Large centrifuge helps researchers mimic effects of Katrina on levees

Part of nationwide 'co-laboratory' of earthquake engineering facilities, the technology proves critical for studying soils beneath New Orleans

Researchers studying the effects of Hurricane Katrina on the levees of New Orleans used a 150 g-ton centrifuge to model one of New Orleans' levee sections and the hurricane forces that led to its failure. The goal of the test was to learn how layers of peat and clay beneath the levees might have contributed to the failure.

The centrifuge is part of the National Science Foundation (NSF) George E. Brown, Jr. Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation (NEES), an interconnected, nationally distributed system of 15 facilities for studying the effects of full-scale earthquake forces on structures and materials.

Tarek Abdoun of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), who led the levee test as part of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Hurricane Katrina Interagency Performance Evaluation Task Force, presented the team's preliminary findings in New Orleans on March 20 at a public meeting of a National Academies committee that is reviewing the study.

During the experiment, the researchers subjected a scaled-down model of the 17th Street Canal levee in New Orleans--complete with local-source peat--to extreme conditions like those experienced during the hurricane on Aug. 29, 2005. The experiment suggested earth sliding along a weak clay layer that underlies a bed of peat directly beneath the levee helped to bring down the 17th Street structure.

The researchers consider the results to be preliminary and will conduct additional tests in the coming weeks.

In addition to supporting experiments like the RPI centrifuge test, NSF has granted some 80 awards to researchers studying the effects of Hurricane Katrina and gathering information that can help prepare for future national disasters.

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More information about the RPI study is available in the university press release linked below.

NSF-PR 06-047

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering, with an annual budget of $5.58 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 1,700 universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives about 40,000 competitive requests for funding, and makes nearly 10,000 new funding awards. The NSF also awards over $400 million in professional and service contracts yearly.

Receive official NSF news electronically through the e-mail delivery and notification system, MyNSF (formerly the Custom News Service). To subscribe, visit http://www.nsf.gov/mynsf/ and fill in the information under "new users".

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Media Contacts: Jason Gorss, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, (518) 276-6098, gorssj@rpi.edu
Joshua Chamot, NSF, (703) 292-7730, jchamot@nsf.gov


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