Need for a Multi-Sensor Monitoring Approach for Embankment Failures: Lessons Learned from the Edenville Dam Failure

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Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences


The Edenville Dam, an earthen embankment in Midland, MI, failed on May 19, 2020, after 3 days of elevated rainfall (3.83–8.0 in.; 9.7–20 cm), which caused flooding downstream of the dam. Dam infrastructure similar to that at the Edenville Dam is not uncommon in the United States and hence requires periodic monitoring. A pre-failure analysis was conducted in the dam to explore the application of remote sensing in dam monitoring. Persistent scatterer interferometry (PSI), a form of synthetic aperture radar (SAR) interferometry, was used to analyze 97 Sentinel-1 images to measure the line-of-sight (LOS) displacement prior to the failure. The PSI analysis showed hardly any signs of deformation at the failure location and implied stable embankments with velocities ranging from 3.1 to 25.4 mm/yr. The soil moisture index (SMI) derived using 14 Landsat-8 images between 2016 and 2020 suggested the presence of subsurface seepage and a potential failure zone. This study illustrates the requirement for multi-sensor remote sensing–based approaches for continuous dam monitoring and analysis.

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Environmental and Engineering Geoscience