Research Blog for Department of Computer Science @ Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Building models of levees

Christopher Stuetzle, PhD Graduate of Department of Computer Science

My name is Christopher Stuetzle. I graduated with my Ph.D. in Computer Science from RPI in August, 2012, working with Professors W. Randolph Franklin and Barb Cutler. My primary area of research is Computer Graphics. I obtained a B.A. in Computer Science from Wheaton College in Norton, MA in 2007. I work closely with researchers in Civil Engineering in RPI’s centrifuge center.

During storm surges, waves can crash over top of the levees and earthen embankments built along shorelines to protect settled land from flood damage. As water continuously flows down the dry side of the levee, the earth with which the levee is constructed begins to erode away and channels begin to form. These channels eventually overtake the entire crest of the levee, and the levee is breached and fails.

Photograph from Hurricane Katrina depicting levee overtopping

Our research is a joint project between Civil Engineering and Computer Graphics. Civil Engineers build scale model levees and run experiments simulating the process of overtopping, collecting statistical data such as changes in the shape of the levee, where the soil is eroded and deposited, and measuring the time of breach. These experiments are recorded and studied in detail.

Image from our simulation of water particles eroding the surface of a levee

We have also created a realistic and detailed computer simulation of levee erosion which represents both soil and water as one coupled particle simulation. Water particles flow across soil particles that represent the levee surface and absorb a certain percentage of them simulating erosion. The simulation uses a widely accepted erosion model from Civil Engineering literature to determine the behavior of the erosion in order to maintain a high level of accuracy. Results from the simulation have been validated visually and through laboratory experiments. Currently, we are implementing soil permeability to simulate the soil becoming saturated over time as water crashes over the levee.

This project aims to allow Civil Engineers in charge of levee design and construction to be able to estimate how their levee designs will hold up during various storm conditions, allowing for more efficient construction, as well as diagnosis of actual levee failures.


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This entry was posted on August 19, 2012 by in Civil Engineering, Computer Graphics.


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