Update: Quake Centre earth dam (geotechnical) research programme

For the past five years, the Quake Centre earth dam (geotechnical) research programme has been under development at the University of Canterbury. This unique University-Industry research collaboration is supported by Genesis Energy, Mercury, Meridian Energy, and Trustpower. The research programme is guided by a steering committee comprising partner representatives. We hope to provide regular updates in the NZSOLD newsletter to keep the wider dams community informed of our research activities and findings.
The end of 2019 has been a busy period. Two undergraduate projects were completed and presented as part of the BE (Hons) undergraduate research conference at the University of Canterbury on October 23rd. Hamish McLean and Sam Jacques presented on their desk-study of construction-era documentation: Spatial and Temporal Variations within the Tekapo Canal. Katie Vincent and Petra Garratt undertook an impressive amount of lab testing in 2019, culminating in their presentation: Experimental Assessment of Filter-Core Compatibility of Embankment Dams.
Thanks to Genesis and Meridian for their input and support of these projects. NZSOLD Newsletter December 2019 Professor Jonathan Fannin (University of British Columbia, UBC) was hosted by the Quake Centre dams team on his annual visit to our research group from Nov 18th to 22nd. Prof Fannin leads a similar industry-supported research programme at UBC in Canada, funded by BCHydro and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, NSERC. The week was spent discussing soils, lab testing equipment, respective commissioning plans, and – of course – rugby. Dr Clark Fenton took the group on a short tour to view a different type of erosion: tunnel gullies in the Port Hills (photo below). The week culminated in a workshop at UC with our funding partners and a small group of the partners’ technical representatives.

(L-R) Professor Jonathan Fannin (UBC, Vancouver), Dr Clark Fenton, Petra Garratt, Katie Vincent, Adele Amos, and Dr Mark Stringer’ admiring the reclamation works at Lyttelton Port during a break in their Port Hills erosion tour.

We have two undergraduate summer research students working with us for the summer before beginning the fourth and final year of their BE (Hons) degrees. Adele Amos and Liang Wei have been busy in the lab learning how to undertake Continuing Erosion Filter (CEF) testing and various methods of dispersivity testing. Along with Dr Andrew Stolte, Adele and Liang also helped undertake flood reconnaissance work along the Rangitata River following the high rainfall event of 8-9 December. While not strictly dams related, this field visit focused on infrastructure damage and provided first-hand observations of scour, inundation, a ~300 m breach of a railway embankment, and various washouts. Key lessons included: (1) the need for appropriately-sized culverts and continuous drainage paths, (2) our obvious, but often-overlooked, reliance on interdependent infrastructure networks (stopbanks/road/rail/power/fibre), and (3) a reminder that large areas of New Zealand land are simply river channels in disguise.

Railway embankment breach, Rangitata River breakout, photographed 12 December 2019.
Erosion of Ferry Rd, Arundel (Rangitata River), 12 December 2019. (L-R) Dr Andrew Stolte, Adele Amos, Liang Wei.

The Professional Master of Engineering Geology (PMEG) dissertation projects are well underway for 2019. We have four dams-related projects this year thanks to Mercury, Genesis, and Trustpower. Results from these short (six-month duration) research projects will be presented in January 2020.
In the lab, commissioning and verification of the large Triaxial Permeameter (TXP) device continues. We still seek a capable PhD student to work on this project. Any enquiries would be welcome – please contact Dr Kaley Crawford-Flett (kaley.crawford-flett@canterbury.ac.nz).