From theory to field evidence: Observations on the evolution of the settlements of an earthfill dam, over long time scales

Stella Pytharouli, Panagiotis Michalis, Spyridon Raftopoulos

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Unprecedented flooding events put dams and downstream communities at risk, as evidenced by the recent cases of the Oroville and Whaley bridge dams. Empirical models may describe expected 'normal' dam behaviour, but they do not account for changes due to recurring extreme weather events. Numerical modelling provides insights into this, but results are affected by the chosen material properties. Long-term field monitoring data can help with understanding the mechanical behaviour of earthfill dams and how this is affected by the environment over decades. We analyse the recorded settlements for one of the largest earthfill dams in Europe. We compare the evolution of these settlements to the reservoir level, rainfall, and the occurrence of earthquakes for a period of 31 years after first impoundment. We find that the clay core responds to the reservoir fluctuations with an increasing (from 0 to 6 months) time delay. This is the first time that a change in the behaviour of a central clay core dam, as observed from field data, is reported in the international literature. Seepage rates, as recorded within the drainage galleries, are directly affected by cumulative rainfall depths exceeding 67 mm per fortnight.

Original languageEnglish
Article number65
Number of pages26
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 23 Oct 2019


  • Central clay core
  • Downstream shoulder
  • Earthfill dam
  • Geodetic monitoring
  • Long-term behaviour
  • Rainfall
  • Reservoir level fluctuations
  • Seepage
  • Settlements

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