Seismic imaging for improving flood defence management

Lead Research Organisation: Queen's University Belfast
Department Name: Sch of Natural and Built Environment


Partners: Environment Agency, Canal & River Trust, Northern Ireland Water/Aecom, RSK

Challenge: Our partners collectively own over 10,000km of water retaining earthworks (embankments/dams), which protect large areas of the UK from flooding. Recent effects of extreme weather on UK earthworks have highlighted their vulnerability to climate change with numerous failures reported across a range of infrastructure networks. Given that climatic variations are projected to become more extreme, developing and maintaining resilient infrastructure is essential to our partners and all UK geotechnical asset owners.
Early identification of poor/deteriorating earthwork condition is essential for cost effective maintenance and prevention of hazardous and expensive failures. Current earthwork condition assessment practice is, however, usually based on visual observations with little/no information available on their underlying internal condition. This project will demonstrate an innovative geophysical approach, using seismic surface waves (SW), for non-invasively assessing internal earthwork condition, while also adapting the outputs to ensure compatibility with our partner's management systems. This approach will support asset management decisions, including, for example, maintenance prioritisation; selection/configuration of monitoring works and selection/targeting of interventions. The speed of SW data acquisition, high spatial coverage and relative low-cost of these measurements will remove key barriers to preventative management.

Aims/Objectives: This project aims to translate the findings from a recent EPSRC project "GEOCARE" to asset owners/managers of water retaining earthworks that protect the UK from flooding. The objectives (O) and supporting activities (A) are:

O) Demonstrate an innovative approach for assessing internal earthwork condition.
A) SW data will be acquired at selected partner sites and will be used to derive 2D/3D asset condition models.

O) Adapt this technology to ensure compatibility with our partners' management systems.
A) Project staff will be seconded to each partner organisation for short periods in order to better understand their condition assessment practices, databases, and to optimise survey outputs to their requirements. Regular stakeholder meetings with our partners' will also ensure that scientific, engineering and information delivery developments are appropriate.

O) Permanently embed this knowledge and capability within our project partners.
A) In addition to secondments and stakeholder meetings, guidelines on the integration of SW into asset ranking, prioritisation and intervention planning will be written.

O) Widely disseminate the project's technological outcomes.
A) A workshop will be organised to showcase the project's technological outcomes to a wide audience. Results and recommendations will be further disseminated through a project website, articles in industry magazines and via a case study with CIRIA.

Main Deliverables: 2D/3D voxelated condition models will be developed for each partner's site, to showcase SW technology (D1). This will enable early informed decisions on maintenance and remediation to be made, thereby removing a barrier to preventative management. These models will be integrated within our partner's management systems (D2) following consultation and secondments at each organisation. Guidelines on the use of SW outputs in condition assessment practice (D3) will be developed for each partner to further embed the knowledge. A workshop will be organised to showcase the project's technological outcomes and benefits to proactive asset management to a wide stakeholder audience (D4). Results and recommendations will be further disseminated through a project website (D5), articles in industry magazines (D6) and via publication of a case study with CIRIA (D7).

Duration: 12 months

Total cost: £139,866

Planned Impact

Partner Benefits
The principal benefits to our partners will include: (1) reduced maintenance costs of their geotechnical assets through early targeted remediation, rather than renewal following failure, (2) reduced costs and flooding related disruption for the wider economy and society, and (3) increased capability of our service provider partner (RSK), who would be well placed to exploit any new developments and become early adopters of any commercial services arising. The project will also enable our partners to adapt the geophysical survey outputs to ensure compatibility with their asset management systems and practices. Crucially, this project gives our partners the opportunity to introduce anatomical information about internal earthwork condition into their asset risk register, enabling targeted, remedial measures to improve condition.

What will the partner be able to do (or do differently) as a result of the project?
This project strives to transform established practice, enabling our partners, at low cost, to diagnose the internal condition of their geotechnical assets using a non-invasive geophysical approach based on seismic surface waves (SW). Geo-mechanical ground images from SW surveys will enable development of 2D/3D internal condition models and associated asset risk ranking, allowing more focused and informed monitoring design. This will allow our partners to establish proactive (rather than responsive) intervention strategies, and to introduce adaptive solutions to improve asset drainage and stiffness, thereby increasing the resilience of the UK's critical water retaining infrastructure to future climate variations.


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Description Although the project is still ongoing, our project partner, the work has assisted the Environment Agency to identiy potentially unstable areas at one of their flood embankments. They are currently using the information from our geophysical surveys to assist with targeting of their intrusive investigations at this test sites.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Environment
Impact Types Societal,Economic

Description BGS 
Organisation British Geological Survey
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Development of test site, monitoring of seismic data, installation of field sensors, publication of papers, chairing project meetings
Collaborator Contribution Monitoring of resistivity data, installation of further field sensors, publication of papers, attendance at project meetings
Impact Bergamo, P., Dashwood, B., Uhlemann, S., Chambers, J., Gunn, D.A. and Donohue, S. (2016). Time-lapse monitoring of climate effects on earthworks using surface waves. Geophysics 81 (2), DOI: 10.1190/GEO2015-0275.1 Bergamo, P., Dashwood, B., Uhlemann, S., Chambers, J., Gunn, D.A. and Donohue, S. (2016). Time-lapse monitoring of fluid induced geophysical property variations within an unstable earthwork using p-wave refraction. Geophysics, In Press. Bergamo, P., Donohue, S., Gunn, D.A., Dashwood, B., Uhlemann, S., Chambers, J., and Ward, D. (2015). Time-lapse Monitoring of the Slopes of a Heritage Earthwork by Means of Near-surface Seismic Technique. Near Surface Geoscience 2015 - 21st European Meeting of Environmental and Engineering Geophysics, Turin. DOI: 10.3997/2214-4609.201413717 Gunn, D.A., Donohue, S., Dashwood, B., Bergamo, P., Rains, M., Uhlemann, S., Chambers, J. (2015). Earthworks ground model development using surface wave surveys. Investigation, Classification, Testing, and Forensics, ICE publishing. XVI European Conference on Soil Mechanics and Geotechnical Engineering, Edinburgh. DOI: 10.1680/ecsmge.60678.vol6.556 Gunn. D.A., Dashwood, B., Williams, G., White, J., Raines, M., Donohue, S. and Bergamo, P. (2015). Ground models for assessing seismic wave propagation in the shallow subsurface. Proceedings of the 13th International Conference on Railway Engineering, Edinburgh. Donohue, S., Bergamo, P., Hughes, E., Gunn, D.A., Dashwood, B., Uhlemann, S., Chambers, J., and Ward, D. (2014). Assessing climate effects on railway earthworks using MASW. Near Surface Geoscience 2014 - 20th European Meeting of Environmental and Engineering, Athens. DOI: 10.3997/2214-4609.20141995
Start Year 2013
Description Field Domonstration and workshops with industry partners 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact A series of site visits were arranged at sites chosen by our geotechnical asset owner partners. These site visits were used to acquire geophysical data with the intention of demonstrating the benefits of these approaches for informing the condition of the geotechnical infrastructure.
Workshops were subsequently arranged with industry partners, Canal & River Trust, the Environment Agency and Aecom to present to them the initial findings of the research, to obtain feedback on the approaches adopted and to plan further site activities.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018