Dam Failure

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In a recent video, Practical Engineering tackles an important and often-overlooked challenge in civil engineering: dam failure. At its simplest, a levee or dam is a wall built to hold back water, and the higher that water is, the greater the pressure at its base. That pressure can drive water to seep between the grains of soil beneath the dam. As you can see in the demo below, seeping water can take a curving path through the soil beneath a dam in order to get to the other side. When too much water makes it into the soil, it pushes grains apart and makes them slip easily; this is known as liquefaction. As the name suggests, the sediment begins behaving like a fluid, quickly leading to a complete failure of the dam as its foundation flows away. With older infrastructure and increased flooding from extreme weather events, this is a serious problem facing many communities. (Video and image credit: Practical Engineering)

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