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Criteria for the design of embankment dams founded on gypsiferous geological formations


This article sets criteria for selecting the typology of embankment dam and the elements for the foundation to be impervious enough (blanket, cutoff…) when the dam site contains disseminated gypsum particles in limited quantities (less than 40%) and the flow is interstitial. Numerical modeling analysis of the soluble material dissolution of a dam foundation includes two coupled processes: seepage and dissolution. In a previous manuscript, the mathematical model that simulates the progress of the dissolution of the gypsum particles in the foundation was implemented in the code DISOLUCION2D, also validated by experimental work. This code simulates the advance of the dissolution front (foundation area where the dissolution of soluble particles is taking place) at each time step, based on the flow velocities obtained from the seepage flow net calculation. The dissolution process progressively increases the permeability of the foundation and therefore the flow rate under the dam, jeopardising in some cases the safety of the dam. Based on the validated code, a study covering 140 cases of dams and their foundations was carried out. From the relevant data for each dam site (height, thickness of the gypsiferous layer, gypsum percentage of the layer) and the prescribed criteria for maximum permissible flow rate or maximum flow rate increase, the various type sections of the dam that satisfy the required conditions can be identified. From among these, the dam designer will be able to choose the optimal solution, taking into consideration the particular characteristics of the project (available materials, economic costs...).

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  1. 1.

    DISOLUCION2D program: developed by Luis Medina Martínez and Carmen María Baena Berrendero (2007). For the entire code, see Baena (2011).

  2. 2.

    FastSEEP program: graphical pre- and post-processor of the program Seep2D, developed by Boss International. Seep2D was written by Fred Tracy of the U.S. Army Engineer Waterways Experiment Station.

  3. 3.

    Notation of geometric models: the first letter is the generic type (H is homogeneous dam, Z zoned dam); if the second letter is T, the model has a blanket (of length equal to the base of the upstream rockfill); and if it is TT, the blanket has a greater length (which added to core length is equal to the length of the homogeneous dam). If it contains the letter P, it has a cutoff (PR is upstream and PC is centered). The number before the last H indicates the relationship between the gypsiferous layer thickness and the height of the dam, and the one after the last H is the relationship between the depth of the cutoff and the height of the dam (if this number is not there and there is a cutoff, the depth of the cutoff coincides with the gypsiferous layer thickness).


A :

Area exposed to dissolution (L2)

A f :

Acceleration factor

C :

Concentration (M/L3)

C s :

Concentration of saturation (M/L3)

E :

Gypsiferous layer thickness (L)

H :

Dam height (L)

i :

Hydraulic gradient

K :

Permeability coefficient (L/T)

K d :

Dissolution rate constant (L/T), usually K in bibliography

K 0 :

Initial permeability coefficient of the gypsiferous layer (L/T)

K 02 :

Initial permeability coefficient of the non-gypsiferous layer (L/T)

K td :

Permeability coefficient after dissolution of the gypsiferous layer (L/T)

M :

Mass of soluble solid (M)

n :


n 0 :

Initial porosity

p :

Depth of the cutoff (L)

Q :

Volumetric flow rate (L3/T)

Q 0 :

Initial flow rate (L3/T)


Dimensionless flow rate

Q dt :

Flow rate for complete dissolution (L3/T)

Q ab :

Flow rate of arrival downstream (L3/T)

Q máx :

Flow rate of complete enclosure (L3/T)

Q td :

Flow after dissolution (L3/T)

t :

Time (T)


Dimensionless time

t ab :

Time of arrival at downstream (T)

t máx :

Time of complete enclosure (T)

t ucte :

Time for constant u (T)

u :

Solution front velocity (L/T)

v :

Seepage velocity (L/T)

σ 0 :

Mass per unit volume of soluble particle (M/L3)

Ø :

Percentage in volume of soluble material


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We wish to show our appreciation to Anthony Noel James for his great contribution to soluble materials in civil engineering.

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Correspondence to C. M. Baena.

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Baena, C.M., Toledo, M.Á. Criteria for the design of embankment dams founded on gypsiferous geological formations. Environ Earth Sci 77, 757 (2018).

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  • Dissolution
  • Seepage
  • Dam
  • Gypsum
  • Soluble foundation
  • Permeability
  • Blanket
  • Cutoff