Overtopping resistant dikes

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In 1953 the Netherlands experienced a major flooding. Studies determined that a lot of the breaches of the dikes were caused by overtopping (and even overflowing) of the dikes. The failure mostly started on the landward part of the structures. All dikes back then were constructed with a relative low crest and a steep landward slope. Since then all major water defences were raised and the landward slopes were made more gentle. The heightening of the dikes was done in such a manner that statistically only once in 10.000 years (in the western part of the Netherlands) 0.1 l/s per m of overtopping would occur. In the 1990ties by law it was decided that all major water defences should be assessed for safety. In these safety assessments it was found that al lot of dikes again should be raised in order to comply with the safety standards. This raised the question if the method to determine the rate of wave overtopping was correct or not. Also the question was put if the safety standard of 0.1 l/s per m once in 10.000 years was adequate. It turned out that that flooding the mechanisms not enough understood and therefore the safety standard was wrongfully determined on basis of testing with overflow instead of overtopping. Additionally, failure mechanisms were not adequate described. This lead to a Dutch national research program on loads on and strength of flood defences. To assess the erosion strength of grass covers on inner slopes and transition zones between slope to horizontal flats, destructive tests using a Wave Overtopping Simulator were performed at several dikes in the Netherlands.

A Wave Overtopping Simulator performs destructive tests on inner slopes of real dikes in order to establish the erosion resistance against overtopping waves from severe storms. The most relevant hydraulic processes to be considered at wave-structure interaction encompass wave reflection, wave dissipation, wave transmission resulting from wave overtopping and wave penetration through the porous structures, wave diffraction, run-up and wave breaking. Focusing on overtopping, additional processes such as trapped air on broken waves and turbulence, induced by local effects at the armour stones and breakwater cover layers, play an important role in order to determine wave induced dynamics. Formulations derived from these experimentations, are, in most of the cases, semiempirical in nature with their form based on physical considerations but empirical constants determined by fitting to experimental data. The role of scaling factors for dissipation mechanisms due to wave breaking, turbulence and generation of eddies in the fluid region as well as turbulence and friction within the porous material, is also not well established in the physical test. Besides the problem of the scaling technique, other features related with the duration of the experiment programs, wave flume dimensions or economical cost have to be considered. Due to poor repeatability, a large number of experiments have to be carried out in order to define confidence intervals. Moreover, experimental investigation on large-scale models is expensive and measurements within breaking waves can be very complex, due to the aerated and transient nature of the water surface. As a consequence, formulations extracted from the experimental tests present several restrictions. They can only be applied to a structure with a geometry similar or almost identical to the one tested and under identical wave characteristics. An analytical approach is not possible because of the complexity of the problem. A great effort has therefore been made over the last decades in the numerical modelling of wave interaction with coastal structures to overcome these limitations. Nonlinear Shallow Water (NSW), Boussinesq-type and Navier-Stokes equations models have traditionally been used. SPH models have also appeared in the last years as an alternative. However, they are in an early stage to be used as predictive tool.

Definition, design and function

Dikes and levees are applied everywhere there is a hinterland which needs protection against flooding. These protection measures prevent an area from flooding thus enabling economic and sociologic activities also at high water levels. The dikes are designed in such a way that they are geotechnical stable under normal and extreme conditions. Dutch dikes are designed permitting no overtopping. Of course no overtopping cannot be guaranteed. The structures which are described here are mainly grass covered inner or landward slopes of these dikes and levees such as the ones found in the Netherlands. They are mostly made with a sand core covered by a clay layer on the slopes and the crest.

Figure 1: Cross section of a Dutch dike

The typical geometry of dikes and levees is an outer or seaward slope then a crest and then a landward slope (right-hand side of Figure 1). The function of the landward slopes is stability of the dike structure and for guidance of overtopping waves or water flowing over the crest to the inlands. The landward slopes must be able to resist loads induced by design conditions. The slope angles as well as the width of the crest vary. In the Dutch case, sea dikes have a typical landward slope 1v:3h. River dikes are mostly steeper, up to 1v:2h. The height of the dikes also varies a lot. This depends on the local hydraulic conditions and on the norm frequency of water level for which the dike is designed. This varies from 1/10,000 per year for sea defences in the western part of the Netherlands to 1:1,250 years for dikes along rivers.

Dikes and levees protect up to a certain level. Absolute safety is impossible. The level to which a dike or a levee protects from flooding depends on the hydraulic regime, the physics of the structure (geometric and geotechnical) and the intended risk reduction or allowable risk to which it is designed. This implies that an economic optimum or in most cases the availability of funds defines the achievable level of risk reduction. Almost two third of the the Netherlands lays below sealevel and therefore has to be protected by dikes or other flood protection structures (including dunes). The dikes in the Netherlands are currently designed based on exceedance of a certain water level that is extrapolated from a long time series (over 200 years) and scientific hind casting. From these water levels, corresponding wave action is calculated. The combination of water level and hydraulic conditions determines the design conditions. Back in 1956, the first Delta Committee already did some early calculations and concluded that the level of protection of the western part of the Netherlands should be higher than in other parts (highest economic value). They found that this part should have a protection level (based on exceedance of water level) of once in a hundred thousand years. They knew dikes to have a large residual strength in the designs. They assumed this to be a factor 10 resulting in lowering the norm to once in ten thousand years. In 1996 the safety levels in the Netherlands were registered in the Water Defence Act. In 2009 this Act was replaced by the Water Act. In the Act of 1996 it was stated that the basis for the safety standards should be altered from exceedance of a certain water level to a risk based approach. This is now developing within the Dutch Floris project.


See also

Theseus Official Deliverable 2.1 - Integrated inventory of data and prototype experience on coastal defences and technologies


The main author of this article is De Rijcke, Maarten
Please note that others may also have edited the contents of this article.

Citation: De Rijcke, Maarten (2011): Overtopping resistant dikes. Available from http://www.coastalwiki.org/wiki/Overtopping_resistant_dikes [accessed on 28-06-2022]