Numerical simulation of backward erosion piping in heterogeneous fields

Yue Liang, Tian Chyi Jim Yeh, Yu Li Wang, Mingwei Liu, Junjie Wang, Yonghong Hao

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Backward erosion piping (BEP) is one of the major causes of seepage failures in levees. Seepage fields dictate the BEP behaviors and are influenced by the heterogeneity of soil properties. To investigate the effects of the heterogeneity on the seepage failures, we develop a numerical algorithm and conduct simulations to study BEP progressions in geologic media with spatially stochastic parameters. Specifically, the void ratio e, the hydraulic conductivity k, and the ratio of the particle contents r of the media are represented as the stochastic variables. They are characterized by means and variances, the spatial correlation structures, and the cross correlation between variables. Results of the simulations reveal that the heterogeneity accelerates the development of preferential flow paths, which profoundly increase the likelihood of seepage failures. To account for unknown heterogeneity, we define the probability of the seepage instability (PI) to evaluate the failure potential of a given site. Using Monte-Carlo simulation (MCS), we demonstrate that the PI value is significantly influenced by the mean and the variance of ln k and its spatial correlation scales. But the other parameters, such as means and variances of e and r, and their cross correlation, have minor impacts. Based on PI analyses, we introduce a risk rating system to classify the field into different regions according to risk levels. This rating system is useful for seepage failures prevention and assists decision making when BEP occurs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3246-3261
Number of pages16
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2017


  • backward erosion piping
  • heterogeneity
  • preferential flow path
  • random field
  • risk assessment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology


Dive into the research topics of 'Numerical simulation of backward erosion piping in heterogeneous fields'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this