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Earth Surface Dynamics An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union

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Earth Surf. Dynam., 6, 351-367, 2018
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
Research article
09 May 2018
Seismic signature of turbulence during the 2017 Oroville Dam spillway erosion crisis
Phillip J. Goodling, Vedran Lekic, and Karen Prestegaard Department of Geology, University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742, USA
Abstract. Knowing the location of large-scale turbulent eddies during catastrophic flooding events improves predictions of erosive scour. The erosion damage to the Oroville Dam flood control spillway in early 2017 is an example of the erosive power of turbulent flow. During this event, a defect in the simple concrete channel quickly eroded into a 47 m deep chasm. Erosion by turbulent flow is difficult to evaluate in real time, but near-channel seismic monitoring provides a tool to evaluate flow dynamics from a safe distance. Previous studies have had limited ability to identify source location or the type of surface wave (i.e., Love or Rayleigh wave) excited by different river processes. Here we use a single three-component seismometer method (frequency-dependent polarization analysis) to characterize the dominant seismic source location and seismic surface waves produced by the Oroville Dam flood control spillway, using the abrupt change in spillway geometry as a natural experiment. We find that the scaling exponent between seismic power and release discharge is greater following damage to the spillway, suggesting additional sources of turbulent energy dissipation excite more seismic energy. The mean azimuth in the 5–10 Hz frequency band was used to resolve the location of spillway damage. Observed polarization attributes deviate from those expected for a Rayleigh wave, though numerical modeling indicates these deviations may be explained by propagation up the uneven hillside topography. Our results suggest frequency-dependent polarization analysis is a promising approach for locating areas of increased flow turbulence. This method could be applied to other erosion problems near engineered structures as well as to understanding energy dissipation, erosion, and channel morphology development in natural rivers, particularly at high discharges.
Citation: Goodling, P. J., Lekic, V., and Prestegaard, K.: Seismic signature of turbulence during the 2017 Oroville Dam spillway erosion crisis, Earth Surf. Dynam., 6, 351-367,, 2018.
Publications Copernicus
Short summary
The Oroville Dam flood control spillway suffered catastrophic erosion damage in February 2017. We find that seismic waves recorded by a seismometer 2 km away contain information about the flow turbulence and damage location in the spillway. We show that enhanced turbulence due to spillway damage excites louder seismic waves at a given flow rate, which can be used to detect the onset and track the migration of erosion damage. The methods we use could be used to monitor other structures or rivers.
The Oroville Dam flood control spillway suffered catastrophic erosion damage in February 2017....