the reliability and safety of flood-control infrastructure. The project, funded by the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Technology Innovation Program, pairs SAPP measurements with GPS and InSAR, or satellite-based interferometric synthetic aperture radar measurements.
In the United States, the national flood-control infrastructure is aging and its structural health is deteriorating, Abdoun said. The system is comprised of more than 5,600 km of levees, and 43 percent of the U.S. population lives in counties with levees designed to provide some level of protection from flooding. Some of these levees are as old as 150 years. In 2009, the American Society of Civil Engineers Report Card for America’s Infrastructure gave the condition of the nation’s dams a grade of D, and levees a grade of D-minus.