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EARTHQUAKE-INDUCED DISPLACEMENTS OF EARTH DAMS AND

EMBANKMENTS
Hendra Jitno1 and Richard Davidson2
Group Geotechnical Engineer, Harmony Gold, Brisbane.
2
Senior Principal and Vice President, URS Corporation, Denver, Colorado, USA.
1

ABSTRACT
This paper presents an overview of some of the available methods to estimate earth dam displacements due to
earthquakes, from the simple Newmark one-dimensional displacement method to a complex coupled effective
stress dynamic analysis. It discusses the assumptions used, advantages and limitations of each method. The use
of pseudo-static analysis for assessing seismic stability of earth structures is critically reviewed. An example on
the use of total stress dynamic analysis in the seismic upgrade work of Yarrawonga Weir in Victoria is
presented. The dynamic analyses were very useful in providing an indication of possible flow failure, crack
development during earthquake shaking and the potential for loss of freeboard of the earth dam. The method was
also very useful to assess the most efficient remedial method that satisfies all the imposed requirements from the
community and the client.

INTRODUCTION

Over the last five decades, a number of man-made earth structures have suffered catastrophic failure due to
earthquake-induced liquefaction. Eleven tailings dams failed during and after the 28 March 1965 Chilean
earthquake. The most devastating were the failures of El-Cobre dams which destroyed part of the town of ElCobre and claimed more than 200 lives, Figure 1 (Dobry and Alvarez, 1967). Similar failures also occurred in
Japan in 1978. Two tailings dams associated with the Mochikoshi gold mine failed causing a release of large
volume of tailings materials (Ishihara, 1984).

Figure 1: Cerro Negro Tailings Dams, Chile 1964


On 9 February 1971, an earthquake of magnitude 6.6 on the Richter scale hit the San Fernando Valley in
Southern California. One of the major effects of this earthquake was the damage inflicted on the Lower and the
Upper San Fernando Dams due to liquefaction induced deformations (Seed et al., 1973). Liquefaction of the
hydraulic fill materials within the body of the dam caused a flow slide to occur on the upstream part of the
Lower Dam, leaving only about 1.5 m of freeboard (Figure 2). In the Upper Dam, the slide movements resulting
from liquefaction of the hydraulic fill within the dam were not as severe as those in the Lower Dam. However,
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the crest of the dam moved about 5m downstream and settled about 0.8 m. Fortunately in both cases, no water
was released from the reservoir (Figure 3). Earlier this year an inactive upstream method tailings dam in Chile
failed due to liquefaction demonstrating their vulnerability if saturated loose tailings remain within the exterior
portion of the impoundment, Figure 4 from GEER (2010).

Figure 2: Lower San Fernando Dam after the 1971 earthquake.

Figure 3.: Upper San Fernando Dam after the 1971 earthquake.

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Figure 4: Los Palmas March 2010 Tailings Dam Failure, Chile (GEER, 2010)
We are fortunate in Australia and New Zealand to have been spared such an event, but is it only a matter of
time?

MAIN ISSUES IN SEISMIC ASSESSMENT OF EARTH DAMS

There are two major issues that need to be resolved in assessing the seismic performance of earth and tailings
dams under earthquakes:
1.
2.

Stability: Is dam stable during and after earthquake?


Deformation: How much deformation will occur in the dam?

The stability of an earth or tailings dam under earthquake loading condition will depend on the dam geometry,
level of earthquake shaking and the materials comprising the dam and foundation. The dam geometry will
control the level of driving stresses acting on the dam during and after earthquakes, the level of earthquake
shaking will control how much deformation or strains will be developed during the shaking, and the material
type will govern whether or not the embankment will experience liquefaction or significant strength loss due to
earthquake.
If the embankment and foundation materials are not susceptible to liquefaction or strength reduction due to
earthquake shaking, then the dam will generally be stable and catastrophic failure is not expected (Seed, 1979).
However, if the dam or/and foundation comprise liquefiable materials, it may experience flow failure depending
on post-earthquake factor of safety against instability (FOSpe).
For high initial driving stress (steep geometry), the FOSpe will likely be much less than unity, and flow failure
may occur, as depicted by strain path A-B-C in Figure 5. Path A-B is the deformations during earthquake and
path B-C indicates deformations after the cessation of earthquake. Note that the higher the difference between
the initial driving stress and the residual strength, the larger the deformations. An example of this is the failure
of the Lower San Fernando Dam.

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Shear Stress,

FOSpe = Residual Strength/Driving Stress


High initial driving stress

Low initial driving stress

C
P

Deformations during EQ

Residual Strength, Sr

Shear Strain,
Figure 5.: Effects of initial driving stress on post-liquefaction stability and deformations.
However, for low initial driving stress, the FOSpe may still be larger than one and the dam will remain stable. It
is also possible that the FOSpe is slightly less than unity but the dam is still stable after new equilibrium is
achieved when the driving stress reduces to a value similar to the soil residual strength (Sr), as depicted by strain
path P-Q-R. Since the initial driving stress here is smaller and almost the same as the residual strength, the
additional deformation after the cessation of the earthquake (path Q-R) is relatively small.
For dams comprising liquefiable materials that do not fail under seismic shaking, the next question would be:
would the earth dams undergo significant deformations that may jeopardize the structures integrity? Potential
safety hazards after the earthquake include overtopping due to loss of freeboard and internal erosion (piping) due
to cracks within the dam.
In addition to the deformations due to the shaking and loss of soil stiffness and strength, dams especially tailings
dams may also experience significant settlement after all earthquake-induced pore pressures dissipate. The
magnitude of settlement depends on the thickness and compressibility of vulnerable layers and shear strains
developed during the shaking.

PSEUDO-STATIC SEISMIC STABILITY ASSESSMENT

One of the earliest available methods to assess seismic stability of earth structures is pseudo-static analysis. Due
mainly to its simplicity, it is still being used in the engineering community, in particular for cases which do not
involve liquefaction or strength reduction due to earthquake shaking.
The method uses a limit equilibrium approach incorporating a horizontal seismic coefficient to simulate inertia
forces due to the earthquake. The seismic coefficient is expressed as the ratio between the earthquake forces and
the gravity acceleration. Similar to the concept of static failure, a factor of safety (FOS) of less than unity is
considered unstable and FOS of greater than unity represents seismically stable slopes.
Despite its popularity, this method suffers from serious limitations as follows:

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It inherently assumes that the earthquake loading acting on the potentially unstable slope mass is
permanent and in one direction only. In reality, earthquake loading is multi-direction and cyclic which
involves stress reversal. Therefore, the calculated FOS of less than unity does not necessarily mean
failure. It may only be an indication of limited slope movement, with magnitude depending on the soil
strength and earthquake intensity as will be discussed in the next section. Similarly, for cases involving
strength reduction due to shaking, a FOS of greater than unity does not always mean the slope is stable
because it may fail in post-earthquake undrained loading.
Neither peak drained nor undrained strengths are suitable in pseudo static analyses for slopes comprised
of materials that may undergo earthquake-induced strength loss.
Difficulties in selecting an appropriate seismic coefficient. The use of a seismic coefficient that equals
the Peak Ground Acceleration (PGA) is an overly conservative assumption. This assumption implies
that the slope is a perfectly rigid body, which will move together as one block. This is clearly not true as
the slope mass is generally deformable and tends to attenuate the earthquake shaking depending on the
ratio between its natural period and the predominant period of the earthquake.
The method only considers earthquake acceleration but fails to consider earthquake duration and
frequency. Thus, the method will give the same results for a given acceleration, regardless of the
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magnitude and distance of the earthquake. This is misleading as the bigger earthquakes will have longer
duration and therefore will be more devastating than small earthquakes. Also, far distant earthquakes
will have lower frequencies and may cause ground amplification if the frequency is close to the slope
natural period.
Because of its limitations, this method is only used as a screening tool to assess if further analysis is required, as
recommended in ANCOLD Guidelines (1998). ANCOLD recommend the use of pseudo-static analysis method
developed by US Army Corps of Engineers (Hynes-Griffin and Franklin, 1984) as a screening method for well
constructed earth and rockfill dams, which are not susceptible to liquefaction or significant strength loss due to
earthquakes. This method has been calibrated against a large number of deformation analyses with deformations
of up to 1 m.
Procedures to use this method are as follows:
1.
2.
3.
4.

Determine the appropriate Peak Ground Acceleration (PGA) at the site;


Use undrained strength for cohesive soils and drained strength for free-draining materials;
Apply 20% strength reduction for both cohesive and free-draining soils (Note that the free draining
materials must not be liquefiable because otherwise this method is not applicable);
Apply seismic coefficient equal to 50% of the PGA.

Slopes with calculated FOS greater than unity are considered stable. However, more detailed analyses including
deformation analysis are required for slopes with computed FOS less than one.
There are some other screening methods available, but the methods were specifically developed for landfills
(Bray et al., 1998) and residential development (Stewart et al., 2003) with smaller tolerable seismic
displacements (15 cm to 30 cm).
Because the pseudo static method does not correctly simulate the actual slope behaviour in an earthquake, the
authors do not advocate its use except as an intermediate step in a simplified Newmark-type deformation
analysis. Far superior screening can be accomplished using post earthquake undrained stability analyses
discussed below.

POST EARTHQUAKE UNDRAINED STABILITY ANALYSES

The most useful method available to assess the risk of earthquake-induced instability is post earthquake
undrained stability analyses. This approach does correctly simulate the process of slope instability observed in
many earthquake case histories. It recognises that fact that slopes generally fail at the end of or after earthquake
shaking has ceased as excess pore pressures induced during shaking redistribute within liquefied soil mass and
the residual strength is mobilised. The first step is to assess the level of earthquake ground motions at the site.
Either using simplified methods or attenuating the ground motions through the embankment section, the degree
of strength reduction is evaluated ranging from relatively small strength loss in materials that behave in a claylike manner to liquefaction in contractive sand-like material. Very useful methods of liquefaction evaluation
have been summarized by Idriss and Boulanger (2008). From these methods the post earthquake undrained shear
strength can be interpreted Supe as a total stress value or a strength ratio Su/v , and can be as low as the
residual strength Sr.
With the appropriate post earthquake strength selection, then undrained strength analysis static limit equilibrium
slope stability calculations can be completed for the appropriate pre-shaking effective stress conditions. Factors
of safety less than 1.0 would be indicative of failure conditions and depending on the size of the earthquake and
zone of liquefaction could result in uncontrolled flow failure. The next question is what the quantum of
seismically-induced deformations is.

METHODS FOR PREDICTING EARTHQUAKE-INDUCED


DEFORMATIONS OF EARTH DAMS

Various methods for predicting seismic deformation of earth structures have been developed. These methods
include the simplified one-dimensional Newmarks method and its modified versions by Sarma (1975) and
Makdisi-Seed (1978), the simplified two dimensional finite element (FE) stiffness reduction method proposed by
Lee (1974), the more involved Seeds strain potential approach (Seed et al., 1973, Seed, 1979), FE stiffness
reduction method incorporating inertia effects (Byrne, 1991; Jitno, 1995) and the sophisticated total and effective
stress dynamic analysis methods (e.g.. Finn et al., 1977, 1986; Byrne et al., 2004).

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5.1
ONE DIMENSIONAL SIMPLIFIED METHOD
The stability of earth structures has been traditionally assessed based on the factor of safety of a potential sliding
mass using a pseudo-static limit equilibrium analysis. The term factor of safety is defined as the ratio of shear
strength of soil to the driving shear stress acting at the points on the potential sliding surface. A factor of safety
less than unity implies that the soil-structures are not stable since the sliding mass will accelerate and large
displacement will occur. However, under seismic shaking where the loads act only for a finite duration of time
and cyclic in nature, a factor of safety less than unity may still be acceptable. Newmark (1965) was the first to
advance a concept that the stability of an embankment during earthquake should be assessed on the basis of the
deformation produced instead of the traditional pseudo-static factor of safety.
5.1.1 Newmarks method
Newmark proposed a simple method for evaluating the potential deformation of earth-structures due to
earthquake shaking. He modelled a potential sliding block of the dam as a rigid plastic single degree of freedom
system which can be viewed as a rigid mass resting on an inclined plane and subjected to earthquake ground
acceleration (a), as shown in Figure 6.

Figure 6. Potential sliding block under earthquake shaking.


Newmark assumed that the soil behaves in a rigid-perfectly-plastic manner in which the movement will only
occur when the driving forces due to earthquake base acceleration are sufficient to overcome the yield resistance
of the block. As shown in Figure 6, the block will only move if the acceleration is higher than the ay (yield
acceleration).
Several models have been proposed based on the concept that Newmark (1965) developed for calculating the
deformation of earth dams during earthquakes.
Yegian et al. (1991) proposed that the amplitude D of permanent displacement is:
(Equation 1)
where Neq is the number of cycles equivalent uniform base motion, T the period (s), ay the yield acceleration, ap
the peak acceleration (g), and f the dimensionless function depending on base motion.
Baziar et al. (1992) proposed that D depends on peak velocity:
(Equation 2)
where amax is the peak acceleration, and vmax the peak velocity.
Jibson (1993) proposed that D (cm) depends on the Aria intensity:
Log D = 1.46 log Ia - 6.642 ay + 1.546

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where Ia the Aria intensity (m/s), and ay the yield acceleration (g). Plot between Ia and displacement computed
using Jibson method is presented in Figure 7. Arias intensity is a single numerical measure of the shaking
intensity of the record calculated by integrating the squared acceleration values (Arias, 1970) as shown below:

(Equation 4)
This method is not necessarily founded on a theoretical basis given that the deformation of a slope is only a
result of acceleration values that exceed the critical acceleration value.

Figure 7.: Plot between Arias Intensity and Newmarks displacement.


The models based on Newmark sliding blocks assume that the deformation takes place on a well defined failure
surface, the yield acceleration remains constant during shaking, and the soil is perfectly plastic. However, these
assumptions do not hold in the case of liquefied soils and lateral spreads, because of the following:

Shear strain in liquefied soil does not concentrate within a well defined surface;
Shear strength (and yield acceleration) of saturated soils varies during cyclic loading as pore pressure
varies and
Soils are generally not perfectly plastic materials, but commonly harden or soften.

Therefore, while this method is very useful for predicting seismic displacement of earth structures, it generally
does not give satisfactory results for predicting liquefaction-induced ground deformations.
5.1.2 Makdisi-Seed Method
One of the assumptions used in Newmarks analysis is that the ground acceleration is constant along the sliding
block. This may not necessarily true for earth slopes which may deform during the shaking. To account for the
variability of ground accelerations along the potential sliding block, Makdisi and Seed (1978) refined the
Newmarks method by using average accelerations applied to the slopes. Makdisi and Seed then computed the
variation of permanent displacement with ratio of yield acceleration (ay) and peak ground acceleration (amax) and
earthquake magnitude (M), by subjecting several real and hypothetical dams to several recorded and synthetic
earthquake ground motions for given magnitudes.
The permanent displacements computed by Makdisi-Seed method for different ay/amax ratio and earthquake
magnitudes are presented in Figure 8.
The procedure to estimate the seismic deformations using Makdisi-Seed method are as follows:
1.
2.

Determine the design peak ground acceleration of the dam (max). This can be obtained from deterministic or
probabilistic seismic hazard analysis, or any other sources.
Determine the natural period of the dam. The first natural period of the dam with constant modulus can be
computed using To=2.61*h/vs. (vs.= shear wave velocity of dam material, h = dam height).
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3.
4.
5.
6.

Determine the yield acceleration of the dam by carrying out pseudo-static analysis with different
accelerations. Yield acceleration is the acceleration that gives a factor of safety of unity.
Determine the height of potential sliding mass (y) from above step and calculate y/h ratio, where h is the
maximum dam height.
Using Figure 8a, determine the average maximum acceleration, kmax.
Compute ky/kmax and using Figure 8b, determine the normalised displacements (g = gravity acceleration).
Knowing g and To, the displacement can then be computed.

(b)
(a)

Figure 8: (a).Variation of average maximum acceleration with depth of potential failure surface and (b)
Normalised permanent displacement with yield acceleration for earthquakes with different magnitudes (right)
(Makdisi and Seed, 1978). Note: U = displacement; To = natural period of embankment.
5.1.3 Empirical methods
Swaisgood (2003) has carried out an extensive study of case histories of embankment dam behaviour during
earthquakes, particularly those which are not susceptible to liquefaction problems. The objectives of the study
were to determine if there is a normal trend of seismic deformation that can be predicted and if there are
certain factors that consistently have an effect on the amount of damage and deformation incurred during
earthquakes. Nearly 70 case histories have been reviewed, compared and statistically analysed in this effort. The
results of this empirical study have shown that the most important factors that appear to affect dam crest
settlement during earthquake include (a) the peak ground acceleration at the site and (b) the earthquake
magnitude. The relationship between the magnitude of measured settlement and the peak ground accelerations
during earthquake were plotted and presented in Figure 9.
This finding supports one of the findings of an earlier investigation in which it was concluded that there is
ample evidence that well-built dams can withstand moderate shaking with peak accelerations up to at least 0.2 g
with no harmful effects (Seed, 1979).

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Figure 9. Empirical relationship between the peak ground acceleration and crest settlement (Swaisgood, 2003).
In addition, an empirical equation was formulated as an aid in estimating the amount of dam crest settlement as
follows:
S (%) = e (6.07 PGA + 0.57 M -8.00)
Equation 5
In which, s = crest settlement in percent; PGA = Peak Ground Acceleration at the foundation rock and M =
earthquake magnitude.
Pells and Fell (2002) also collected data from 305 dams in which 95 of them suffered cracks due to earthquake
shaking. They plot the data as a function of peak ground acceleration and earthquake magnitude, and classified
the damage based on the crack width and crest settlement. More detailed discussion of this method can be found
in Fell et al. (2005).
5.2
TWO-DIMENSIONAL SIMPLIFIED METHOD
The two-dimensional simplified method generally uses the finite element or finite difference method to calculate
deformations due to earthquakes. However, the seismic loadings are not directly used as part of the input. Below
are some of the methods available.
5.2.1
Strain Potential Method
One of the earliest two-dimensional FE methods was developed by Seed et al. (1973) by combining the results
of linear or equivalent linear analysis and the laboratory data. The procedure can generally be described as
follows:
1.
2.
3.

Compute the cyclic shear stresses in each element of the dam using linear or equivalent linear analysis.
Assign each soil element in the dam a strain potential in terms of shear strain, as a function of cyclic shear
stresses obtained from the above step in combination with the results of cyclic laboratory tests.
Compute dam deformations based on the prescribed shear strain for each soil element.

One of the major assumptions used here is that the shear strain developed during earthquake will be similar to
the strain developed from triaxial laboratory tests, and the maximum shear stress acts in horizontal direction in
all elements. This assumption is only valid for a small portion of the dam, whereas the majority of the soil
elements within the dam experience stress conditions similar to those developed in simple shear tests. Therefore,
the results of deformation analysis using this method are very approximate and tend to underestimate the
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observed deformations in the field. In addition, this simplified method is not simple or practical. It is quite time
consuming and expensive due to relatively large number of laboratory cyclic tests required.
5.2.2 Stiffness Reduction Method
Another method developed by Seed and his co-workers is stiffness reduction approach (Lee, 1974 and Serff et
al., 1976). In this method, the soil is assumed to lose part of its stiffness in the earthquake. The method can be
described as follows:
1.
2.

Compute the initial static shear stresses in the dam using initial soil moduli (before earthquake). Set the
displacement to zero.
Using the pre-earthquake static shear stresses, compute the deformations of the dam due to earthquake by
using the reduced soil stiffness.

This method is also very approximate but it is not as time consuming as the strain potential method. This method
does not consider any inertia effects due to earthquake shaking and can only be used to estimate the dam
deformations due to strong earthquake with short duration. This method can be applied using commercial finite
element/differnce software such as SIGMA/w, PLAXIS or FLAC.
5.2.3 Pseudo-dynamic Method
Based on the work of Byrne (1991), Jitno (1995) developed a method that combines the effects of stiffness
reduction and the inertia forces due to earthquake shaking. This method is essentially an extension of Newmark's
method from a rigid-plastic single-degree-of-freedom system to a flexible multi-degree of- freedom system. In
addition to the softening of the liquefied soil, it takes into account the effects of inertia forces from the
earthquake and the post-liquefaction settlement. The method is based on the concept that the deformation prior
to liquefaction is small and can be neglected compared to those which occur after liquefaction. A key aspect of
the method is the post-liquefaction stress-strain response for which there is now considerable laboratory data
available.
The proposed method employs a pseudo-dynamic finite element method in which the additional displacements
due to liquefaction and inertia forces are accounted for by applying additional forces that satisfy energy
principles. The procedure has been validated by applying it to field case histories involving both onedimensional sloping ground as well as two-dimensional cases. These case histories include the Wildlife and the
Heber Road sites, the Lower and Upper San Fernando dams (Seed et al., 1973), the Mochikoshi tailings dams
(Ishihara, 1984), the La Marquesa and La Palma dams in Chile (De Alba et al., 1988). It was found that the
predicted and observed results in those case histories are in reasonable agreement in terms of both the magnitude
and pattern of displacements.
The method has been working quite well for liquefaction cases due to medium earthquakes but it might
underestimate deformations for liquefaction cases due to bigger earthquakes (magnitude>M8).
5.2.4 Dynamic Runout Method (DRUM)
Tan et al. (2000) developed the Dynamic Runout Method (DRUM) to estimate the run-out distance of an
unstable sliding mass that moves due to its inertia, which normally occurs on cases with drastic strength
reduction (e.g. liquefaction). The DRUM program analyses a series of sliding rigid-body masses, gradually
changing from an initial embankment configuration to a final stable configuration. The driving force acting on
the sliding block is the down slope component of its weight, and the resisting force is the shear strength
resistance along the postulated shear surface.
Using Newtons equation of motion, the unbalanced forces in the initial configuration are used to calculate an
initial acceleration of the initial rigid-body sliding mass. The analysis is then continued in small increments of
time in which the acceleration, velocity, and displacement of the rigid-body sliding mass are computed based on
the available unbalanced forces. At each time increment, the volume/area of the sliding mass is kept the same
(undrained), but the shape is changed to regularize the sliding mass. In the early time increments, when the static
factor of safety is less than 1.0, the acceleration of the mass is positive, which produces increasing velocity and
displacement. As the rigid body is displaced and the resulting equivalent slope flattens, the factor of safety
increases. Eventually the factor of safety exceeds 1.0, after which the acceleration of the mass is negative. The
negative accelerations reduce the velocity of the mass in succeeding time increments, until the velocity is
reduced to zero, at which time movement of the mass stops and the configuration is stable. The method has been
calibrated against two liquefaction case histories the Lower San Fernando (Seed et al., 1973) and La Marquesa
Dam (De Alba et al., 1988), and provided reasonable calculated run-out distance when compared to the observed
distances.

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The DRUM program is applicable only to cases with static factors of safety less than 1.0 and can be used to
estimate only the deformations resulting from the unbalanced static forces. The DRUM program does not
provide an estimate of deformations from the earthquake shaking itself. Consequently, the DRUM program
underestimates the total deformations from earthquake loading. However, because the displacements prior to
liquefaction are generally small, we believe the method can give reasonable estimates on the run-out distance of
earth dams failed due to liquefaction.
5.3
TOTAL STRESS FULLY DYNAMIC ANALYSIS
The method utilises the time history of acceleration as direct input to the analysis. The dynamic analysis is
carried out either in the time domain, or in the frequency domain using an equivalent non-linear method. The
method does not directly analyse the zone of liquefaction for cases involving liquefiable soils as it does not
calculate the pore pressure development during earthquake. The liquefaction zone must be determined separately
either using a simplified approach (Youd et al, 2001) or by carrying out site response analysis such as SHAKE
(Idriss and Sun, 1992), QUAD4 or FLUSH (Lysmer et al., 1975). The procedure can be briefly described as
follows:
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.

Determine the time history of acceleration for a given design earthquake. Selection of the time history of
acceleration depends on the Peak Ground Acceleration (PGA), distance from the earthquake source,
earthquake magnitude and geological condition at the site.
Determine zone of liquefaction within the dam and foundation and estimate the time required (number of
cycles) to cause liquefaction (tliq).
Carry out stress deformation analysis using non-liquefied soil properties for t less than tliq, and use the postliquefaction soil properties for t tliq.
Estimate the settlement due to pore pressure dissipation using the method proposed by Tokimatsu and Seed
(1987) or Ishihara & Yoshimine (1992).
Add the settlement computed from step (4) to the dam deformations computed by steps (1) to (3).

It is usually very time consuming to carry out analysis in the time domain for any finite element programs, as
each digitised earthquake load will be treated as a separate static load and the program must process the matrix
of equations for the entire mesh. Because of this, the commercial finite element programs usually adopt
frequency domain solution to analyse earthquake loads. Examples of the programs that use this method are
PLAXIS and QUAKE/w. For finite difference programs, however, this is not a problem. Both time domain and
frequency domain solutions can be processed relatively fast (e.g. FLAC).
The results of deformation analysis are quite sensitive to the results of liquefaction analysis, which is done
separately using a simplified approach. The results are also sensitive to the estimate of time required to cause
liquefaction. Therefore, although the method and the software are readily available in the marketplace,
judgement must be exercised during the analysis and understanding the soil behaviour under dynamic loading is
required to obtain meaningful results.
5.4
EFFECTIVE STRESS FULLY DYNAMIC ANALYSIS
The effective stress analysis is the most comprehensive approach for estimating dam deformations due to
earthquake loading. The effective stress approach computes pore pressure development during the earthquake
shaking. The method takes into account the strength and stiffness reduction due to pore pressure increase during
the shaking and it is also able to incorporate the residual strength after liquefaction. Post-liquefaction settlement
can be calculated by analysing the pore pressure dissipation after the cessation of earthquake.
There are basically two approaches available:
1.

2.

Uncoupled effective stress approach. The pore pressure response due to earthquake is estimated from an
empirical formula based on the calculated shear-strains during earthquake shaking (Martin, Finn and
Seed, 1975, Byrne, 1991) or from post cyclic laboratory testing. This method has been implemented in
the most recent version of the dynamic FLAC software (Itasca, 2008) and has been used more
extensively in practice.
Coupled effective stress approach. This method utilises the more rigorous approach based on an elastic
plastic stress strain law for the sand skeleton that includes shear- induced plastic volumetric strains. It is
these strains under the constraint of the pore fluid stiffness that generate pore water pressure changes.
Such an approach allows coupled dynamic stress-flow analyses to be carried out in which both
generation and dissipation of pore water pressures and their effects are considered for a specific base
motion.

Fully coupled effective stress approaches have been developed by many researchers including Dafalias (1986),
Prevost (1981, 1989), Zienkiewicz et al. (1990), Byrne et al. (1995), Beaty and Byrne (1999), Elgamal et al.
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(1999), and Kramer and Arduino (1999), and Byrne et al. (2004). At the moment, due to various reasons,
analyses of this level of complexity are relatively rare in practice. An example of the application of this approach
in practice is presented by Jitno (2011) utilising the UBCSAND model developed by Byrne et al. (2004).

TOLERABLE SEISMIC DISPLACEMENTS

The final step in the analysis is to decide if the calculated displacement is tolerable. Ideally, allowable
displacements for analyses should be established from a database in which observed slope displacements from
earthquakes are correlated to damage and loss of integrity in structures associated with the slope displacements.
Unfortunately, however, such data is quite limited or was destroyed when the structure failed, and hence there is
limited empirical data from which to serve as a rational basis for selecting allowable displacements.
Accordingly, allowable displacement levels are established from engineering judgment. Some of the parameters
to be considered are as follows:

Maintaining freeboard - The freeboard will control how much settlement is allowable without
overtopping after the earthquake.
Filter thickness - This will govern how much lateral deformation is allowed before the filter protection
is disrupted by cracking leading to potential piping problems through the embankment.
Thickness of core - In old dams, a relatively narrow puddle clay core may extend into the foundation,
where the liquefiable layers are found. If the dam core is sheared during earthquake, the risk of piping
though dam foundation will increase.
Stability assessment if the deformation analysis comes to equilibrium with movement stabilising after
shaking has ceased, then the model indicates an uncontrolled flow failure has not occurred. On the other
hand, if the model continues to deform after shaking or can not converge during shaking, flow failure is
indicated. As a rule of thumb with FLAC, if the maximum lateral displacement remains below about 3
m to 4 m and is stable, then flow failure would not be expected.

APPLICATIONS OF THE SEISMIC DEFORMATION ANALYSIS METHODS


IN AUSTRALIA

The methods discussed above have been applied to assess the seismic stability of a number of dams in Australia
and New Zealand. The following case history is presented to give an example on the use of available seismic
stability assessment methods. Over the last 10 years, URS Australia has applied the total and effective stress
dynamic analyses for assessing seismic deformations of several dams, whose foundations are prone to potential
liquefaction concerns (eg. Yarrawonga Weir, Waranga Basin, Lance Creek and Hindmarsh Valley). In this
paper, one case history from Victoria (Davidson et al., 2003) will be presented.
7.1
DAM GEOMETRY
Yarrawonga Weir is located approximately 240 km north of Melbourne, on the River Murray near Yarrawonga
at the Victoria/New South Wales border. The weir was constructed in the 1930's and consists of a southern
(main) embankment, a northern embankment and concrete regulating structures at the north and south of the
facility. The southern (main) embankment is a zoned earthfill structure approximately 7 m high and extends for a
length of about 275 m. The embankment has a centrally located steel sheet pile cutoff wall that extends from RL
123.1 m to bedrock and is encased in a clay core which extends from just below the crest to the base of the
embankment. The remainder of the embankment generally comprises a low plasticity silty clay fill material that
has been placed with side slopes of 4H:1V. The embankments are founded on alluvial soils comprised of clean
sands and clayey / sandy silt overlying stiff clays and then siltstone / sandstone bedrock.
7.2
SEISMIC HAZARD ASSESSMENT
The site specific seismic hazard assessment comprised several tasks, including data review and collection, fault
mapping and trenching, earthquake source characterisation, ground motion attenuation, probabilistic seismic
hazard analysis (PSHA) and ground motion assessment. A probabilistic seismic hazard analysis (PSHA) was
performed for Yarrawonga Weir, using the refined source characterisation and the recently developed ground
motion attenuation relations proposed by Sadigh et al. (1997), Idriss (1994) and Toro et al. (1997). The resultant
average seismic hazard curve (Figure 10) illustrates the increase in ground motion level with increasing
earthquake recurrence interval.

76

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Average Peak Ground Acceleration (PGA, g)

10

0.1

0.01

0.001
1

10

100

1000

10000

100000

Return Period (Years)

Figure 10: Probabilistic seismic hazard for Yarrawonga Weir


Based on the ANCOLD (1998) and the New South Wales Dams Safety Committee guidelines, the appropriate
design seismic loading depends on the downstream population at risk and the expected level of damage should
the dam fail. After conducting a dam-break analysis that considered the likely consequences of each mode of
failure, the Maximum Design Earthquake (MDE) for the ogee crest was assigned the 1:1000 AEP while the
remainder of the structures and embankment were assigned a 1:5000 AEP.
De-aggregation analysis was used to identify the earthquake magnitude and distance combination most likely to
contribute to a given level of acceleration at each site. The results indicated that the largest contribution to the
seismic hazard (measured by the 2.5 Hz spectral acceleration) comes from the earthquakes located on average at
least 53 km from the site for Operating Basis Earthquake (OBE) events (Mw 6.2), and at least 25 km for MDE
events (Mw 6.4).
Table 1. Site Specific Seismic Hazard Study Results for Yarrawonga Weir embankment
Earthquake

OBE

MDE

AEP

1:475

1:5,000

Magnitude, Mw
Distance (km)
Peak Ground Acceleration (g)

6.2
53
0.07

6.4
25
0.28


On the basis of the earthquake distance, magnitude and the shear wave velocity of the top 30 m of the soil/rock
layer (vs30), time history of ground motions were selected from the Griffith Park record of the 1971 San
Fernando earthquake and scaled to match the response spectra for Yarrawonga Weir, for both OBE and MDE.
These ground motion parameters were used as the design basis for seismic analysis of Yarrawonga Weir
embankment.
7.3
LIQUEFACTION ASSESSMENT
Geotechnical investigations including numerous sampled drill holes, test pits and CPT soundings revealed two
layers of recent alluvial, fine to medium sand (SP), identified as 2A and 2C with corrected SPT blow counts N =
2 to 13, within the foundation. Results of liquefaction assessment based on Seed method outlined in ANCOLD
guidelines (1998) indicate that these layers were susceptible to liquefaction, even under OBE earthquake loading
conditions. Figure 11 illustrates the typical embankment section showing geotechnical profile beneath the
embankment.

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20

30

40

50

60

70

80

90

100

110

120

130

140
150

150
145

Elevation (m)

140
135
130

Reservoir level 124.90 m


1B

125
120

140
135
130
125

1A

120

2A

2A
2B

115

145

1A, 1B : EMBANKMENT FILL


2A : ALLUVIAL SAND, LOOSE
2B : ALLUVIAL CLAY SANDY SILT
2C : ALLUVIAL SAND
2D : SHEPARTON FORMATION CLAY

115

2C

110

110

2D

105

BEDROCK

105

100
20

30

40

50

60

70

80

90

100

110

120

130

100
140

Distance (m)

Figure 11. Typical embankment section showing zones of liquefiable materials.


Interbedded clayey silt and sandy silt (layer 2B) was found between the two clean sand layers 2A and 2C. This
layer contained some relatively soft and loose zones which would experience strength loss on shaking. These
alluvial layers are underlain by Shepparton formation clays (layer 2D), which were generally of medium to high
plasticity clay (CH) of a stiff to hard consistency. The siltstone/sandstone bedrock was found under this layer.
The embankment fill (layer 1A and 1B) was typically comprised of low plasticity clay, although a thin layer of
loose sand was encountered upstream at several locations.
The analysis indicated that layer 2A (loose sand) located at the downstream and upstream embankment is
liquefiable under both OBE and MDE. The Factors of Safety against liquefaction (FOSL) for each layer under
MDE are presented in Table 2.
7.4
SEISMIC STABILITY ASSESSMENT
The OBE and MDE earthquake loadings were used to assess the post earthquake performance of the
embankment by using limit equilibrium analysis. The stability analysis was performed on sections RD 300, RD
345 and RD 405. Section RD 345 was identified in earlier work as the overall critical foundation section for the
embankment. The phreatic surface adopted was obtained from seepage analysis with the downstream water table
set to approximately two metres below ground level (119 m AHD). The post-earthquake soil strengths were
determined based on the results of liquefaction assessment. For liquefiable sand layers (FOS against liquefaction,
FOSL 1.0), the post-earthquake undrained strength was assigned an undrained strength ratio (Su/vo)
according to the chart proposed by Stark and Mesri (1992). For sand layers with FOSL >1.0, the undrained
strength ratio was estimated based on the pore pressure development due to shaking, using the chart proposed by
Seed and Harder (1990). The non liquefiable sand layers were assigned undrained strength ratio equal to the
tangent of their drained friction angle (Su/vo=tan ). Summary of the post-earthquake soil strength properties
used in the analysis are presented in Table 2, and the results of post earthquake stability and seismic deformation
analyses are shown in Figure 12 and Figure 13.
Table 2. Post-earthquake Soil Strength Parameters used in the analysis under MDE loading.
Soil Type
2A-dry-D/S
2A-sat-loose-D/S
2A-sat-loose-U/S
2A-sat-MD-U/S
2B-D/S
2B-U/S
2C

78

FOS against
liquefaction, FOSL
Dry (NL)
0.47
0.41
1.15
0.95
1.21
2.90 (NL)

(N1)60-cs

Su/ vo

24
6
10
22
15
21
29

0.70
0.04
0.05
0.34
0.08
0.32
0.70

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150

20

30

40

50

60

70

80

90

100

110

120

130

145

145

140

Elevation (m)

140
150

140

FOS = 0.733

135

135

130

130

125

125

120

120

115

115

110

110

105

105

100

20

30

40

50

60

70

80

90

100

110

120

130

100
140

Distance (m)

Figure 12: Results of post earthquake stability analysis of embankment under MDE loading.
Pre-remedial work geometry.
For pre-remedial works geometry, the post MDE stability and deformation of the embankments was
unacceptable and catastrophic failure of the embankments and loss of the reservoir was predicted. The
computed post earthquake undrained stability factor of safety was significantly less than unity (FOS=0.7),
indicating that the residual strength is much less than the driving stress and excessive deformation was predicted
in the model.

Figure 13. Results of FLAC total stress dynamic deformation analysis under MDE loading. Pre-remedial work
geometry. Displacement pattern and magnitude of deformations.
As can be seen in Figure 13, the upstream crest moved about 3.4 m and the downstream crest only moved about
3.0 m, suggesting tension cracks would have developed at the dam crest. The crest also settled about 1.3 m at the
downstream and only 0.8 m at the upstream. The large deformations experienced by the dam reduced the driving
stress to some degree but the residual strength was still lower than the driving stress, causing the dam to keep
deforming. The time deformation plot shown in Figure 14 demonstrates that the deformations do not stabilise
with time after the cessation of earthquake indicating a potential for an uncontrolled breach and release of the
storage.

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Input Acceleration - g

EARTHQUAKE-INDUCED DISPLACEMENTS OF EARTH DAMS AND EMBANKMENTS


JITNO & DAVIDSON

0.3

-0.3
0

10

20

Time - sec

30

40

50

4000

3500

Horisoantal Displacement - mm

3000

2500

2000

1500

Figure 14: Plot of horizontal deformation vs. time obtained from the results of FLAC total stress dynamic
1000
deformation analysis. Pre-remedial work geometry.
7.5
EMBANKMENT REMEDIAL WORKS DESIGN
The primary criterion for the
design of remedial works for the embankment was to increase stability under
500
earthquake loading conditions. The selection of a FOS was dependent upon the level of uncertainty with regard
Pointembankment
B
to embankment and foundation design parameters, as well as uncertainty about
performance. Under
OBE loading, the embankment must be able to sustain shaking without loss
of
serviceability,
and under MDE
Point C
loading, the embankment should0withstand shaking without uncontrolled loss of storage.

Point D

Since no filters were present in the original embankment, two stage filters were incorporated in the design of the
downstream stabilising berm. The filters were designed to be compatible with the clay core and the embankment
fill to prevent piping of the -500
embankment materials and crack migration, particularly where seismically-induced
tension cracks of the core or embankment
fill is expected
to be most20
severe.
0
10
30
40
There were several key constraints on the embankment construction:

80

Time - sec

The storage had to remain in operation at full supply level for most of the construction period, with a
draw down of the storage only possible in the 2002 winter period towards the end of the first year of
construction. The available duration of the draw down was limited to about ten weeks.
For dam safety reasons the downstream embankment construction had to be completed before the
upstream works could be constructed.
The construction could not adversely affect the riverine environment and construction methods had to
meet planning guidelines and community expectations, as the construction site was located within a
sizeable rural centre.

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The following remedial works were implemented to upgrade the embankments to satisfy the above design
criteria:

Foundation improvement beneath the embankment both upstream and downstream;


Construction of a downstream stabilising berm and an upstream rock blanket;
Installation of a filter layer into the new downstream stabilising berm and within the embankment
transition zones adjacent to the regulating structures, to reduce the risk of post-earthquake piping of
embankment materials and
Addition of erosion protection blocks on the upstream and downstream face of the embankment.

Because of the requirement that full supply level must be maintained during remedial works, an innovative
foundation improvement program at the upstream of the dam was adopted as shown in Figure 15.

Figure 15: Upgraded embankment design section.


Several options were considered for the foundation improvement included (1) excavation and replacement of the
liquefiable foundation materials, (2) construction of stone columns, (3) jet grouting and (4) both deep and
shallow soil mixing of the foundation materials. Stone columns were finally selected because of their ability to
increase the density of the loose foundation soils, to drain excess pore pressures during earthquake shaking, and
to add composite strength and stiffness from the compacted gravel. There also were several successful
precedents in Australia and overseas (Davidson and Perez, 1984; Hayden and Welch, 1991).
A series of geotechnical analyses was carried out to confirm satisfactory performance of the upgraded
embankment against seepage, stability, static and seismic deformation criteria. Stability analyses provided a
post earthquake stability factor of safety in excess of the required 1.3 (Figure 16) and maximum seismic lateral
deformation of less than 200 mm (Figure 17) except for some localised deformations (slumping) at the
downstream toe of the stabilising berm.
150

20

30

40

50

60

140
150

145

145

Elevation (m)

140

70

80

90

100

110

120

130

140

FOS =1.333

135

135

130

130

125

125

120

120

115

115

110

110

105

105

100
20

30

40

50

60

70

80

90

100

110

Distance (m)

120

130

100
140

Figure 16: Results of post earthquake stability analysis of embankment under MDE loading.
Upgraded embankment.

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Figure 17: Results of FLAC total stress dynamic deformation analysis under MDE loading. Upgraded
embankment. Displacement pattern and magnitude of deformations.
The proposed remedial work was implemented and constructed successfully, within budget and time. Details of
the soil improvement process and the other aspects of the seismic upgrade at Yarrawonga Weir are provided in
the paper by Davidson et al. (2003).

SUMMARY

Several methods to estimate seismic deformations of earth dams have been presented. The available methods
range from the simple one-dimensional Newmark or Makdisi-Seed analysis to complex two-dimensional
effective stress dynamic analysis, which considers the development of pore water pressures with earthquake
shaking. Each of the methods has been briefly discussed and limitations of the method have been highlighted.
The practice of earthquake engineering is evolving and is not without significant controversy at present.
However, the methods discussed in this paper can provide the design engineer and dam owner with some
confidence in tackling this most difficult geotechnical engineering challenge.
An example has been provided where a process including liquefaction assessment, post earthquake stability
analysis and total stress dynamic analysis has been successfully applied in a significant dam safety seismic
upgrade project in Victoria. The dynamic analyses were very useful in providing an indication of possible flow
failure, crack development during the shaking and the potential for loss of freeboard in a critical irrigation
control structure on the River Murray. The method was also very useful to assess the most efficient remedial
method that satisfies all the imposed requirements from the community and the client (e.g. the remedial work
must be carried out with the lake level at full supply level most of the time).

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

The authors would like to express their sincere gratitude to G-MW (Goulburn-Murray Water) and the MDBA
(Murray Darling Basin Authority) for the permission to publish information on the seismic upgrade of the
Yarrawonga Weir. G-MW manages the Weir on behalf of the Murray Darling Basin Authority.

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