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Dr Martin Wieland investigates
hydrodynamic pressures in penstocks,
bottom outlets, plugs of diversion tunnels
and gates of intake structures and spillways
caused by earthquakes

ENSTOCKS, plugs of diversion tunnels, gates in bottom Damage and failure of buried water and gas mains has been
outlets, intake structures and spillways, valves and other caused by quite a number of earthquakes. The vulnerability of these
hydromechanical components of the pressurised water system lifelines is not a new phenomenon. However, the implications of
in hydro power plants have rarely been designed for the these observations may not yet have been fully realised elsewhere.
hydrodynamic pressures, which may be caused during a strong earth- Penstocks and gates of hydro power plants are not intrinsically safe
quake. In general the hydrodynamic pressure according to Westergaard against earthquakes. Earthquakes can cause damage to penstocks
is assumed. This assumption is acceptable for gates of surface spillways, by different mechanisms as discussed below:
but not for gates located in tunnels or valves in large diameter penstocks. • Hydrodynamic pressures due to ground shaking: The magnitude
Although no case is known where a penstock has failed or been of the pressure depends on the response spectrum of the ground
damaged during a strong earthquake, the question of earthquake shaking and the natural period of the oscillating mass in the
safety still has to be addressed. As earthquakes affect all components pressurised water system.
of a hydro power plant, hydrodynamic actions also have to be checked • Relative displacements along active faults.
for all hydromechanical components. It may be argued that in the • Support movements due to earthquake-triggered slides.
pressurised water system the water hammer is already investigated • Rock falls on penstocks on the surface in steep terrain.
and the emergency shut-down of a penstock may cause the maximum • Dynamic forces in penstock due to support movements and
hydrodynamic pressures. As discussed in the subsequent sections, the deformations of rigid anchor points.
hydrodynamic pressures due to valve regulation are larger than those • Dynamic soil pressures in buried penstocks; imposed (quasi-static)
due to earthquakes in long penstocks or pressure tunnels with a deformations due to soil liquefaction, differential settlements and
natural period of vibration of the water of several seconds. However, creep movements of slopes, etc.
in relatively short penstocks with fundamental eigenfrequency of the It is evident from the above list that the seismic actions, which can
oscillating water mass in the range of the dominant frequencies of the cause damage to a penstock, cover a wide spectrum. To ignore the
earthquake ground motion, the situation may be the opposite. earthquake action because it may not have been considered in the

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Anticlockwise from above: Figure 1: Rock falls caused by 1990 Manjil earth-
quake at Sefid Rud buttress dam site: access road to dam crest littered with
rocks (inset), and overturning of first transmission line tower due to rock fall;
Figure 2: Punctured fuel pipeline due to rock fall caused by 1990 Manjil
earthquake in Iran
Figure 3: Horizontal sliding bearings of the Trans Alaska pipeline at the Denali
fault crossing
Figure 4: Leakage from damaged gate of intermediate level spillway of Sefid Rud
buttress dam following the 1990 Manjil earthquake in Iran (radial gates not visible)

example, during the 1990 Manjil earthquake in Iran, one of the two
radial gates of the intermediate level spillway of the Sefid Rud
buttress dam was damaged due to hydrodynamic forces resulting
from a mass oscillation of the relatively short intake tunnel. One of
the arms of the radial gates buckled and one of the trunnion plates
cracked (Jalalzadeh, 2000). Due to the deformations, the damaged
gate could not be operated after the earthquake and was leaking.
So what should be done in order to improve the seismic safety of
a penstock? First, it is necessary to identify the type of seismic hazard
(see list on p18) and the weak elements in a penstock.Such checks
are not very costly and it is worthwhile to perform them in the
context of an overall safety assessment involving other hazards from
the natural and man-made environment.
In order to minimise the potential damage in the case of failure of
a penstock, the proper functioning of valves during and after an
earthquake must be guaranteed. Thus, the seismic safety of these
devices shall be carefully checked and assessed.
The rock fall and landslide hazard is best assessed together with an
past would not be an acceptable argument. Also, to simply declare experienced geologist, who is familiar with the local conditions. The best
the earthquake action on a penstock as an acceptable risk, does not protection of a penstock against rock falls is by burying the penstock.
comply with today’s state of knowledge practice, particularly in view Anchor points in potentially unstable slopes need special solutions.
of the fact that rather sophisticated dynamic analyses are already Of course, the best solution would be to avoid such locations.
carried out for the seismic design of dams. However, for high head penstocks in the mountains, the slopes are
In mountainous regions the main hazard is from rock falls and mass generally very steep with slope angles up to 45°, which exceeds the
movements. For example, during the 1999 Chi-Chi earthquake in friction angle of the slope wash or the weathered rock, therefore, the
Taiwan (magnitude 7.5) and the 1990 Manjil earthquake in Iran (mag- slope stability of supports is a general problem. Earthquake damage
nitude 7.6) several thousand rock falls have occurred (Figures 1 and 2). can be accepted when, due to the release of the water in the penstock,
Therefore, rock falls and mass movements have to be expected and people are not affected and damage to the environment and
appropriate action shall be taken in the design of penstocks (soil cover, property is limited and the economical losses can be covered by
concrete protection, pressure shaft instead of surface penstock etc.). insurance. Earthquake alarm systems, which allow the automatic
Fault crossings may require special solutions, as shown in the shut-down of a penstock and the installation of additional valves in
examples in Figure 3, where the Trans Alaska pipeline is crossing long penstocks, may be more effective than designing a penstock for
the Denali fault. During the magnitude 7.9 Denali earthquake of 3 the worst seismic actions (Griesser et al., 2004).
November 2002, significant horizontal fault movements occurred In the subsequent sections the earthquake-induced hydrodynamic
at this location. Due to the sliding bearings, the fault movements pressures in penstocks are discussed, which for low head schemes
could be absorbed without major damage and with a very short can greatly exceed the hydrostatic pressures. These pressures may
interruption of the pipeline operation (Sorenson and Meyer, 2003). not only jeopardise the safety of the penstock but also the gates and
Besides the penstocks, the gates of spillways, bottom outlets, valves located in relatively short intake tunnels and penstocks,
intakes etc. can also be affected by high hydrodynamic forces. This respectively. Moreover, the plugs in closed diversion tunnels may
is the case when the gate is located in a pressure tunnel or shaft. For experience very high hydrodynamic forces during an earthquake.

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The hydrodynamic pressures in penstocks can be characterised by the
one-dimensional wave equation, which can be expressed as follows:


where c is the wave propagation velocity of a pressure wave in an
elastic pipe (depending on the flexibility of the pipe and the
embedment, c varies between ca. 1000 to1300m/s), subscripts ‘t’
and ‘x’ denote partial derivation with respect to time and space, x
is the coordinate along the pipe axis and u(x,t) is the time-dependent
displacement of the elastic fluid in direction of the pipe axis.
In case of an earthquake ground acceleration üg(t) in direction of
the pipe axis, the relative acceleration utt has to be replaced by the
total acceleration, which is the sum of the ground acceleration and
the relative acceleration, i.e. the wave equation takes the following
Fig. 5: Typical acceleration response spectra (5% damping) for a peak ground
acceleration agd (return period: 475 years) and different soil types A (rock) to
F according to Eurocode 8 (2004)

The hydrodynamic pressure, p(x,t), can be obtained from the following üg(t): ground acceleration in direction of pipe axis.
relationship, assuming the fluid in the pipe being an elastic material:
The eigenfrequencies of the pressure system are as follows:
where E = ␳ c2 represents the equivalent modulus of elasticity of the
water and the elastic pipe and ␳ is the mass density of water (1000 The fundamental frequency (n=1) can be taken as f1 = c/(4L).
In a penstock with the length L, which is closed at one end and The maximum of u n(t) can be obtained directly from the
terminates at the surface of a reservoir or surge chamber, the acceleration response spectrum, Sa(fn, ␰n), i.e.
hydrodynamic pressure due to a ground excitation can be determined
with the mode superposition method (Clough and Penzien, 1975). (11)
Accordingly, the modes of vibration Xn(x) (subscript n denotes the
n-th mode) can be expressed as follows (note: x = 0 at the free surface Using equation 3 the hydrodynamic pressure at the fixed end (x = L)
end of the pipe): of the n-th mode of vibration can be obtained in an analogous way.

(4) (12)

The modes of vibration satisfy the following orthogonality relationship: By substituting equation 11 and the expressions for fn and dn in
equation 12, we obtain the following maximum n-th pressure at the
fixed end of the pipe:

The total hydrodynamic pressure at the closed end of the pipe can
Using u(x,t) = ∑ Xn(x) un(t) we obtain from equation 4 be obtained by using the the following standard superposition
method (SRSS-method) for the modal maxima:
where un(t) represents the n-th modal coordinate.
By substituting equation 6 into equation 2, multiplication with If only the contribution of the first mode is taken into account then
Xn(x), introduction of a viscous damping term and integration along we obtain the following maximum hydrodynamic pressure at the
ther whole pipeline, the following equations of motion result: fixed end:

(7) (15)

where ␰n: n-th damping ratio In case of a pipe (or tunnel) filled with an incompressible fluid where
␻n: n-th circular frequency of oscillating fluid in pipe in rad/s the flexibility of the pipe is not accounted for, we obtain


(8) where ao is the peak ground acceleration. This means the total mass
in the pipe (or tunnel) behaves like a rigid body and the maximum
dn: n-th modal partizipation factor, inertia force is equal the total mass of water in the pipe of length L
multiplied with the peak ground acceleration.
The ratio between the maximum hydrodynamic pressures of the
compressible and incompressible fluid, characterised by K, can be
(9) determined as follows:

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for soil type A and a vibration period of 3.64 s (spectrum value:
0.264 for 5% damping). For an undamped pressure oscillation the
5% damped response spectrum has to be multiplied by ␩ = 1.414
according to equation 18. Therefore, we obtain

p1,max = 8 x 1000 kg/m3 x 1000 m x 1.414 x 0.264 x 3 m/s2
/ 3.142 = 0.91 MPa or 9.1 bar
This maximum hydrodynamic pressure is independent of the head
or the average slope of the penstock. Therefore, for high head
penstocks with a hydrostatic pressure of several MPa’s, a maximum
dynamic pressure of about 1 MPa is not a serious concern. However,
for low head penstocks with static pressures in the order of the
dynamic pressure – this applies mainly to pipes in relatively flat
terrain – the hydrodynamic pressure has to be checked carefully. For
penstocks with a length of say 3000m the natural period of
vibration is three times that of the 1000 m long one and increases
to 10.9 s. For this period the spectrum acceleration drops to
roughly 1/9 of that of the 1000m long pipe as the tail of the response
spectrum is proportional to one over the square of the period. This
results in a hydrodynamic pressure of ca. 0.1 MPa or 1 bar.
The maximum hydrodynamic pressure of the second mode of
vibration (n=2) with a period of vibration of T2 = 4L/(3c) = 1.212 s
can be determined from equation 13 (spectrum value for 1.212 s for
soil type A in Fig. 5: 0.825):
p2,max = 8 x 1000 kg/m3 x 1000 m x 1.414 x 0.825 x 3 m/s2
Fig. 6: Typical examples of short penstocks in an arch dam (Bhumiphol dam, /(9 x 3.142) = 0.32 MPa (3.2 bar)
Thailand, above) and rockfill dam (Atatürk dam, Turkey, above, top)
Similarly, for the third mode of vibration we obtain (period of
vibration: 0.727 s, spectrum value: 1.375):
p3,max = 8 x 1000 kg/m3 x 1000 m x 1.414 x 1.375 x 3 m/s2
If the design response spectra shown in Figure 5 are used, then the
maximum spectrum amplification factor for the absolute acceleration /(25 x 3.142) = 0.19 MPa (1.9 bar)
s = Sa,max/a0 varies between 2.5 (soil type A: rock) and 3.5 (soil type
E) for a damping ratio of 5%. However, the damping ratio of the From these numerical values it can be seen that the maximum hydro-
pressure oscillations in a penstock is usually less than 5%. For seismic dynamic pressures decrease with increasing mode number despite the
design purposes a damping ratio of about 2% may be assumed. The fact that the response spectrum is still increasing for periods down to
effect of the damping ratio on the elastic acceleration response 0.4 s. This is due to the fact that the hydrodynamic pressures are
spectra can be approximated by the following correction factor inversely proportional to (2n-1)2, where n is the mode number.
(Eurocode 8, 2004): Finally the total hydrodynamic pressure has to be calculated using
the SRSS superposition of the modal maxima according to equation
(18) 14. Thus for the first three modes we obtain:
2 2 2 1/2
The response spectra for 5% damping have to be multiplied by the ptot = (0.91 + 0.32 + 0.19 ) = 0.98 MPa (9.8 bar)
above factor for periods exceeding 0.15 s (soil type A). In the case
of an undamped pressure oscillation, we obtain ␩ = 1.414. By comparing the total hydrodynamic pressure of the first three
Therefore, for a rock foundation (s = 2.5) we obtain a maximum modes with that of the first mode we can note that the total pressure
K-value of 2.9 (equation 17) for the undamped penstock. This is only 8% larger than that of the first mode contribution. In view
means that the maximum hydrodynamic pressure in a compressible of the different assumptions made, this is a negligible difference.
liquid in a penstock can be more than twice as large as in an Therefore, for most applications it is sufficient to include only the
incompressible one. In the case of soil type E (s = 3.5) we obtain a contribution of the first mode.
maximum value of K of 8x3.5x1.41/3.142 = 4.0.
If a pressure tunnel is located in the body of a massive concrete
dam (e.g. orifice spillway in arch dam) then the hydrodynamic pres- E XAMPLE 2: 130 M LONG PRESSURE TUNNEL
sure must be calculated using the so-called floor response spectrum Determine the maximum hydrodynamic pressure in a 130m long
at the location of the pressure tunnel rather than the acceleration pressure tunnel with the following properties: rock site with a peak
response spectrum of the ground motion. ground acceleration of 0.3g (3m/s2); wave propagation velocity in
the elastic pipe of c=1300m/s, damping ratio of 5%, mass density
of water of 1000kg/m3. The fundamental period of vibration
E XAMPLE 1: 1000 M LONG PENSTOCK according to equation 10 is T1 = 1/f1 = 4L/c = 0.4 s. The maximum
Determine the maximum hydrodynamic pressure in a 1000 m long hydrodynamic pressure of the first mode of vibration is obtained
penstock with the following properties: rock site with a peak ground from equation 15 using the response spectrum shown in Figure 5
acceleration of 0.3 g (3m/s2); wave propagation velocity in the for soil type A and a vibration period of 0.4 s (spectrum value: 2.5
elastic pipe of c=1100 m/s, damping ratio of 0%, mass density of for 5% damping). Therefore, we obtain
water of 1000 kg/m3. The fundamental period of vibration according
to equation 10 is T 1 = 1/f 1 = 4L/c = 3.64 s. The maximum pmax = 8 x 1000 kg/m3 x 130 m x 2.5 x 3 m/s2 / 3.142 =
hydrodynamic pressure of the first mode of vibration is obtained
from equation 15 using the response spectrum shown in Figure 5 0.79 MPa (7.9 bar)

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The maximum hydrodynamic pressure is of the same order as that • The high hydrodynamic pressures act during a relatively short
of the 1000m long penstock in Example 1. If zero damping would period of time, i.e. for a sinusoidal oscillation with a period of 5 s
be assumed then the maximum hydrodynamic pressure would reach the duration of high dynamic pressures is roughly 2 s in each cycle.
11.2 bar, which is more than that in Example 1. For short penstocks • In the case of extreme events with very low probability of occurrence
with small head or gates and plugs in relatively short tunnels, this average strength values may be taken into account together with
dynamic pressure is quite important. The example is selected in such load and safety factors of 1.0 if no specific regulations and guidelines
a way that for the given response spectrum the hydrodynamic pressure exist for such design situations.
would become a maximum, i.e. if the pressure tunnel is longer or • Local plastification in ductile steel elements is acceptable as long
shorter than 130m then the hydrodynamic pressure will decrease. as the safety-relevant gates are still operable after the earthquake.
The contributions of the higher modes of vibration play a smaller This applies mainly to structural elements subjected to high
role in this example than in Example 1 as the spectrum values of the flexural stresses where, e.g., a small plastified zone in a flange does
rock response spectrum do not increase further if the periods of not cause any significant deformations, which would impair the
vibration decrease to below 0.4 s (in Example 2 the spectrum values serviceability of a gate.
of the 2nd and 3rd modes were larger than those of the 1st mode).. Using the above concepts – if applicable - then penstocks or gates,
In an incompressible pipe or tunnel the maximum hydrodynamic which have been designed for a safety factor of 1.8 should also be
pressure acting on a gate or valve is given by equation 16. able to cope with the increased stresses due to earthquake-induced
Accordingly in Example 1 we get a maximum dynamic pressure of hydrodynamic pressures. In any case a check of the seismic stresses
and deformations is necessary.
pmax = 1000 kg/m3 x 1000 m x 3 m/s2 = 3 MPa (30 bar)
and in Example 2 we obtain C ONCLUSIONS
Penstocks and other elements of the pressurised water system in hydro
pmax = 1000 kg/m3 x 130 m x 3 m/s2 = 0.39 MPa (3.9 bar). power plants have seldom been designed for earthquake action.
Earthquakes can cause substantial hydrodynamic forces in penstocks
We have to keep in mind that the slope of a penstock or pressure and pressure tunnels. Depending on foundation conditions (soil type)
tunnel does not have any effect on the maximum hydrodynamic and length of a penstock or pressure tunnel the maximum hydro-
pressure caused by an earthquake. dynamic pressures are up to 1 MPa for a peak ground acceleration
Furthermore, during pressure oscillation no negative pressures are of 0.3g. These dynamic pressures are not a problem for high head
possible. If such pressures are calculated based on the linear analysis penstocks in steep terrain as they amount to less than 20% of the
presented above then nonlinear processes would change the nature hydrostatic pressures in a penstock with a head of 500m. However,
of the oscillations. These phenomena are not discussed in this paper. in pipes in rather flat terrain with low head, the maximum
hydrodynamic pressures can be of the same magnitude as the
hydrostatic ones.
CONCLUSIONS DRAWN FROM NUMERICAL EXAMPLES High dynamic pressures are also expected in short pressure tunnels
Based on the above illustrative numerical examples the following located within the body of a dam, where at the location of the tunnel
conclusions may be drawn regarding the hydrodynamic pressures: a higher acceleration response is expected than on the ground.
• The hydrodynamic pressures in short penstocks (typical situation: However, the main seismic hazard for long surface penstocks in
dam with power house at the base of the dam, see Figure 6) and short mountainous regions results from mass movements and rock falls.
pressure tunnels can be quite high during strong earthquake In steep terrain large numbers of rock falls can be triggered by strong
shaking. In this case resonance-like pressure oscillations can devel- earthquakes. This was, for example, the case during strong
op under earthquake shaking, i.e. the lowest eigenfrequency of the earthquakes in Taiwan (1999) and Iran (1990).
pressurised water system is in the range of the dominant frequencies The analysis procedure discussed in this paper can be used to
of ground shaking. In this case the assumption of an incompressible determine the maximum hydrodynamic pressures in penstocks at
fluid leads to an underestimate of the hydrodynamic pressures. the location of closed valves, the dynamic pressures acting on valves,
• In penstocks with a length of several hundred meters, the lowest gates and plugs installed in penstocks, pressure tunnels and
eigenfrequency of the pressurised water system is far below the diversion tunnels respectively. IWP & DC
dominant frequencies of ground shaking. In this case the maximum
hydrodynamic pressures in a compressible fluid are below those
of an incompressible fluid. Dr. Martin Wieland, Chairman, ICOLD Committee on
• The contributions of higher modes of vibration of the pressurised Seismic Aspects of Dam Design, Electrowatt-Ekono Ltd.
water system are relatively small and may be neglected. (Jaakko Pöyry Group), Hardturmstrasse 161, CH-8037
• The maximum hydrodynamic pressures depend on the shape of Zurich, Switzerland
the acceleration response spectrum. In the case of long penstocks
the fundamental period of vibration is of the order of several Tel. 076 356 28 62; Fax 044 355 55 61; E-mail:
seconds, which is beyond that of most buildings and bridges. Thus martin.wieland@ewe.ch
spectrum values result, which are rather low. Moreover, the design
response spectra given in building codes may be rather inaccurate References
in that range of periods. Therefore, the design response spectra Clough R.W., Penzien J. (1975): Dynamics of structures, McGraw-Hill, Inc., USA
used for such analyses have to be reviewed carefully. Eurocode 8 (2004): Design of structures for earthquake resistance, Part 2:
Bridges, European Standard, prEN 1998-2:200X, Draft 5, June 2004
PENSTOCKS AND GATES IN PRESSURE TUNNELS Griesser L., Wieland M, Walder R. (2004): Earthquake detection and safety
system for oil pipelines, Pipeline & Gas Journal, December
In the seismic design and safety check of penstocks and gates and
valves in pressure tunnels, the following items have to be taken into Jalalzadeh A.A., Fouladi N.C. (2000): Measures on gated spillway of
Sefidrud and Marun dams – case studies, Q.79-R.37, Proc. 20th Int.
Congress on Large Dams, ICOLD, Beijing, China, September 19-22, 2000
• The design earthquake (DE) or safety evaluation earthquake (SEE)
occurs very seldom, i.e. every 475 years when the DE is used. Sorenson S.P., Meyer K.J. (2003): Effect of the Denali Fault Rupture on the
However, for safety-relevant elements like the bottom outlet, which Trans-Alaska Pipeline, Proc. Sixth U.S. Conference and Workshop on
Lifeline Earthquake Engineering, ASCE Technical Council on Lifeline
must function after an earthquake, the SEE with a return period
Earthquake Engineering, Long Beach, CA, August
of say 10,000 years has to be taken into account.