Robert Jane


Robust Flood Risk Analysis (FRA) is essential for effective flood risk management. The performance of any flood defence assets will heavily influence the estimate of an area’s flood risk. It is therefore critical that the probability of a coastal flood defence asset incurring a structural failure when subjected to a particular loading i.e. its fragility is accurately quantified. The fragility representations of coastal defence assets presently adopted in UK National FRA (NaFRA) suffer three pertinent limitations. Firstly, assumptions relating to the modelling of the dependence structure of the variables that comprise the hydraulic load, including the water level, wave height and period, are restricted to a single loading variable. Consequently, due to the “system wide” nature of the analysis, a defence’s conditional failure probability must also be expressed in terms of a single loading in the form of a fragility curve. For coastal defences the single loading is the overtopping discharge, an amalgamation of these basic loading variables. The prevalence of other failure initiation mechanisms may vary considerably for combinations of the basic loadings which give rise to equal overtopping discharges. Hence the univariate nature of the existing representations potentially restricts their ability to accurately assess an asset’s structural vulnerability. Secondly, they only consider failure at least partially initiated through overtopping and thus neglect other pertinent initiation mechanisms acting in its absence. Thirdly, fragility representations have been derived for 61 generic assets (idealised forms of the defences found around the UK coast) each in five possible states of repair. The fragility representation associated with the generic asset and its state of repair deemed to most closely resemble a particular defence is adopted to describe its fragility. Any disparity in the parameters which influence the defence’s structural vulnerability in the generic form of the asset and those observed in the field are also likely to further reduce the robustness of the existing fragility representations. In NaFRA coastal flood defence assets are broadly classified as vertical walls, beaches and embankments. The latter are typically found in sheltered locations where failure is water level driven and hence expressing failure probability conditionally on overtopping is admissible. Therefore new fragility representations for vertical wall and gravel beach assets which address the limitations of those presently adopted in NaFRA are derived. To achieve this aim it was necessary to propose new procedures for extracting information on the site and structural parameters characterising a defence’s structural vulnerability from relevant resources (predominately beach profiles). In addition novel statistical approaches were put forward for capturing the uncertainties in the parameters on the basis of the site specific data obtained after implementation of the aforementioned procedures. A preliminary validation demonstrated the apparent reliability of these approaches. The pertinent initiation mechanisms behind the structural failure of each asset type were then identified before the state-of-the-art models for predicting the prevalence of these mechanisms during an event were evaluated. The Obhrai et al. (2008) re-formulation of the Bradbury (2000) barrier inertia model, which encapsulates all of the initiating mechanisms behind the structural failure of a beach, was reasoned as a more appropriate model for predicting the breach of a beach than that adopted in NaFRA. Failure initiated exclusively at the toe of a seawall was explicitly accounted for in the new formulations of the fragility representations using the predictors for sand and shingle beaches derived by Sutherland et al. (2007) and Powell & Lowe (1994). In order to assess whether the new formulations warrant a place in future FRAs they were derived for the relevant assets in Lyme Bay (UK). The inclusion of site specific information in the derivation of fragility representations resulted in a several orders of magnitude change in the Annual Failure Probabilities (AFPs) of the vertical wall assets. The assets deemed most vulnerable were amongst those assigned the lowest AFPs in the existing analysis. The site specific data indicated that the crest elevations assumed in NaFRA are reliable. Hence it appears the more accurate specification of asset geometry and in particular the inclusion of the beach elevation in the immediate vicinity of the structure in the overtopping calculation is responsible for the changes. The AFP was zero for many of the walls (≈ 77%) indicating other mechanism(s) occurring in the absence of any overtopping are likely to be responsible for failure. Toe scour was found to be the dominant failure mechanism at all of the assets at which it was considered a plausible cause of breach. Increases of at least an order of magnitude upon the AFP after the inclusion of site specific information in the fragility representations were observed at ≈ 86% of the walls. The AFPs assigned by the new site specific multivariate fragility representations to the beach assets were positively correlated with those prescribed by the existing representations. However, once the new representations were adopted there was substantially more variability in AFPs of the beach assets which had previously been deemed to be in identical states of repair. As part of the work, the new and existing fragility representations were validated at assets which had experienced failure or near-failure in the recent past, using the hydraulic loading conditions recorded during the event. No appraisal of the reliability of the new representations for beaches was possible due to an absence of any such events within Lyme Bay. Their AFPs suggest that armed with more information about an asset’s geometry the new formulations are able to provide a more robust description of a beach’s structural vulnerability. The results of the validation as well as the magnitude of the AFPs assigned by the new representations on the basis of field data suggest that the newly proposed representations provide the more realistic description of the structural vulnerability of seawalls. Any final conclusions regarding the robustness of the representations must be deferred until more failure data becomes available. The trade-off for the potentially more robust description of an asset’s structural vulnerability was a substantial increase in the time required for the newly derived fragility representations to compute the failure probability associated with a hydraulic loading event. To combat this increase, (multivariate) generic versions of the new representations were derived using the structural specific data from the assets within Lyme Bay. Although there was generally good agreement in the failure probabilities assigned to the individual hydraulic loading events by the new generic representations there was evidence of systematic error. This error has the potential to bias flood risk estimates and thus requires investigation before the new generic representations are included in future FRAs. Given the disparity in the estimated structural vulnerability of the assets according to the existing fragility curves and the site-specific multivariate representations the new generic representations are likely to be more reliable than the existing fragility curves.

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Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 4.0 International License.