A scenario-based risk framework for determining consequences of different failure modes of earth dams

Paul W. Cleary, Mahesh Prakash*, Stuart Mead, Vincent Lemiale, Geoff K. Robinson, Fanghong Ye, Sida Ouyang, Xinming Tang

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

12 Citations (Scopus)


Failure modes for earth dams are extensively reviewed and analysed using a three-pronged approach including a literature review, physical observations of a representative earth dam site and finite element structural analysis of the dam wall. Several failure scenarios are used for predicting consequences in terms of downstream inundation and damage. The fluid flow component is performed using the mesh-free smoothed particle hydrodynamics method. For a representative earthen dam, piping and landslip are identified as key failure modes based on a combination of finite element analysis, theory and physical observations. Inundation behaviour is very different for the two failure modes. The landslip failure is the most critical one for the dam studied with flood water breaking the river bank and affecting surrounding property and farmland. For the piping failures, water flow from the initial pipes formed for significant periods before they collapse, but the flow rates are small compared with that of the much larger landslip mode. After failure, fragments of the collapsing wall block the breach and can considerably restrict the flood discharge. In some cases, the water pressure is able to push the obstructing material downstream and some minor flooding occurs, but in others cases the breach can remain blocked with little flooding occurring. A prototype risk framework is developed using the small database of the pre-computed flooding scenarios and key variables that affect inundation such as water level in the reservoir. This can be used to estimate inundation maps for as yet non-computed scenarios through interpolation and superposition techniques. The implementation of the risk framework is demonstrated by the estimation of inundation maps for two in-between non-computed reservoir levels. Inundation due to multiple breaches is also estimated by superposition of three single-breach scenarios. Results are compared against the simulated multiple breach. A preliminary implementation of this risk framework into a geographic information system is also described.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1489-1530
Number of pages42
JournalNatural Hazards
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • SPH
  • dam failure
  • flood inundation
  • failure modes
  • risk framework
  • earthen dams

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'A scenario-based risk framework for determining consequences of different failure modes of earth dams'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this