By Jean Gordon Cook
(JACKSON, Miss.) – Thanks to a major research project sponsored by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, researchers at Jackson State University are developing innovative techniques for levee strengthening during hurricanes.
In a $450,000 projected titled “High Performance Turf Reinforcement Mat Strengthened Levee under Combined Wave and Storm Surge Turbulent Overtopping Conditions,” the JSU researchers with expertise in natural hazards engineering will test levee strengthening techniques needed to stand up to unsteady overtopping due to waves or combined waves and storm surges – such as those caused by Hurricane Katrina.
The project is the second phase of JSU’s $1 million Department of Homeland Security-funded study of levee strengthening under full-scale overtopping conditions. The high profile research project provides – for the first time – full scale testing of levees in the laboratory.
“The activities in this project enhance our understanding of strengthening of earthen levees using a variety of practical solutions by designing and testing innovative levee systems and, thus, will help establish disaster-resilient communities by enhancing infrastructure protection during hurricanes along the Mississippi and Louisiana Gulf Coast area and at national levels,” said the project’s principal investigator Farshad Amini, who is professor and chair of JSU’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. “It not only enhances our understanding of infrastructure protection during hurricanes, but also has a positive impact at Jackson State University to achieve its educational and research goals.”
The studies from Hurricane Katrina and others have indicated that the land sides of levees are exposed to significantly higher velocities and much greater erosive forces than the flood side during wave overtopping, surge overflow, or combined wave and surge overtopping in a flood. Robust levee reinforcement is critically needed on the land sides of levees to resist erosion damage. Previous research and testing has focused almost exclusively on the conditions of steady overflow. As a result, little is known about the more problematic cases of unsteady overtopping due to waves or waves and storm surge combined.
The research project aims to determine the effectiveness of innovative levee strengthening systems during full-scale overtopping conditions simulating waves or combined wave and storm surge. The simulations will evaluate the use of high-performance turf reinforcement mats, which have extremely high tensile strengths and use a fiber technology specially created to lock soil in place. This project also applies two other strengthening methods, the articulating concrete block system and the roller compacted concrete system. The information obtained from the full-scale test sections, laboratory testing, geotechnical data and numerical modeling will be used to derive a new design and construction methodology for levee strengthening systems.
Along with Amini, the Jackson State research team includes co-principal investigator Lin Li, an assistant professor in JSU’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. The researchers expect the project will help establish disaster resilient communities throughout the country.