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Laboratory experiments of water pressure loads acting on a downstream dam caused by ice avalanches

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A worldwide decline of mountain glaciers is occurring due to the impacts from climate warming. The retreat of mountain glaciers often leads to different kinds of geo-hazards. Serious surges triggered by glacier avalanches often pose a potential threat to the stability of dams. In this article, four different types of blocks with a constant density of about 900 kg/m3 were used to simulate the glacier avalanches in natural conditions. By considering the raw material properties of the plate and blocks themselves, the plunging velocity of a block was calculated by a theoretical method instead of by video cameras. The effect of the slope angle, distance between the sliding block and the water surface, initial water depth, slide Froude number, geometry, and distance between the plunging point of the sliding blocks and the downstream dam was considered to study the characteristics of the pressure loads acting on the moraine dam. In addition, an empirical equation was obtained to predict the maximum pressure load acting on the dam. Pressure load on the glacier dam is only one of the crucial factors for dam safety analyses. The failure process of a moraine dam, the probable maximum discharge of outburst floods, and the transportation of sediments along the downstream valley should also be considered in future studies.

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f :

Friction coefficient with lubrication (−)

f' :

Friction coefficient without lubrication (−)

g :

The acceleration due to gravity (m/s2)

h :

Elevation between a block and the water surface (m)

h 0 :

Water depth of the dammed lake (m)

L :

Sliding distance between the block and water surface (m)

L m :

Length of Midui lake in the model (m)

L p :

Length of Midui lake in the prototype (m)

L 1 :

Distance between the plunging point and the downstream dam (m)

M s :

The weight of the metal shell (kg)

M f :

The weight of the block (kg)

P :

Pressure load at Pi (i = 1, 2, 3, 4, 5) (kPa)

ΔP :

The pressure difference between the maximum pressure and the minimum pressure at a given time (kPa)

P Max :

The maximum pressure load (kPa)

Pi :

Testing point (i = 1, 2, 3, 4, 5) (−)

S :

The projected area on the flat plate (m2)

t :

Release time (s)

T :

Period of a wave (s)

v t :

Plunging velocity of a block (m/s)

V :

The volume of a block (0.024 m3)

V d :

The volume of the diesel oil (m3)

V g :

The volume of the gasoline (m3)

V m :

The volume of the ice glacier in the model (m3)

V p :

The volume of the ice glacier in the prototype (m3)

W m :

The width of Midui lake in the model (m)

W p :

The width of Midui lake in the prototype (m)

α :

Slope angle (°)


The radian of the slope angle (−)

ρ d :

The density of diesel oil (830 kg/m3)

ρ g :

The density of gasoline (730 kg/m3)

ρ m :

The mean density of a block (900 kg/m3)

ρ s :

The density of sliding block (kg/m3)

ρ w :

The density of water (1000 kg/m3)

μ :

Water dynamic viscosity (Pa • s)


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The research work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant No. 41030742,41190084,51209195), the Youth Foundation of the Institute of Mountain Hazards and Environment, CAS (Grant No. SDS-QN-1302), and Foundation of Key Laboratory of Mountain Hazards and Earth Surface Process, Chinese Academy of Sciences.

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Correspondence to P. Cui.

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Chen, H.Y., Cui, P., Chen, X.Q. et al. Laboratory experiments of water pressure loads acting on a downstream dam caused by ice avalanches. Landslides 12, 1131–1138 (2015).

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