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1

Venice, 13
th
April 2013
THE HISTORY,
THE TRAGEDY.
VAJONT DAM













1
Venice, 13
th
April 2013
THE HISTORY,
THE TRAGEDY.
VAJONT DAM
9 th October 1963
Dam of Vajont
View and postcard of
Longarone, some days
before...
and the day after

A stone
fell into a glass full of water,
and the water spilled out
on the tablecloth.
That is all.

Dino Buzzati

1937: Second project:
dam at
Colomber bridge
1926: First project:
dam at Casso
bridge
Vajont river
Massalezza river
Pian del Toc
La Pineda
Monte Toc
0 500 m
The geological reports were focused on
the problem of the stability and
impermeability of the abutements of the
dam.
The stability of the slopes of the
reservoir was considered, but not in
detail.
The dam regulation in force at the
beginning of the construction (1957)
dated back to 1931.
The Real Decree n.1370 on October 1st
1931 was substituted in 1959
by the DPR n.1363
It required that the geological study must
include objective elements relative to
slope stability
PONTESEI
reservoir
Hydroelectric system
Piave-Boite-Ma-
Vajont
Before
october 1963
VALLE
reservoir
VODO
reservoir
Pieve di Cadore
reservoir
PONTESEI
GARDONA
Pressure tunnel
Pieve-Val Gallina
COLOMBER
VAL
GALLINA
reservoir
SOVERZENE
PIAVE RIVER
VAJONT RIVER
VAJONT
reservoir
Regione
Veneto
Piave river
high basin
PONTESEI
reservoir
Pieve di Cadore
reservoir
PONTESEI
GARDONA
Pressure tunnel
Pieve-Val Gallina
COLOMBER
VAL
GALLINA
reservoir
SOVERZENE
PIAVE RIVER
VAJONT RIVER
VAJONT
reservoir
Regione
Veneto
Piave river
high basin
VALLE
reservoir
VODO
reservoir
Hydroelectric system
Piave-Boite-Ma-
Vajont
Before
october 1963
Inlet from Gardona
power plant
By pass tunnel
bridge
Outlet to Val
Gallina
Colomber
power plant
Outlets of the dam
Inlet from Pieve
di Cadore
Main geometric data
Elevation of top of dam 725,50 m asl
Arches thickness
At elevation 720 m asl
At elevation 480 m asl
21,5 m
H
e
i
g
h
t

a
b
o
v
e

l
o
w
e
r

f
o
n
d
a
t
i
o
n

2
6
1
,
6
0

m

3,9 m
On march 22
nd
, 1959, a landslide fell into the
reservoir of Pontesei. The landslide was estimated
about 3 x10
6
m
3
. This potential instability was
known by technicians
At the end of july 1959, Edoardo Semenza, son of
Carlo Semenza the designer of the dam, began a
program of geological-technical studies of the entire
impoundment zone of the Vajont dam in order to
discover any phenomenon of potential instability.
Isolated
hill
Prehistoric
landslide
Gorge of Vajon
cut through
paleoslide
Paleoslide
Clays lenses
Vajont limestone
Vajont valley
Isolated Hill
Mt. Salta
Mt. Toc
RECONSTRUCTION OF THE PALEOSLIDE:
This is the situation
before the paleoslide
and the paleoslide
The new stream-bed
of Vajont river
This is the geologic
situation preceding
November 9
th
, 1963
Vajont
limestone
Drillholes
Drillholes
(piezometers)
Drillholes
(piezometers)
Geoseismic
survey
Supposed extent
of the landslide
Dam
Investigations carried out
At the end of 1959
the paleoslide
was NOT recognized
by all geologists.
A monitoring system was installed on
the slopes in order to control the
movements of the ground
Comparative diagram
of water levels in the reservoir and rate of
the movement from 1960 to 1963
J F M A M J J A S O N D J F M A M J J A S O N D J F M A M J J A S O N D J F M A M J J A S O N D
1961 1960
First infill
1962 1963
A large M-shaped perimetrical
fessure appeared
On 4
th
November 1960 a landslide of
700000 m
3
fell into the reservoir.
The drawdown of the reservoir
began
Dam at Ponte di
Colomber
Vajont river
Massalezza river
Perimetrical
crack appeared
in november
1960. The
boundary of the
landslide?
Landslide of 4
th

November 1960
4
th
November 1960
Landslide of 4
th

november 1960
(700 000 m
3
)
Perimetral crack
Pineda
S.Martino
Erto
Massalezza
Casso
Monte Toc
Extension of the
paleoslide
Stereogram of the vajont reservoir
DAM
After november 1960
it was clear
the existence of the landslide
but the geologists
did not suggest abandoning
the project
and therefore it was decided to
allow the movement of the landslide
into the reservoir and to controll it by
controlling the reservoir water level
In order to continue to use the
reservoir in case of the fall of the
landslide
1) A tunnel was built on the right
slope, in order to prevent the
division of the lake by an eventual
landslide (summer 1961).
2) A physical-hydraulic model was
built at Nove in order to evaluate the
effects of the fall of an eventual
landslide
Landslide
By-pass tunnel
Scheme of the by-pass tunnel to reconnect the two lakes
The hydraulic model at Nove
22 tests were carried out with
various fall times and reservoir
levels.
The minimum fall time was 60
seconds
Comparative diagram
of water levels in the reservoir and rate of
the movement from 1960 to 1963
Second
infill
1960 1963
First infill
Building of the
by-pass
Piezometers
1961 1962
At the end of November
1961 the drawdown began
J F M A M J J A S O N D J F M A M J J A S O N D J F M A M J J A S O N D J F M A M J J A S O N D
Comparative diagram
of water levels in the reservoir and rate of
the movement from 1960 to 1963
Second
infill
1961 1960 1962 1963
The third infill
started...
At the level of 650 m asl, the
movements stopped.
First infill
Building of the
by-pass
Piezometers
J F M A M J J A S O N D J F M A M J J A S O N D J F M A M J J A S O N D J F M A M J J A S O N D
At the end of November
1961 the drawdown began
J F M A M J J A S O N D J F M A M J J A S O N D J F M A M J J A S O N D J F M A M J J A S O N D
Comparative diagram
of water levels in the reservoir and rate of
the movement from 1960 to 1963
Second
infill
1963 1961 1960 1962
The third infill
started...
At the level of 650 m asl, the
movements stopped.
First infill
Building of the
by-pass
Piezometers
Seismic tremors were felt
J F M A M J J A S O N D J F M A M J J A S O N D J F M A M J J A S O N D J F M A M J J A S O N D
Comparative diagram
of water levels in the reservoir and rate of
the movement from 1960 to 1963
Second
infill
1963 1961 1960 1962
Seismic tremors were felt
It was decided to reach
the level 710 m .... First infill
Building of the
by-pass
Piezometers
The Vajont
reservoir.

Before
and after
View of the mouth of the Vajont river
before and after
before. and after
The town of Longarone
Outlet
Planimetry of the
Vajont Reservoir
Outlet
Outlet
Tunnel to Val Gallina dam
From Pieve di Cadore
and Valle
From Gardona
By pass
Residual
lake C
Tunnel by
pass
New outlet of the
residual lake C

VAJONT DAM
Planimetry
Before 1963 Nowadays
From Pieve
di Cadore
and Valle
From Gardona
Tunnel
bridge
by pass
Colomber
powerplant
Outlets
Upstream
Downstream

Why did the hydraulic model fail ?
Was it wrong ?

The first doubts about the model were two:
1) the fall time
2) the material used to simulate the landslide

Why did the hydraulics use such a long
fall time?
The fall time for the landslide of Pontesei was
estimated to be about 2 minutes or even longer

For the Vajont mass the technicians agreed on a
fall time between 2 and 8 minutes.


Even if the time length of 1 minute was thought to
be too short and too conservative, it was used by
the hydraulics involved in the model.

Why was the fall time so short?
Some research carried out many years after the
event explained this very short time of fall with
the production of a vapor cushion and with the
strong reduction in the mechanical characteristics
of the clay along the sliding plane during the
movement.
Only with the wisdom of hindsight
the time of 1 minute could be
considered too long.
The technicians during the trial stated that :
The use of the real fall time in the model could
have reproduced the same results correspondent
to that of reality .
the gravel at such an elevated velocity reacts like
compact material .

It is possible to conclude that the
physical model was not wrong
but was wrongly used.

View of the dam and landslide