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Levee Fragility Behavior under Projected Future Flooding in a Warming Climate | Journal of Geotechnical and Geoenvironmental Engineering


Adaptation to climate change requires careful evaluation of infrastructure performance under future climatic extremes. This study demonstrates how a multidisciplinary approach integrating geotechnical engineering, hydrology, and climate science can be employed to quantify site-specific impacts of climate change on geotechnical infrastructure. Specifically, this paper quantifies the effects of changes in future streamflow on the performance of an earthen levee in Sacramento, California, considering multiple modes of failure. The streamflows for historical (1950–2000) and projected (2049–2099) scenarios with different recurrence intervals were derived from routed hydrological simulations driven by bias-corrected global climate models. The historical and future flood levels were then applied in a set of transient coupled finite-element seepage and limit equilibrium slope stability analyses to simulate the levee subjected to extreme streamflow. Variability in hydraulic and mechanical properties of soils was addressed using a Monte Carlo sampling method to evaluate and compare the probability of failure of the levee under different historical and future climate scenarios. Three individual modes (underseepage, uplift, and slope stability) along with lower and upper bounds for the combined mode of failure were examined. The results showed that incorporating future floods into levee failure analysis led to considerable reductions in the mean factor of safety and increases in the levee’s probability of failure, suggesting that risk assessment based on historical records can significantly underestimate the levee’s failure probability in a warming climate. Despite inherent uncertainties in future projections and substantial variability across climate models, evaluating infrastructure against projected extremes offers insights into their likely performance for the future.

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