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Hannah Spero Senior Thesis

May 7 @ 3:00 pm - 5:00 pm MDT

Hannah Spero

Validating GeoClaw for Simulating Teton Dam Failure by Comparison with HEC-RAS Results and Historical Observations

The combination of dams degrading with age and other factors like climate change, technical errors, and human errors lead to dams breaching and failing worldwide. In the United States, over 40,000 dams pose a threat to downstream inhabited areas and constitute a widespread hazard. Therefore, it is critical to accurately predict the resultant floods’ downstream flow behavior to create a more resilient community. By improving research, we can concurrently develop and improve mitigation strategies for downstream communities. This study benchmarks the GeoClaw numerical modeling software with the well-documented 1976 Teton Dam failure. A vital tool in dam failure research is two-dimensional (2D) coupled numerical hydrodynamic modeling. This study aims to benchmark the GeoClaw software, a 2D hydraulic model with novel adaptive mesh refinement (AMR) capabilities (, for dam failure analysis by a systematic comparison of dam breach inundation response to both historical data and the industry-standard software HEC-RAS (Hydraulic Engineering Center – River Analysis System).

The objectives of this study are to:

(i) Determine the suitability of the GeoClaw software based on its capability to resolve inundation extent and flood front arrival times

(ii) Compare an instantaneous dam breach with a time-dependent breach formation

(iii) Quantify the uncertainty of the HEC-RAS model through a sensitivity analysis

This study concludes the 2D GeoClaw dam break model verified by its stability and accuracy, conservation properties, and calibration with the historical hydrological data and HEC-RAS results at a low computational cost. The overall performance of GeoClaw indicates that it is a validated tool for the simulation of dam failure downstream simulations in real cases with future work. The outcomes of this study will assist dam owners, floodplain managers, and emergency managers alike by providing an additional tool for estimating the impacts of dam failures and creating more resilient communities. 

Advisor: Donna Calhoun

Co-Advisors: Jim McNamara, Mike Schubert

When: May 7, 2021
Time: 3:00 PM
Where: Zoom Meeting ID: 982 0376 0069